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Mind Mapping for Positive Health

by Barry Mapp(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 18 - March 1997

Staying healthy is about always feeling in control and not being overwhelmed by the changes, which occur continually, in the external environment. However, many of us are not equipped to deal with the challenges of the "Information Explosion", and as McCarthy says in his book Mastering the Information Age, we do not have the skills for the 21st Century. He suggests that the major reason for this is that our education and culture have not given us the mental skills and attitudes to deal with the rapidly changing nature of life today.

Most of us have received a 19th century education, consisting of the three Rs – reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. This is woefully inadequate for the complexities of modern life. The emphasis at school is on facts rather than understanding or knowledge and we fail to encourage independent thinking. The emphasis is on academic skills rather than life skills. In order to survive and stay on top of life, McCarthy suggests that we need to become "Masters of Information" (as opposed to "slaves") and he suggests that one of the key life skills is Mind Mapping.

What is a Mind Map®?

Mind Mapping was devised as a memory tool by Tony Buzan in the '70s and since that time, it has evolved considerably and its applications have extended substantially. A Mind Map® is a powerful, but simple, graphical tool which provides a "key" to unlocking the potential of the Brain. It does this because it is exceedingly "brain-friendly" and thus "user-friendly". When you Mind Map® (particularly compared to techniques like listing or "outlining") you harness the full range of your intelligences and cortical skills. Word, image, number, logic, rhythm, colour, spatial awareness and most importantly "connectivity", pattern and "flow" are rolled into a single technique. This technique gives you the freedom to roam the infinite expanses of your brain – hence the name – mind "mapping". Box 1 gives a brief outline of how to Mind Map®. Box 2 shows some uses and benefits of Mind Mapping.

A Mind Map

Why do you need a new tool for thinking and learning?

It might not be immediately obvious why you need to seek out new tools for learning. Most of us feel we have reached a satisfactory level of academic achievement (have we?) with the traditional way of doing things (sequential processing of information as lists or sentences). However, the amount of information available in the world is increasing at an exponential rate (since 1980 information has increased tenfold every five years). Nevertheless it has been calculated that the Brain can "hold" more information than is contained within all the libraries in the world. For the intrinsically motivated individual, the difficulty is usually not getting information into the brain, but getting it out again! Unless information is placed into the brain in an ordered and organised way, it can be difficult to retrieve or recreate it. Mind Mapping organises information making it easy to both input and recall.

The Brain is like a vast cosmic haystack and accessing a single idea or piece of information is like searching for something smaller than a needle. Mind Mapping lets you construct knowledge that often you did not realise you had. It reaches the parts (of memory) that other techniques cannot easily reach. When creating a Mind Map® from scratch (or rather from a central theme, idea or problem) you are able to call upon, to full effect, your Brain's multiprocessing and parallel processing capacity. If you seek to address an idea by the traditional method of listing words or phrases (sequential, linear processing) then when you come to a halt with this data stream, a "thought blockage" can occur that is hard to bypass. The conscious mind (i.e. what Ornstein refers to as the front page of the mind) becomes preoccupied with seeking the next piece of this linear data stream. Not only is this a time-waster, but it can be very frustrating when one gets such a "block", and the motivation to continue with the task can rapidly drop off and disintegrate into a "can't do" or "don't know" response. However, when your mind is in a true "Mind Mapping Mode" you are actually able to multi-process information. As you commence each new branch on your map you are setting up a new task on which your subconscious mind can work at its own pace in the background.

You will probably appreciate that your subconscious mind can do multi-tasking with ease, for you know that you can breathe, co-ordinate muscles, maintain all bodily functions, drive a car or complex machine, whilst consciously "thinking" about something completely different. You may also be aware that your subconscious mind continues to work on an incomplete task long after the conscious mind has given up and moved on to something else. A typical example is when you are trying to remember the name of someone. It is on the tip of your tongue. The conscious mind tries and tries to recall the name without success. Later, whilst doing something completely different the name just pops into your conscious mind like magic. Unknown to you, your subconscious mind was continuing to work on the "task" until it found the data (provided of course that you had not over-ridden the search programme with a command such as "Oh I can't be bothered to spend any time on that!").

Go with the Flow

When Mind Mapping around an idea or problem, the conscious mind is focussed on the task of creating the map and "going with the flow". It is not focussed on any particular train of thought or data-stream. The "work" of finding inter-connecting thoughts, concepts or solutions is being done at the subconscious level where the brain is able to work on many tasks simultaneously. Those people who are very logical and tend not to trust their "intuitive" side will initially find it difficult to "trust" the technique, because their "logic" is telling them that this different way of working is "impossible". However, the habit of utilising the brain's multi-processing capabilities in this way starts to develop after the first half-a-dozen or so attempts and so anyone can do it with a little perseverance.

Traditional Thinking and Radiant Thinking

Traditional thinking is like moving along a telegraph pole from the base to the top. There comes a point where you are stuck and don't know where to go next, so you then look for another pole. When thinking in the Mind Map® Mode, your thoughts are like a growing "organic" tree. More and more "thought" branches form and each branch has many "buds" of possible "thought" growth. New branches form not as you "think" in the traditional sense, but as the subconscious mind throws up new connections relevant to the task. A Mind Map® which starts with just two main branches with each branch subdividing twice and then twice again will have 8 branch tips and 6 internal buds, a total of 14 positions, at which new connections (thoughts) can be added. A thought which "pops in" to the conscious mind, but does not have a ready connection to be made within the existing "architecture" of the growing map, can become the basis of a third main branch. Tony Buzan describes this process as "radiant thinking".

Mind Map for Positive Health

The Mind Map® is a Thought Catcher

The Mind Map® used in this way is a "thought catcher", rather like the webbed jewellery, which is the shaman's "dream-catcher". The Mind Map® can accommodate between 7 and 9 main branches and the thought process is thus constrained only by the boundaries of the paper. When thinking linearly, as the list of ideas grow, so the number of further possibilities seem to diminish. With radiant thinking, as ideas bloom outwards they multiply, and the number of further possibilities actually increases.

Mind Mapping makes the thinking process visible. As Robert Ornstein says in his book Multimind "we are often unaware of how we make judgements and decisions, some of which are often inappropriate, misplaced or wrong". When you create a Mind Map® you become more aware of any "bad connections" which you had made previously in your thought "logic circuits".

Who recommends Mind Mapping ?

A growing body of professionals at the leading edge of learning recommend the use of the technique as a life-long learning skill. A new set of Study Guides due for launch nationally in 1997 will recommend Mind Mapping for pupils at school. Major corporations are coaching their employees with the skills of Mind Mapping to increase the "intellectual capital" of their organisations. They are creating "Thinking Companies".

How can you develop your Mind Mapping skills?

A very readable and affordable book to get you started is Get Ahead, by Vanda North, or there is the comprehensive Mind Map® Book from Tony Buzan, the originator of the technique. If you prefer watching videotapes, there is Lana Israel's two tape set Learning with Lana. If you prefer learning by doing and by interacting with others then there are high quality training courses available both as open meetings and "in-house". For details of all these products and services, you can contact Buzan Centres Ltd, at the International Brain Centre, 54 Parkstone Road, Poole BH15 2PX on 01202 674676.


Get Ahead, Vanda North, International Brain Centres
The Mind Map® Book, Tony Buzan BBC Books 1993
The Leaning Revolution, Dryden and Voss Accelerated Learning Systems Ltd 1994
The Brain Book, Peter Russell Rouledge 1979
Visual Tools for Constructing Knowledge, David Herlye ASCD Virginia 1996
Mindmapping, Wycoff J., New York: Berkley Book 1991
Mapping Inner Space, Nancy Marguiles Zephyr Press Tuscon 1991
The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, Peter Senge Century 1990
Going Beyond Words – The art and practice of visual thinking. Kathy Mason
Map It ! Tools for Charting the Vast Territories of your Mind. Nancy Marguiles 1995
How to Pass Exams, Dominic O'Brien Headline 1995 (Dominic dedicates this book to "all sufferers of dyslexia")
Cultivating the Mind for Positive Health, Barry Mapp, Positive Health Magazine Issue 16 1996
Brains Learn Naturally but People Don't, Barry Mapp – Presentation at Learning Company Conference, Warwick University, March 1996.
MindMapping – be Amazed, Helen Whitten Streetwise Business Magazine Oct/Nov 1996
The Dinosaur Strain, Mark Brown, Element Books 1988
Multimind – A New Way of Looking at Human Behaviour, Robert Ornstein, PaperMac 1986
Fourth Generation Management – The New Business Consciousness, Bryan Joiner Mcgraw-Hill 1994
Mastering the Information Age, Michael J McCarthy, St.Martin's Press (I.P.Tacher) 1991


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About Barry Mapp

Barry Mapp is a freelance trainer, learning coach and management consultant. He is a licensed Buzan Trainer and a member of the Registry of Accelerated Trainers. You can contact him on 01299 877201 or (mobile) 0973 491956.

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