What is it?

Basically, mind-mapping is a way to ‘brainstorm’ creative projects (or academic ones) in their early stages. It is a way of allowing a series of thoughts and ideas to ‘flow’ onto the page, the purpose being to just get them out. See, as you probably know, getting the ideas out and organized can be one of the hardest parts of being creative, or just writing an essay.

Mind-mapping is a way of getting the ideas out without worrying about getting them in the perfect order, or expressing them like Chaucer himself. Imagine you could lift the top off your scull, and dump the ideas rolling around in there onto the page where you can see them, and work with them more easily. That is the purpose of mind-mapping.

How does it work?

The key to mind-mapping is to take the method by which we normally write down ideas, and literally flip it on its side. Where we normally write down our ideas in a list, say as bullet-points, with mind-mapping you use a horizontal working surface, and begin by writing the primary concept or idea in a bubble, right in the middle of the page. This is not recommended as a computer exercise. It works best when done by hand, because you want to be able to draw bubbles and lines and sub-lines all over the page, completely free of any formatting. We’ll talk about why in a moment.

Start with your main idea in the middle of the page. Just two or three words is all you need. Then think about other ideas that surround it, like satellites. Draw a line (or a vector if you’re fancy) out to a clear space and write the first associated concept or idea that comes to mind. Do another one. Or put sub-lines off that bubble with details, or sub-concepts. Do whichever part you want, in whatever order you want.

Keep it going/Get creative

Keep your hand moving. Draw lines even if you’re not sure what goes at the end of them. Let the process flow as freely as you can, writing down whatever comes to mind without judgment. It may not be the best idea on the page, or even one you use in the end, but it is part of the process to just let the ideas flow. You never know where it will lead you. A mind-map is a place where you let your mind take the lead, but in a non-direct way. It sounds a bit funny, but it works. It forces you into what is often called a ‘non-linear’ thinking process. That’s a fancy way of saying that you’re not trying to think in a straight line of ideas, which is what we have trained our brains to normally do.

Why does it work?

Well, here’s where it gets interesting. The idea is one proven in psychology, which is that when we can do little exercises that break us out of linear thinking, we use not just our linear functions on the left side of our brain, but the creative ones on the right as well. This is also a way of mixing some intuition in with the intellect. As strange as it may sound to some, Einstein was a big fan of such exercises, and claimed that it was intuition that lead him to all his best ideas. True story. Why not try it out yourself and see what it does for you?