How to make mind mapping a habit


Many people find it hard to sit down and start mind mapping.

When you first test out this strategy, it can feel clunky and awkward. It requires a bit of mental effort to get going.

Why can it feel hard to start mind mapping?

Because it isn’t a habit (not yet anyway). Once mind mapping becomes a habit, it can feel easy and deeply rewarding.

But how do you get to that point where mind mapping feels easy? Even fun to do?

In this article, I will explore how you can create a habit of mind mapping. I’ll show you how to remove any friction or pain points, so it’s a lot easier to put pen to paper and start absorbing ideas.

Removing common barriers to mind mapping

Let’s start by looking at what gets in the way and stops a lot of people from creating mind maps in the first place. I’ll also share some strategies you can use to overcome each of these barriers.

1. “Mind mapping takes too long to do”

When you look at a mind map with all the pictures and different colours, it looks like something that would take a fair amount of time and effort to create.

And if you’re comparing mind mapping to the time it takes to just read your book passively, then yes, mind mapping will take more time. But you need to appreciate that reading your book passively is not a particularly effective way to learn. In contrast, mind mapping is super effective.

One of the common time traps people fall into is they try to make their mind maps look like works of art. If you can lower your standards and allow yourself to make a mess when you mind map, this will speed up the process.

Another time trap is trying to mind map as you read. When you mind map sentence by sentence this can feel really slow! I find it’s much faster to just read and tab key ideas that are worth mind mapping later on. Once I’ve finished reading either the chapter or book, I then commence the mind mapping process.

2. “My mind maps don’t look pretty”

Some people get really hung up on the way their mind maps look. They can’t stand looking at messy pictures and scribbled words. If that’s you, then perhaps you could take your drawing skills to the next level with a little practice and some illustration lessons. But it’s really not necessary.

Mind maps are not there to look pretty. They are there to help you learn. Personally, I am a big fan of badly drawn mind maps. If you look at my mind maps from university, they aren’t exactly easy on the eye. But they helped me to understand and memorise key ideas. And that’s what matters most when it comes to learning.

Here’s a simple hack: invest in a set of nice, vibrant coloured pens. A bit of colour on the page will make your mind maps more visually appealing and will compensate for any ugly stick figures on the page!

3. “I don’t know what to do”

Mind mapping is straightforward and simple to do. You draw a central image, some curved lines, a few pictures, and write down key ideas. That’s it!

It’s not something you need to read a book about. You don’t need to enrol in a 10 week program to do this.

If you want some pointers, check out my free Mind Mapper’s Toolkit. It’s a quick and easy read.

4. “Mind mapping feels strange and uncomfortable”

It’s important to realise that the first time you engage in any new behaviour, it will feel a bit strange and uncomfortable. You may feel a bit clumsy and awkward. You may have questions, “Am I doing this right?”. All of this is normal and to be expected.

Even something as simple as the pen you mind map with can make or break this strategy. You’ve probably noticed that some pens don’t feel pleasant to write and/or draw with.

For instance, I’m not a fan of the popular Sharpie pen range. I don’t like the way these pens bleed through the page. And I really don’t like the way they smell.

These may seem like minor issues, but they’re not. Your mind mapping experience will be diminished by a pen that doesn’t feel good in your hand or on the page. And any behaviour that feels unpleasant is much harder to sustain.

I’ve since ditched my sharpie pens. I’m now using non-toxic Tombow paintbrush pens. As far as coloured pens go, I won’t lie, these pens are pricey! But you can hunt around and find them online for $25 cheaper than in Officeworks.

What I love about these pens is they are super easy to use, feel nice to strike across the page, and they won’t leave you with a splitting headache!

How do you develop the daily habit of mind mapping?

Here are some things that have really helped me to firmly establish this habit in my life:

1. Find a place in your routine

When is the best time for you to mind map? Where in your day can you easily slot in a 15 minute mind mapping session?

I like to mind map when I feel fresh and mentally alert (first thing in the morning).

Find an activity that you do every day without fail (e.g., having a shower, eating breakfast or dinner) and use that to prompt you to start a mind mapping session.

For instance, after I get up and have a drink of water, that’s my cue to sit down and start mind mapping.

2. Start before your start

Before you start your session, set yourself up with everything you need. I like doing this the night before my morning mind mapping sessions.

Just before I go to bed, I make sure my visual art diary is open on a fresh page, my pens are laid out, my gravity cube timer is within arms reach, and the book I am mind mapping is open on the page I need to start working from. The next day all I need to do is sit down, flip the gravity timer, pick up a pen, and away I go!

3. Deal with distractions before you start mind mapping

What’s one thing that can slow down the mind mapping process?

Technological distractions.

You probably already have a sense of the things that tend to derail you. Create a buffer between you and those things. For example, the biggest distraction for me is my phone.

How do I deal with this?

Before I start mind mapping, I put my mobile phone on silent and lock it in a kitchen safe. This signals to my brain that my phone is off limits and it’s time to knuckle down and focus on my work.

4. Show up and mind map every day (even if you don’t feel like it)

Don’t wait until you feel pumped and inspired to start mind mapping. Set a timer for 15 minutes and start mind mapping (regardless of how you feel).

If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. It’s no big deal. Just say to yourself, “Tomorrow is a new day. I’ll get back into mind mapping then”.

5. Celebrate

When the timer goes off at the end of your mind mapping session, say to yourself, “Good job!”. Do anything that makes you feel instantly good. I often clap my hands and give myself a pat on the back. According to Professor BJ Fogg this is the secret to wiring in any new habit. You need to instantly release a positive emotion.

6. Get the right tools

I mentioned this before but it’s important to say it again: don’t go cheap when it comes to the tools you use to mind map with. Invest in good pens. My favourite pens for mind mapping are Muji Japanese Pens (Black) and Tombow paintbrush pens.

Final thoughts

It may sound a little dramatic, but mind mapping has changed my life for the better. I used to read books and feel so frustrated that I couldn’t retain much information at all. But now I have a strategy I can easily use to help me understand and remember complex ideas. This gives me an incredible sense of confidence when it comes to learning new skills and information.

I encourage you to have a play with this strategy. Don’t get too hung up on how your drawings look. But do stick at the strategy for long enough to see if it makes a difference to your learning experience.