These Mind Map Ideas Will Help You Become a Better Thinker and Problem Solver

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
Everyone gets brain fog from time to time, and cognitive health tends to decrease as we get older. But there are ways to preserve your brain power and improve sharpness and memory retention to help you think more clearly and retain more knowledge. For starters, ideas and strategies like mind maps are gaining popularity as a means for enhancing cognition and even creativity, so you can think more outside the box, draw more complex and interesting analyses, and have more depth in thought and work flow.

Unfamiliar with the concept? “Mind maps are tools for the brain that capture the thoughts that go on in your head and they assist you in thinking, gathering knowledge, remembering, and creating ideas,” says Cynthia Halow, founder of Personality Max, a platform that specializes in in-depth personality tests and reports. Mind maps can help you be more productive and structured, so they’re worth trying if you find yourself stuck with writer’s block or with a problem you can’t quite seem to solve.

Experts In This Article

At their core, mind maps help generate new ideas from a key concept. “It's usually very helpful to analyze a topic in depth by relating various other connections with it, and it usually makes you a better thinker,” says Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist.

With their help, you'll be able to collect more information, remember, and create new ideas instantly. The first step is to find a theme. “From this central theme, associations radiate out to form new ideas and thoughts, and our brain works with imagination and associations by linking one primary concept with many other small ones,” says Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios.

Why use mind maps?

“A lot of times we find that we can’t seem to organize our thoughts and take actions based on them,” Halow says. A mind map can serve as a guide to help you hone your organization skills in order to better problem solve and structure a means of achieving your goals.

Mind mapping links key concepts related to the theme through various images, lines, bubbles, and links. “The human mind tends to remember things they consider fun and interesting,” Halow says. So you can maximize results by choosing and designing mind maps that integrate use of colors, images, and keywords, all of which can help improve thinking, analysis, and memory retention.

Do mind maps really work?

“From my personal experience and experience of people, I’ve worked with, yes, if you want them to,” Halow says. Much like anything, you need to put in the effort to get results.

Dr. Gonzalez-Barrios agrees. “Mind map ideas and templates help summarize and visually organize information to show the relationship of the subparts to the core topic and the other various subparts, and help create new ideas and generate more knowledge related to the central theme,” he says. “This method triggers our brains to remember complex information by jotting down the key points and basic concepts related to a core topic.”

Yet, it's not done in bullet or list format, which is the key. “It's a visual thinking tool that fosters structuring concept formation and helps to analyze, comprehend, and create new ideas,” says Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios.

And if it's working, you’ll know because you'll start to see changes in your day-to-day life and in your productivity at work. “It’s like seeing all the things you would have naturally missed because your thoughts weren’t properly organized,” Halow adds.

Who are mind maps best for?

People who are very visually oriented may prefer mind maps because they can see how all of the information and their thoughts come together since all parts of the map are designed to be visually interconnected. As a result, you can collect and understand information simply by looking at you mind map, which different than creating lists because the form of a mind map is free flowing in nature and less rigid. “It's better than traditional note-taking because here learning and engagement is much greater, as it is both artistic and analytical,” Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios explains.

Mind maps are also great for people who love to get creative and design things since they can utilize different colors and shapes for each part of the map when organizing ideas.

The only drawback? "It can be laborious and time-consuming, as well as messy and dirty to look at on paper, though not very often,” says Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios. Plus mind-mapping may take longer than usual note taking, at least at first as you familiarize yourself with the concept.

How to draw a mind map on paper

Drawing a mind map is super easy if you want to do it by hand. Take a blank page and start in the middle by drawing an idea in a bubble that you intend to think upon. Then develop the subtopics related to the main central theme, connecting each of them to the main topic with a line. Repeat a similar process for adding new ideas to the subtopics, adding lower-level subtopics relevant to the theme.

“While drawing lines, you may use different colors and make them attractive, as the motive is to enhance the visual cues so that the user may go through the details easily,” says Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios.

Include as many visual cues in these mind map ideas as possible to highlight the important points. “This makes the mind map engaging and the brain can process the information quickly,” Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios adds.

Mind map ideas and online examples

You can simplify the process and get better at mind mapping by using an online tool that automatically adjusts and scales your mind map as you go, so that you don't have to worry about leaving enough space manually on a piece of paper, or in a word document or spreadsheet on the computer, in order to fit in all the ideas that pop up.

MindMeister is an excellent tool—you can make three maps for free, and then you’ll need to check out pricing—plans start at $4.99 and go up. Plus, you can use it with your co-workers or team members if you’re looking to collaborate on a project together by way of mind mapping. This way everyone is on the same page for each step—through brainstorming, analyzing, planning and strategy, up to completion. They even offer some great examples of mind map ideas online on their blog to help users get accustomed to the process.

Another options is Vennage, which offers over 40 online mind map templates, some of which are free, while others require a monthly subscription to utilize. Its templates are directed toward knowledge management, project management, and note taking, and other mind map ideas include health minded templates and bubble templates.

No matter what medium you choose, all effective mind maps should have good use of colors, shapes, varying sizes, word and font blocks, as well as other fun designs or themes that will appeal to your brain and keep you engaged in the work and thought flow.

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