What is Mind Mapping? The Ultimate Guide to Using This Powerful Tool

What is Mind Mapping? The Ultimate Guide to Using This Powerful ToolDo you ever wonder, “what is mind mapping” exactly?

Well, imagine you’re listening to a history lecture. Instead of taking notes, your fingers itch to make a mindmap of World War I events as you hear them.

But how do you draw mind maps?

And, can mind maps alone boost your memory, learning power, and creativity?

In this article, you’ll explore a complete guide to mind mapping, how to draw one, including multiple examples of mind maps. We’ll also examine whether mind mapping alone can improve your brainpower and creativity, and what else you can do.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

What is Mind Mapping?


Mind mapping is a simple, visual way to organize your ideas for better clarity and recall. Mind maps focus on only one central concept or idea and are based on radial hierarchies and tree structures.

What does all that mean? Let’s get into the details.

A Brief History and Definition of Mind Mapping

The practice of drawing radial maps to map information goes back several centuries.

Some people credit the first mind maps to the 3rd-century philosopher Porphyry of Tyros. Ramon Llull, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Isaac Newton also used mind mapping techniques. Much later, in the 1960s, scientists Allan Collins and Ross Quillian developed the semantic network into mind maps.

A modern light fixture in the shape of a mind map, with lights extending out in all directions.

However, it was psychology consultant Tony Buzan who first popularized the term “mind map.” Buzan drew colorful, tree-like structures called radial trees where a central topic branched out to several sub-topics.

The Tony Buzan Learning Center defines their Mind Map® as “a powerful graphic technique which provides a universal key to unlock the potential of the brain. It harnesses the full range of cortical skills – word, image, number, logic, rhythm, color, and spatial awareness – in a single, uniquely powerful manner.”

These pictorial representations introduced by Buzan are now being used by students, teachers, engineers, psychologists, and others in many ways.

So, what does a mind map look like?

Examples of Mind Maps

A mind-mapping exercise is colorful and engaging. And, the result looks analytical and artistic at the same time.

Here are some great examples of how fun and engaging mind maps can be. Some of them look messy — but look deeper and you’ll see they are examples of detailed trains of thought.

 

A mind map from MindMapArt, detailing memories, lessons, and history.

Source: MindMapArt

 

A mind map of Michael Faraday, with branches for discovery, origins, and institution.

Source: MindMapArt

 

A business storytelling mind map, with story elements, basic plots, story structure, etc.

Source: BiggerPlate

These fascinating examples are colorful, though in some cases, also quite visually overwhelming.

That’s why I’ve pared down my own style, and am glad I got Tony Buzan’s seal of approval after doing so:

Anthony Metivier with a Much Improved Tony Buzan Style Mind Map

Anthony Metivier with a Buzan-style Mind Map

 

But you might be asking: aren’t these the same as spider maps, concept maps, and other such visualizations?

No. There are some key differences.

How is Mind Mapping Different from Other Visualizations?

A mind map represents the natural way you think — quite unlike linear note-taking.

Let’s look at some similar visualizations:

Concept Map: Concept mapping connects multiple ideas. These maps have text labels on the connecting lines based on connections between each concept.

A concept map, a type of visualization similar to mind mapping.

Source: Wikipedia

Graph Data Modelling: This model is a semantic network made up of nodes and relationships between entities.

An example of graph data modeling, showing the connections between popular actors and directors, with movies that connect them.

Source: Neo4j

Graph data modeling is created using words and icons, but with a focus on end-users’ needs. Mind maps serve a different purpose: helping improve your memory and organization.

Spider Diagram: Both a mind map and a spider diagram start with a central idea. But mind maps have main ideas and sub-ideas, while a spider diagram has nodes from each hierarchical line.

See the diagram below:

A spider diagram showing a central topic hub and branched hierarchy and nodes.

Source: LucidChart

However, none of these techniques count as mind maps because they don’t mimic the natural way your thoughts flow.

Is visual note making more effective? Let’s find out.

Why are Mind Maps Effective?

Nobel prize winner Dr. Roger Sperry’s research proved that visual forms of note making are more effective than written methods.

He showed that the brain is divided into two hemispheres that perform cortical skills like logic, imagination, color recognition, and others. These functions work in sync when you mindmap your thoughts, creating a lasting impression in your brain.

Mind maps are effective because:

  • They nudge you to ditch the usual, bullet-point style of thinking, which pushes you to use your creativity.
  • They are presented in a brain-friendly format — and people can grasp the linkages quickly.
  • They let you see the bigger picture.
  • They keep you focused on key issues.
  • They give you time for “diffuse thinking” as you pause to change colors and reflect on keywords and images.
  • And, they help you retain and recall more information through patterns and associations.

Next, let’s look at why mind mapping can be beneficial.

Benefits of Mind Mapping

Years of research have gone into testing the effectiveness of mind mapping.

A DNA strand, a scientific and medical concept that mind maps help students understand better.

In a 2005 study by G. Cunningham, 80% of the students agreed that mind mapping helped them understand science concepts better.

Paul Farrand proved the efficacy of mind mapping as a study technique and encouraged its use in medical curricula.

Mind maps are known to help you to improve your productivity at work, academic success, and even to manage your life.

Here’s how you could apply it in your day-to-day life:

  • Note Taking: You can map out notes from a podcast, a project discussion, or a seminar.
  • Brainstorming: Helps in real-time collaboration with your team members to make informed business decisions.
  • Studying: You can summarize books.
  • Presenting information to an audience: Use it to get your team’s buy-in for anything through clear narratives.
  • Problem-solving: Sometimes, it helps if you map out your current situation and your desired situation separately. This will help you come up with solutions easily.
  • Increasing creativity: The words, images, and colors you use let you see the information from a very different perspective.
  • Planning: Plan your holiday or your next sales strategy using mind maps.
  • Language learning: Use a simple, 12-point mind map to combine 12 vocabulary words with the Major System. Here’s how:

Who, When, and How to Make a Mind Map


Now that you have a fair idea of mind maps, let’s understand who should use it, as well as when and how.

Who Should Use Mind Maps?

Mind maps are particularly helpful for those who:

  • Remember a visual image or a diagram better than written pieces.
    • (Or need practice becoming more visual.
  • Deal with lots of information or a project that needs more clarity.
  • Need to brainstorm for ideas from others to build a bigger project or solution.

Mind mapping has also proven useful for dyslexic students and those with ADHD.

When Should You Use Mind Maps?

Create mind maps when you need to achieve some goal — to understand your course material or project better, or to assess the ideas from brainstorming sessions.

Remember — mind mapping isn’t the end goal by itself.

What is mind mapping? It can be used when you need to understand a project better. This image shows a desk with sticky notes, markers, and other office supplies.

And don’t spend too much time perfecting it. If it takes too long, it may hamper your creative thinking.

How to Make a Mind Map

Drawing a mind map is pretty straightforward.

For example, if you want to prepare a meeting agenda take a blank page and follow these basic steps:

  • Draw a bubble in the middle of the page with the title of your meeting.
  • Branch out with new bubbles from the central theme, with each branch representing the topics you want to address.
  • Draw lines to connect each of them to the middle bubble.
  • Add new ideas starting from the general to the specific.
  • Repeat this for each subtopic branching out from the topics.

What are the Rules for Mind Mapping?

Mind maps are meant to be hierarchical and show relationships among pieces of the whole.

What are the guidelines you can use?

Tips for Drawing a Mind Map

Here are some mind mapping rules to make your mind map project expressive and compelling.

  • Use colors, illustrations, and pictures: Some of the most effective mind maps have more doodles and symbols than words.
  • Keep the topics and sub-topics brief: Stick to a single word each, or just a picture instead of long phrases or sentences.
  • Keyword for branches: Name your branches or lines using a keyword each.
  • Use different text sizes and alignment: Provide as many visual cues as you can to emphasize important points.
  • Use symbols: Draw symbols like arrows and shapes to classify your thoughts.
  • Space it out: Leave enough negative space between your idea bubbles.
  • Highlight important stuff: Highlight important branches or bubbles with borders or colors.
  • Create linear lists: You can create linear hierarchies using bullet points and numbered lists.
  • Mix up word sizes and fonts: Add in hierarchies of words using different font sizes to highlight their importance.
  • Use varying cases: Use lower and upper cases to highlight the importance of ideas.

Every little effort you put into your mind map project will engage your brain. And, all these visual aids will make your mind map more memorable and easier to recall.

Now, do you draw mind maps on paper, or is there a diagramming tool to do it?

The answer is: both.

Tools You Can Use for Mind Mapping

You can draw mind maps by hand, just like note-taking during a lecture.

Or you can use websites or mobile phone apps to do it.

Traditional Mind Maps

Nothing is as comforting as putting pen to paper when an idea strikes you. This is, in fact, the simplest way to map your ideas.

A person hand drawing a mind map with pencil and paper.

It is your personal project — your thoughts, handwriting, and your doodles. You can create it yourself or in groups on a whiteboard during a brainstorming session.

The pen-and-paper method works perfectly most of the time, but it does have limitations:

  • You may not have enough space on the paper to expand your thoughts.
  • You can’t make too many corrections.
  • And, it may not always be presentable enough to share in a formal meeting.

The other option is to use mind mapping software — websites and apps.

Mind Mapping Software

Mind mapping apps and websites help you organize your ideas and store large amounts of data in a single location.

What makes for great mind mapping software?

The best mind mapping tools…

  • Allow you to create a wide network of ideas, facts, and connections.
  • Let you make quick changes through automatic spatial organization and hierarchical structuring (particularly useful while brainstorming).
  • Let you play with fonts and colors, and even drag and drop files into the mind mapping program.

Which are the Best Mind Mapping Software Tools?

Here are three of the best online mind mapping tools available today:

1. MindManager by MindJet: This tool is for business users — a professional mind map maker with MS Office integration. You could even pick a mind map template in the tool to get started.

A screen, showing a mind map made by the MindManager software tool.

Source: MindManager

2. XMind: This mind mapping tool has a simple interface and is mainly for enterprise-level users. It lets you convert your mind maps to a Gantt chart that shows the start and end dates and progress of each task.

You can even use a countdown timer to time your sessions on this mind mapping software (this will keep you focused and will stop you from spending too much time mind mapping and brainstorming).

A mind map made by the software tool from XMind.

Source: XMind

3. Scapple: This mind mapping tool was built for writers by a writers group called “Literature and Latte.” It is easy to use and comes with great features (minus embedding audio and video).

With this mind mapping application, you’re not limited to starting with a central theme. You can begin with a small idea, then work backward to reach the main idea.

A mind map made by Scapple, a tool by Literature and Latte.

Source: Scapple

You could also experiment with an open-source free mind mapping tool like FreeMind or Coggle.

The point is this: there are a lot of options. For an example of one teacher who uses software and teaches with a specific focus on personal develop is Joseph Rodrigues. Here’s one of his best:

Software options aside, now for the big question:

Can Mind Mapping Alone Improve Your Memory?

Mind mapping can improve your memory to a good extent because it involves association and imagination.

An illustration of a group of interconnected people and ideas.

Words, images, colors, and branches create mental focus and energy and help you to place information into memory.

But, the best part is, you can multiply the power of mind maps by using Memory Palaces and the Major System.

Curious to know how?

Read on.

How Mind Maps Help You Find More Memory Palaces

You can use mind mapping to find multiple homes for memory palaces.

Create a mind map for all the homes you know — your apartment, your school, office, the coffee shop. Jot down all specific details inside them.

This way, you make better associations that lead to more familiar places for multiple potential Memory Palaces!

Then quickly use these new Memory Palaces to store any information you want to in your memory. These Memory Palace books will help you learn more if you’re confused about how to use this tool.

Revisit the imagery several times (the Magnetic Memory Method Recall Rehearsal) to commit it to your long-term memory and recall it whenever you need to.

How to Combine Mind Maps with the Major System

The Major Method works by associating numbers with sounds where each number is connected with a consonant. For example, 1 = d, t, 2 = n, 3 = m, and so on.

An alarm clock with hands, like the one you can use to create a Major System combined with a Mind Map.

Imagine that your page is a clock with 12 branches. Create your central image and radiate your branches from it starting at 12 o’clock.

Going by the major system, mentally impose or draw TN (or “Tin Tin”) at 12 o’clock.

After you create the branch, think about how your keyword can interact with “Tin Tin.” If your keyword is “Shakespeare” and sub-branches are Romeo and Achilles, you can think of them in a car chase with Tin Tin.

You can use all the magnetic modes to “magnetize” them into your memory. This includes the spatial magnetic mode – the memory palace – which in this case is the mind map itself!

Mind Map + Memory Palace = Magnetic Memory

A mind map is an excellent non-linear visual representation of your ideas that mimics the way your brain thinks.

Once you master it (whether you use a notebook or a mind mapping software), you’ll never go back to linear note-taking ever again. But, mind mapping alone may not boost your brainpower as much as when combined with the Magnetic Memory Method. If you need more mind map examples, we have plenty.

Ready to use this combination to fire up your memory, creativity, and learning? Sign up for my free memory improvement kit today!

Magnetic Memory Method Free Memory Improvement Course

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