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May 30, 2022 (Updated July 18th, 2023)

Mind Maps – for reflecting or growing?

by Caragh Medlicott posted in Ayoa, Mind Mapping.

Ayoa | Mind Maps – for reflecting or growing?
Mind mappers can quite often be divided into two camps – those who use the technique to superpower their learning through revision mind maps, and those who see the mind map as a creative tool primarily intended for ideation and growth.

Of course, the mind map is a highly flexible tool that can be (and frequently is) used for a wide array of other reasons. Still, with most mind mappers falling under the banner of “reflective mind mappers” (people who use their mind maps to comprehend existing knowledge) and “growth mind mappers” (people who use their mind maps to spark new ideas and thoughts), now seems the perfect time to ask what mind maps are really for – reflecting or growing?

But before we get into the debate, let’s first look at the benefits of both techniques.

Reflective mind maps

Learning new knowledge is one thing, retaining it is another. Some studies have suggested that humans actually forget 50% of new information within an hour of learning it – a stat that goes up to 70% after 24 hours. In some ways, this isn’t all that surprising. After all, if you remembered every frivolous conversation and throwaway tidbit you learned, your brain would be a much busier, overcrowded place. Still, it goes without saying that there are times when we do want to retain knowledge.

Whether you’re a student studying for an exam or an adult who wants to get to grips with a new subject, there are a million reasons why you’d want to learn new things but unfortunately not a million ways to achieve it. That’s where the reflective mind mappers come in. The advocates of this technique will be fast to tell you that mind mapping is perfect for revision because it breaks even complicated information into a format which is more naturally digestible for the human mind.

With colour and visuals used to strengthen associations, mind maps can greatly improve memory – in fact, visual learning has been linked with a 29-42% increase in information retention. No wonder the reflective mind mappers love it! But what do the growth mind mappers think?

Growth mind maps

Is there anything more intimidating than a blank page when you’re feeling short on ideas? Culturally, we’ve come to think of inspiration as something which happens of its own accord – the proverbial lightning strike. It’s true that creativity, which is directly correlated with the subconscious mind, can at times feel like an elusive process, but as growth mind mappers know, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tools to access it.

As Steve Jobs once said, in its simplest form, creativity is simply about having dots to join. In the same way that you can’t imagine a new colour, nobody – not even an innovation expert – can produce a wholly novel or original idea. Instead, all ideas, (yes, even the best ones), are the product of old ideas fused to create something new.

When we talk about inspiration, we’re really talking about the ideas and concepts you can input in order to encourage your mind to make new creative links. Growth mind mappers use this technique to achieve just that. By mirroring the natural structure of the brain and its patterns of thinking, you can easily capture ideas as they come, and keep the momentum going with visuals which fuel inspiration. Growth mind mappers see this as a huge asset to creativity, allowing them to reach new creative heights via ideas which – when applied – become innovative steps forward.

Which is really best – reflecting or growing?

So the time has come. Which mind mapping technique is really the best…? Well, it’s kind of a trick question. While adherents to either camp might have more to say about it, reflective and growth mind mappers actually have more in common than they’d maybe admit. Afterall, what is revision if not an input of new knowledge which can then be used to fuel new ideas? And while growth mind mappers might see their approach as something more dynamic than the mere retention of knowledge, given the very techniques which make the mind map such a powerful tool for information retention, it’s inevitable that growth mind mappers learn new things along the way, too.

In fact, I’d like to make the case that the mind map is so flexible and used so diversley around the world that to pin it principally on one purpose or another is ultimately futile. The beauty of the mind mapping technique is that it can do numerous things at once – applied in different areas of your life, it might enable you to pass a test, come up with a million dollar idea, and even get your daily life in order.

With this much potential, the real question isn’t which type of mind map is best, but why aren’t you using mind mapping more often?

Caragh Medlicott

Caragh Medlicott is a freelance writer and interim Editor of Wales Arts Review. After graduating with a First-Class Honours degree in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University she began a full-time writing career in Wales. She is the author of several published short stories and was shortlisted for the Lunate 500 award in December 2020, and a finalist in Narrative’s 30 Below competition in 2021. She is a regular contributor to BBC Wales' The Review Show.

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