As the publisher of this blog, I’m always looking for intriguing applications of mind mapping software and other types of visual thinking tools. So when I discovered that Sathhyanand S., an Indian visual thinker who is building a following around his simple, thought-provoking Yellow Visuals, is using it to produce Morning Pages, I had to learn more.
Morning Pages is a creativity technique popularized by author Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. As she explains them, “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”
They have several key functions. First, they help you clear our minds of our concerns, fears and anything else that’s occupying your “mental RAM” to make room for creative work.
Second, they help to silence your “inner critic” – that part of your brain that automatically censors creative thoughts.
Finally, as you write Morning Pages, you uncover the seeds of ideas, aspirations and goals that you can further develop in your creative work.
Why is mind mapping software an excellent fit for creating morning pages? Because it’s ideal for capturing “flow of consciousness” thinking with a minimum of friction. In other words, you can capture a myriad of thoughts, ideas and feelings quickly, without regard to how they’re organized. It’s a perfect place for your “brain dumps.”
When you return to your Morning Pages later, you can then peruse them for ideas that may have potential value, nurture and develop them and even break them off into separate mind maps for further development.
In short, Morning Pages are an excellent fit for mind mapping software. To help us better understand the pros and cons of this technique, I interviewed Sathya:
Sathyanand S.: I’m a chronic overthinker. And I know journaling helps. Journaling helps me clear my head off various thoughts. It also helps me see what I’m thinking. Thinking made visible. But the issue was the effort and time it took me to do the process of journaling.
I personally find it difficult articulating my muddle up thoughts in legible sentences. It creates resistance as the process demands just too much effort. I’m not dyslexic, but just putting thoughts into words was a painful process, especially when you want it to be free flowing and generative.
So more than once, I have started the habit of journaling and promised myself to be consistent. But I will fail again and drop the practice. I also tried one-line journaling/one sentence journaling and even 5 minutes journaling (templatized format of journaling). But they simply didn’t have the impact of pouring myself out. It didn’t feel real.
Maybe many people face similar such issues, or maybe it’s just me.
Frey: When did you discover Morning Pages and what attracted you to them?
Sathya: I found out about Morning Pages from Tim Ferriss and later explored it from many videos and articles both by Julian Cameroon and many others who suggested the wonderful practice and its many benefits. I gave it a shot. I was clearly able to see the benefit of writing to think and even learn and discover myself, my feelings, my emotions and many quirks. In some ways, talking to myself also made me a tad bit calmer and stable.
So I kept doing it consistently (though not daily) than any other form of writing/ journaling practice, but with a difference, as I mention in the next reply.
Frey: What made you decide to try using a mind map to capture your Morning Page output?
Sathya: As I said earlier, I have difficulty articulating my thoughts and emotions freely in a long form essay format. Also I found that if I write in sentence format, in the spirit of Morning pages, to write continuously for three pages, I found that my writing becomes more and more muddled up.
Yes, that’s part of the process. But I personally like to go back and read my journals – as a way to understand what I was thinking and figure out any issues I may be facing at that time. In a sense, the retrieval percentage in my morning pages was pretty low.
I am a strong visual thinking person. I think in clouds more often than in linear sentences. In fact, I run a design agency – I specialize in information design where I visually remix content as infographics, cognitive maps and illustrations among others. I have always used mind mapping for various purposes in my professional life:
- Working on client projects
- Project planning
- Solving a business problem
- Ideating solutions
More often for taking notes and organizing content for learning purposes. But interesting of all these years, I very rarely used mind mapping for private musings – like for mental wellness or self-awareness.
It all happened in a moment, when one day I was exploring this interesting piece of mind mapping software called XMind.Works. For a lack of topic to ideate upon and given the untold muddiness I was facing in my head, I decided I will just mind map. So I wrote the date in the middle and started capturing my thoughts in nodes. It came up well. I was also able to organize what I have written later into buckets:
- A couple of family issues that were bugging me, and
- A few recent experiments I was anxious about
I put them all down. The process itself brought some awareness to the thoughts and just helped me distance myself from the issue a little bit. From then on, I was sort of hooked. So I started using mind mapping as a method to journal/ brain dump as well.
Sathya: The immediate and the most obvious thing is that I can jump from one issue at hand to another issue quickly on a mind map. A linear essay format never lends itself to this freedom, even when it is done on a digital media. The fact that you can see (almost) everything on one single page, I believe is almost a superpower. This gives me the choice to zoom in and zoom out on a topic by collapsing or expanding a node.
The second most important thing is the ability to rearrange and regroup thoughts and ideas. I think I have a peculiar way of visualizing information. I like to call it ‘cloud/ bubble thinking’ – meaning I like to group and contain ideas in groups of clouds/ bubbles. I feel a sense of relief when I’m able to bucket things in their own self-containing boxes. Beauty of the mind map journaling is that I can simply don’t have to follow a linear structure and let my mind jump from idea to idea. Post-facto I will regroup it for better clarity and understanding.
Finally, the retrieval value for me in a mind map is far superior than it is in a long form essay format.
It may not apply for everything that I take notes on. I still use Evernote for my personal knowledge management. But for journaling and broadly brain dumping and brainstorming, I found mind mapping superior in terms of referring back to the content later. I often find myself transferring some good quality thoughts and ideas that I came up with doing my journaling session on to my Evernote library of content.
Frey: Has mind mapping your Morning Pages helped you to process emotions?
Sathya: I’m quite not sure. But I think so. One validation of it is how often I came back to doing it. Though not daily, it’s pretty often I come back to my XMind and start doing a brain dump and just clear my head.
“Clear my head” – that’s the best way to put it, I guess. It just helps me to empty all my thoughts, emotions, anxiety out into an external system through this process. As they say, the first step to process one’s emotion is to identify it. The journaling simply helps me to do that. It makes my thinking visible to me.
In that sense, I recommend everyone to try journaling in whatever form they want. And if one particularly struggles with traditional long form journaling, I recommend using mind mapping as a tool to do your morning pages.
Frey: Have your visual Morning Pages helped you to become more creative?
Sathya: I always consider myself as a creative person – always steaming with hot ideas. At least that’s what I like to think. What morning pages do for me is that relieves me of mental clutter that may simply be blocking my creative flow. What I carve for is not more ideas, but reduced resistance and anxiety towards work. As I said, I am a chronic overthinker and journaling helps me subdue my unaddressed emotions at least first by recognizing it’s existence by capturing them on paper. It’s a cathartic process indeed.
There’s a beautiful metaphor in Indian literature. To let the sunshine in, you simply need to remove the needless clouds blocking them. The sun shall shower its blessing so.
Similarly, creativity, I think, for me has always been in existence. Human brain, I think, can’t exist without thinking or creating ideas. It’s just that our brain is cluttered with too many unresolved thoughts, unprocessed ideas and ‘open loops’ as David Allen calls it. Once they are addressed, I think creativity shall shine by all itself.
Frey: Do you have a special way of formatting anything you may want to incorporate into your creative output?
Sathya: I am using both an analog and digital format for mind mapping. The notebook is where my first draft of ideas and thoughts stay – whether be mind maps, todos, projects scoping, etc. Then I use softwares like XMind and Evernote to expand upon the idea, flesh it out — either for work or for personal brain dumping. In the case of journaling, I more and more prefer XMind.Works because of the simple ease of use and later regrouping and retrieval.
Frey: Do you find that your ideas more accessible or actionable in mind map form than they are in written form?
Sathya: That’s a tricky question. The generative feature of mind mapping unequivocally helps me access parts of my mind that other formats don’t lend themselves too. But I warn everyone to refrain from thinking of it as a magical solution.
Creativity follows the process and tool we employ more often than we think. I find myself thinking differently when I sit before a laptop versus with a pen and paper. Or with a mind map software or on Evernote or Google Docs. Even though I don’t want to accept it, the user interface with each of the tools triggers a slightly different way of processing information.
This is my primary tool for managing my library of content in Evernote. I use a mind map for idea generation (or a better term would be idea capturing). Once done, I usually transfer good ideas onto Evernote for long-term storage and of course for eventual utility value.
The main reason obviously is that the primary form of written communication that we have is sentence format – from a one-line Tweet to a book. So, as a technical writer and content creator, beyond the stage of capturing, I prefer to move away from mind map and into Evernote. For example, I’m writing answers to this query not on a mind mapping tool, but on Evernote. That’s how I prefer to do it.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Ryan Holiday’s note card system on Evernote. It’s also loosely based on the Zettelkasten method that’s been widely discussed recently by the online community. Let’s see how it goes.
Frey: What other applications do you use mind mapping software for?
Sathya: The major area where I use mind mapping is project planning, particularly for client work, in the initial phase when I’m specifying parts of the client needs and services we can offer and subsequent outcomes and deliverables. Later, of course, I moved it on to task management software to help us manage the project. But the initial planning and even revision happens on mind mapping.
Recently, I have also started using mind mapping to design websites. I run a design agency and one of our main services is designing websites.
The major problems my clients face is that they either want too much content on their website or more dangerously they repeat themselves in multiple places. So I use mind mapping to map their content from page level to sub-pages and even to specific content that needs to go on to a specific page. The beauty of mind mapping as opposed to, say, putting it on a document or on a Google Slide is that it allows all the parties to zoom in and out the content quickly. This on one side avoids content clutter and on the other side avoids repetition.