A Reflection on 100 Days of Mind Mapping

How the Project Began

On August 15, 2016 I wrote on my blog “I’m pretty convinced that it would be really good for me to do a 100-day project. Meaning I want to do a 100-day project, but I haven’t yet committed to a start date nor what I would do.”

The Ugly Side of Mind Maps

The truth is I didn’t like mind maps very much to begin with. Throughout the project I often found myself wondering why on Earth I had picked such a device to record thoughts/information, cursing my past self for punishing me with this daily burden. Just take a look at what I wrote in Day 15’s mind map about mind maps, under the branch “My opinion”: “messy,” “incomplete,” “regret,” “tree-shaped lists,” and “not top visual graph.”

Disorganized format

On many days it felt like I was merely making lists, but pointlessly spreading them out into a hard-to-read web when the information could have been much more organized in a different way. Day 2’s “Things I’ll Miss About My Job,” Day 3’s “Reasons I Left My Job,” Day 4’s “Friends in France,” and Day 6’s “French Islands” all felt like this, for example.

Room for misinterpretation

Upon wiki-ing “Mind Maps” for Day 15, I discovered that the creator said mind maps should have only one word per line. I’m all for doing your own thing and breaking this type of rule, but for a time I gave it a shot, attempting to use mind maps the way they'd been intended. This was quite contrary to how I usually share my ideas online, writing the full context and explaining myself. But a single word? People wouldn’t know what it meant!

Filler mind maps

Another aspect that made me cringe was having “filler” or boring mind maps—the ones without any meaty content. At first a day seemed like a long time to get in a mind map, but the next day always came sooner than I thought. I’d start all over with another blank page: What will I mind map today, what will I mind map today? So, often I’d just take the first idea and run with it — even when I thought “This is so stupid” or “This is such a filler,” or when said “stupid idea” took forever to come to me. Such mind maps include, but are not limited to:

  • Day 9's "Moving"
  • Day 16's "Watercolors" (filled in with info from Wikipedia)
  • Day 18's "Metro Ride Pueblo Nuevo → Ópera"
  • Day 19's "Books" (I did this topic twice! Day 83 is arguably the more unsubstantial of the two, as I merely listed various genres, using Amazon when I ran out of ideas)
  • Day 33's "Relaxing"
  • Day 63's "Parenthood (Season 1)"
  • Day 98's "Dinner Appetizers"

Daily weight

Looking back I should have done them first thing in the day, as many days I could feel their weight more hours than I got to feel the relief of having finished for the day. And after a night of shut eye, the slight weight returned every morning.

The Bright Side of Mind Mapping

Forced creation

I had to create one small thing a day, no matter what. This allowed more space for ideas to get out of my head and onto paper: the first step of many future creations and writings, I’d later discover. It was also a fantastic exercise in creativity. Here's a blank piece of paper, make a mind map. Limitations and self-imposed rules can be very helpful towards strengthening creativity. (Speaking of which, did you know Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham" came about when his publisher bet Seuss he couldn't write a book using only 50 words?)

Constant between locations

I began this project while I was still living in Montpellier, continued it during my sojourn in Madrid, and finished it while at home with my parents in Waunakee. Although I’m used to moving around — stopping, starting, and pausing various lives around the globe — this new constant did help make the transition even smoother. No matter my surroundings or language or daily routine, each day I had to make a mind map.

Memories of days

While I journal quite regularly, I like that this project left me with a steady documentation of my days. The mind maps which covered the day’s events in some way will be especially memorable. Examples include:

  • Day 45's "Reactions to Election Results"
  • Day 43's "Saturday November 5 (2016)"
  • Day 59's "Games Played on Thanksgiving"
  • Day 79’s "Baking Christmas Cookies with Kayse"
  • Day 89’s "Wichelt Christmas"
  • Day 90’s "Thering Christmas"
  • Day 95's "NYE Drinks"

Normalization of sucking

Although it didn’t feel great at first to have “filler” topics, I realized that with a frequency of one mind map per day, it was totally okay to have “sucky” ones. This is advice I’ve read again and again by writers or creatives. The first short story you write isn’t going to be your masterpiece. You can rewrite and edit all you want, but if you lower the bar and amp up quantity, your creative muscles will grow and have space to be freer, not restricted by pressure to succeed. After all, if you’re only giving yourself one shot to get it right, that’s an awful lot of pressure. It takes much doing to improve at something.

  • The more frequently you create (and the more you emphasize the process over result), the more it feels okay to experiment and take risks, as you become at ease with letting it “suck.”
  • The more “bad ones” you create, the sooner you’ll get to a nicer (small) selection of “good ones” (if that's an aim).
  • The more you let it out, the more ideas/action will come.

Shitty first drafts (and thus, polished pieces)

Relatedly, I’ve read in numerous writers’ memoirs that writers just need to spurt out their ideas into a shitty first draft. (Most recently, Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird.") It can look nothing like the finished piece and it can be absolutely terrible writing, but you just have to write it down somewhere. Unknowingly, mind maps became my shitty first drafts.

Satisfaction of finishing 100 days

Finally, I enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing this project through to completion. Back in 2014 while living in Korea, I had begun a project on Give It 100 (site no longer exists) to stretch each day, with the goal of being able to touch my toes. The platform required you upload a 10-second video each day, so this actually turned into a more involved project than you’d think, as I would record myself from my laptop while stretching, then later edit it down to 10 seconds. Sometimes I’d add music and such, since it was fun to create with video — but it required a decent chunk of time daily.

Final Thoughts

In sum, the thing I hate most about mind maps — that they look ugly and don’t feel organized—is exactly what makes them the most useful for me personally. Since I know it’s going to look terrible and be "disorganized" no matter what I do, I have permission to spit all over the page. And by getting those first words/thoughts out somewhere, I’m much more likely to later turn it into a blog post or more polished creation. If I were to try writing the blog post first, however, there’d be much more resistance. (Case in point: I used my mind map from Day 100 to start a draft for this very reflection!)

  • #62 Alternatives to "So What Do You Do?"
  • #66 How to Combat Hateful Emails/Comments Online
  • #71 Labels That Have/Do/Will Describe Me
  • #85 My Interest in Transformation
  • #86 To Write About (ie: the impermanence of words)
  • #99 I Want to Live in a World Where…).

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