How to Use Mind Mapping To Set Your Goals – An Experiment

By Ellesse

Last Friday, I attended a 3 hour mind mapping seminar organized by my company. The trainer told us we can use mind mapping to take notes during meetings, organize grocery lists, brainstorm new ideas, plan project timelines and even make important decisions in our lives with it. Practically everything. After a few hands on sessions, it suddenly got me thinking. Since mind mapping is so powerful – and yes, it’s fun too – would it be more effective if I were to use mind maps to brainstorm, set and even track my goals?

I’ve decided to put it to the test.

What is Mind Mapping?

Mind mapping is an important technique popularized by Tony Buzan in the 1960s. Born in London in 1942, Buzan studied in the University of British Columbia and graduated with double honors in Psychology, English, Maths and the General Sciences. During his university days, he felt frustrated with the time and effort spent on preparing traditional notes and that eventually drove him to put his years of brain research to good use. He noticed that the human brain responds better to images, keywords & direct associations and came up with guidelines that formed the fundamentals of mind mapping techniques we see today. Interestingly, these same rules were widely used in the notes and journals of famous people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso etc.

How to Mind Map?

Here are some of the guidelines:

  1. Use a blank piece of A4 paper
  2. Turn it in a landscape layout
  3. Begin in the centre of the page and work out
  4. Use just key words, or wherever possible, images
  5. Create a coloured image (at least 3 colours) on the topic as a central theme
  6. Add the main themes
  7. Put keywords or images on lines to reinforce the concept
  8. Print it in lower case
  9. Branch off the main themes
  10. Use Colour, Symbols or Codes to show themes, relationships or make things stand out
  11. Connect arrows, icons or visual aids to show linkages between different branches
  12. Think 3-dimensionally
  13. Be spontaneous and write whatever ideas that pops out
  14. Focus on other areas if you are experiencing ideas drought in 1 branch
  15. Try to fit the whole map in a piece of paper

Sounds easy isn’t it? The truth is, it’s not too difficult. People who love mind mapping will tell you it’s easy, fun and helps them save loads of time consolidating and remembering massive data. During a survey conducted by an established UK mind mapping software company, one participant said he used mind mapping for practically “everything” and referred it as “the swiss knife for the brain”.

I’ve to admit I’m a new convert myself. Because believe it or not, I still remember some of the stuff I’ve scribbled during the seminar. Even though I’m quite “renowned” for having a bad memory. I strongly believe in its information retention ability and how I wish I’d learnt this when I was still in college. I could’ve graduate with honours!

Talk about being scornful. Ha ha.

My Mind Mapping Experiment

I downloaded a 30 days trial version from Mindgenius, a mind mapping software to help me with this experiment. I’m quite a good artist, so drawing the mind map manually by hand is not really a big issue. But using a software allows me to make changes easily without redrafting the whole layout everytime I’ve got new goals or ideas. In short, it saves time.

After installing Mindgenius, I started off by drawing a central topic in the middle of the page. The page is in a landscape format, so I’m actually complying with Buzan’s rules. According to what I’ve learnt in the seminar, the more compliant the mindmap is to those rules, the more effective it becomes. Since I’m brainstorming on my goals, I inserted a picture of a lady with a question mark sign above her head and named it “My Goals”. That’s the central theme. There were a lot of options I could choose with the software, so I don’t have to worry about running out of ideas.

Using the suggestions provided in my goal setting tutorial, I drew 4 main idea branches leading out from the central theme and named them “Personal Development”, “Career & Economic”, “Adventure” and “Contribution” in a clockwise sequential fashion. Why? Because the human brain will automatically read the first branch on the top right hand side in a clockwise manner. This was what I got after a few clicks on the Mindgenius program:


As I played around with the program, my creative juices started to flow. I branched out my Personal Development idea into 3 sub-themes and named them “Learn Thai”, “Pick up Public Speaking” and “Expand Social Circle”. To reinforce the last sub-theme, I added an image of a couple. I could have added whatever image I wanted to let my ideas stand out. But I refrained from doing so to prevent confusing the brain into thinking that all ideas are important. Here’s an example of how my mindmap looked like after completing the Personal Development branch :


In order for me to decide which areas I should explore further, I went through all my sub-themes and tagged a pink “1″ symbol to those I want to achieve in a year’s time. Eventually, I decided that the passive income portion under “Career & Economic” is the most critical 1 year goal I’d like to work on. I added an orange cloud over it to highlight its importance and branched into the subtasks I need to complete before the goal can be achieved. Such as researching profitable niches, finding affiliate programs etc.

If you’ve read my goal setting tutorial, during this stage, ideas are casually dumped out by the brain without any systematic order of how one believes the subtasks should be completed. 1 great benefit about using a mind mapping software is that all these ideas can be easily reorganized with just a few clicks of the mouse. Imagine doing this on paper! I’ll probably have to re-draw my mind map again! Here’s my completed mind map.


To explore further, I can expand each sub task in the yellow cloud with deadline(s) and rewards indicators and make it as comprehensive as it can be. It’ll be like a detailed step-by-step Goal Action Plan, all in a piece of paper! Should I complete any of the subtasks, all I have to do is to cross it out. With the Mindgenius program, I can even click on the “-” indicator to collapse all the subtasks once they’re done, or export to Microsoft Project for better project management. This makes the entire layout clean and clutter free.

Once 1 goal is completed, I can also choose to work on the other 1 year sub themes. Saves a lot of time, effort and paper!

My Conclusion

After the whole exercise, I realize mind mapping is indeed a very effective tool and I’ll gladly give it a 5 star rating. But for most people, the initial gasp will be learning the basic concepts. To those who’ll like to use mind mapping to draft their goal plans, do follow the guidelines recommended in my goal setting tutorial as well as this article and practice hard. The more practices you go through, the more accustomed your brain is to the new concept. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that your brain will mind map on it’s own. Sounds unbelievable? Well, at least that’s what the trainer told me during the mind mapping seminar.


3 Responses to “How to Use Mind Mapping To Set Your Goals – An Experiment”

  1. tina at 5:32 pm

    Hi there!
    I just LOVE your blog! it is so great. So many things I am interested in I find here. Keep up the great work you are really a great resource!!1

  2. Ellesse at 3:06 am

    Hey Tina, I’m really really glad you like the articles I’ve featured on Goal Setting College. Nothing makes me happier to know that it benefits my readers… Thank you so much for leaving a comment here too… Keep coming!

  3. Stefanp at 4:16 am

    Great blog one quick comment there is a free mind mapping program called Freemind. You can google it, it works great I’ve been using it for several years.




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