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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mind Mapping for a Better Life

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What is Mind Mapping?

Mind mapping is a method for organizing thoughts that can be used to improve the way you think about your life, tasks, workflow and even how you relax.  It helps categorize and associate different thoughts with one another and makes it easier to memorize and recall complex thought structures.  Mind mapping in some form was originally conceived and used by Leonardo DaVinci but is commonly used by thousands of people today.  I was introduced to it from the book How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci by Michael Gelb.  From a very broad level, mind mapping starts with one thought or concept and allows you to create a physical map of other associated thoughts.  Very little structure is given to how the actual mind map is formed giving your mind creative freedom, and it is encouraged to let your mind wander within reason and record how it wanders.

Vacation Mind Map

How can Mind Mapping Help Me Live a Better Life? 

By organizing your thoughts in a mind map you are able to gain a better understanding of how your mind works and look at the big picture of:
  1. how certain things in your life effect other things,
  2. why certain thought patterns may arise,
  3. what to do to short-circuit thought patterns,
  4. how to memorize different associations between thoughts
  5. how to anticipate thoughts before they arise by understanding how your brain works. 
All of the above are very powerful big-picture tools to use in every facet of your life.  Other benefits of mind mapping, that will help you live a better life on a more detailed level are:
  1. realizing different methods of achieving short-term goals,
  2. laying out the direct and indirect benefits of performing certain tasks,
  3. visualizing the interconnections of many thoughts and ideas,
  4. creating representative imagery that will be easy to associate with later,
  5. realizing how you can accomplish multiple goals with one activity or at least how you can combine short-term goals.

Why is Mind Mapping so Effective? 

Mind mapping combines thinking strategies of both right-brained and left-brained thinkers.  This makes mind mapping easy to conceptualize for both types of thinkers, but more importantly, by combining these right and left-brained strategies we’re able to unleash our mind’s full creative and conceptual potential.

How to Create a Mind Map

Getting Started

It’s best to create a mind map with a pen or pencil on a large piece of paper.  Start with one word that represents a thought, goal, idea, problem, etc.  If you need more than one word that’s okay, but try to keep it VERY simple.  Write this word in the middle of the paper and create a quick doodle or symbolic graphic that represents your central word.  It’s great to use colors and be as creative and vivid as you can, this will help with recollection later, and will also help to unleash the creative prowess not generally used when planning or organizing.  Next, write down associated words around the center word and connect them to create appropriate associations.  Continue using color and creating symbolic graphics for each word.  Outside of those words create more words and associate them appropriately.  Soon, you will see a complex network of associations all related to your central word.

Expanding the Map

This network of relationships is your mind map for this particular topic.  You can expand on it infinitely so be careful not to stray too far from the intended relevancy.  Once you have added a good deal of content to your map take a step back and look at the big picture.  Look at all of the tiers you have most likely created.  Try to look at each word on its own and determine whether it can be associated with anything else on the map.  Create lines between all associated content, and if lines are not practical, use graphical indicators or numbers to indicate a connection between two things.  Eliminating the need for tiers of information that only have one “parent” is one of the main principles of the mind map.


Don’t focus on one word at a time when you are making the map.  Keep looking at the big picture and come up with any word that is associated with any other word in the map.  Jumping around from place to place will keep all of the words fresh in your mind and will make associations easier.  If you see your mind map taking on a different direction, think about taking one of the words from your map and creating a new map with that word as the base word.  This can be done for any word.


Look at the mind map and try to determine the various paths through which any two things are related.  How are they related?  Which other items do the relationships pass through?  Are there multiple thought processes, ideas or tasks that lead to the same outcome?  Is one path shorter than the other?  Is one path more important than the other?  Does one path address more elements than the other?

Examples of Mind Mapping for a Better Life

Vacation Mind Map

Create a mind map about all things related to a day off, or a vacation.  This can help you prioritize your next vacation plans.  It can also give you insight into how you can accomplish multiple things at one time thereby making your vacation time more effective.

House Work Mind Map

This mind map will most likely start with items like “Cleaning”, “Maintenance”, “Organization”, “Projects” etc..  this map will help you realize how these things are interconnected (ie. Cleaning & maintenance might have many interconnections) and will help you to better optimize your efforts around the house.

Shopping Mind Map

Creating a shopping mind map may be a little bit large, so it might be better to start with “clothes shopping” or “consumables”.  Organize these mind maps, not by individual item, to avoid over-complication, but by category or other properties.  For instance, consumables could be interconnected by timeframes like “daily”, “weekly”, “annually”, or by importance like “critical”, “needs”, and “wants”.

Health Mind Map

A health-oriented mind map could help to align and associate different critical elements of your health, such as diet, exercise, anxiety level, enrichment, etc.

Work-Life Balance Mind Map

Create a “work-life balance mind map” that helps you to organize your short term and long term goals, your time, and other important criteria between your work life and your social life.  By creating these interconnections between these two large facets of your life you will start to realize how, or if, your goals are in line with both of these areas.  You will also be able to visually see how compartmentalized your life may be in these different areas, what is contributing to its compartmentalization, and new methods of improving the effectiveness of your pursuit of happiness in any faculty.

Problem Statement Mind Map

If you have an obstacle you’re struggling to overcome, put a very simple problem statement in the center of a mind map and write down all associated items.  Other similar problems, similar solutions, tools that might be helpful, methods of solving problems… etc.  Get creative.  These associations will inevitably lead to a new solution.

My “Vacation” Mind-Map Example

Above is an example of a mind map that I created the other day when sitting at the lake.  I didn't have a large peice of paper or colored pencils so it's not as extravagant as it could be, but it gets the job done.  If you read through it, starting with "Vacation" in the middle, you can see that I've used "Play" "Accomplish" and "Explore" as some of my subcategories.  If I were to re-draw it, I would probably lump "Beach" and "Sun" into one "Relax" subcategory.
As I drew the map, the evolution surprised me more than once, in that the ends of the branches linked up to one another, creating a "bridge" of sorts between two subcategories.  It was interesting to look at these "bridging" elements from both different perspectives.  For example, the branch:  "Accomplish > Housework > Improve > Landscaping" leads to the same place as "Sun(Relax) > Outside > Landscaping".  This tells me a few things...
  1. First, it means I must enjoy landscaping. 
  2. Second, if I find myself landscaping, I can be aware of the fact that I am both, accomplishing housework, as well as relaxing.
  3. Also, if it is Saturday afternoon and I know I should be doing housework, but I'd really rather be relaxing, this is something I could consider doing in order to cover both bases.
These bridging elements occured in several places on my mind map and are indicated by a number in a square.  Some other bridges are:
  1. "Play > Kung-Fu > Practice > Workout > Dynamic > Games" and "Sun(Relax) > Frisbee"
  2. "Explore" and "Sun(Relax) > Outside"
  3. "Explore > Nature > Swimming / Kayaking" and "Play > Kung-Fu > Practice > Workout > Dynamic > Swim/Kayak"
Imagine if the mind map had been any bigger!  And this exercise probably took about 30 minutes to complete with all the doodles.  Not very long, and creating the mind map in itself was quite relaxing as well. (doodling has always been relaxing to me)
For me, creating a mind map was very eye-opening and I’m excited to explore more maps to re-create the important parts of my mental structure in a form that I can see and comprehend.  I also plan to use mind maps as a tool at work or around the house for organizing workflow and chores. 
Give it a try and let me know what you think!  Is this a tool you can see yourself using?

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to Bring Awareness Back to Simple Tasks

Tea (1)Image via Wikipedia
Life is an incredible platform for existence. Every day we meander through our lives at slower or faster paces performing hundreds, even thousands, of tasks that are completely second nature to us and require no conscious thought. This is an incredible capacity and should be wholly appreciated.
People who teach meditation and life improving techniques often discuss awareness. Practitioners are encouraged to meditate on their breathing, their sitting, their walking, their immediate physical surroundings, etc. These awareness meditations can have a profound mental, physical and spiritual effect on a practitioner. However, it can be difficult to comprehend the intention of these exercises. It’s a foreign, ambiguous concept for most people to “be fully aware” and I think it is often misunderstood or misconstrued.

Reduce the learned simplicity of tasks

Here’s a different method to raise your awareness in a more physical, understandable way. Take for example talking on the phone, flipping a light switch, handing someone money, drinking tea, using utensils… etc. These are tasks that you’re probably not very well aware of because you learned to do them at such a young age and have become complacent in doing them.
Today try performing all of these simple tasks with your left hand. Performing these tasks with the left hand will bring you back to the time of your youth when you were still learning coordination and everything was a new experience. Things like dialing the phone, eating, and using a computer mouse took more concentration on the task at hand and, therefore, gave you more awareness of what you were doing. Try this and let me know how it feels!

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