Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Looking Forward: Using Mind Mapping for Goal & Intention Setting

January is named for the Roman god Janus, who looks both backward and forward. After the whirl-wind of the fall semester and the holidays, January can seem stark with its quiet, weather-driven days. I like to use the weekends in January to catch up with myself and look forward—not making predictions, or resolutions, but set goals. What is it that I want to accomplish this year? What ideas do I want to invest in? I like to take time on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of the month to mind map not only the year ahead, but also take stock of what I have accomplished in the year that has passed.

I put on some music that lends itself to becoming forgotten and immerse myself in drawing, sketching, and connecting words. I recommend a fresh sketch book/idea book to begin the year, but all you truly need is a fresh sheet of paper (usually the bigger the better, especially if you like to spread out).

When looking ahead, I have two approaches. Sometimes, I focus on the entire year, and more often than not, I focus on the seasons, creating four separate mind maps. Personally, thinking about the year in seasonal quarters is deeply ingrained in me from years of retail, but also makes the year ahead seem less overwhelming. There is a place for everything in moderate detail within each of the seasons.

From the core image, I set out branches that cover the key areas of my life, such as: Friends & Family, Home, Career, Finance, Learning & Travel, Body & Mind, Reading & Writing, and Relaxing. This is a fairly customized list, and I encourage you to do the same for your own exercise.

Mind mapping is a great tool to explore ideas in a non-linear format. It is ¼ list, ¼ notes, ¼ connections and ¼ map. There is no right or wrong way to create a mind map. I often start one and then refine it if it gets really messy. The point of the exercise is to look holistically at the year ahead and set about creating space for you to explore the time and place to either bring to fruition creative ideas that have been percolating (like the short story that you have outlined but never officially begun) or schedule time to learn a new language or finally take that French cooking class at the culinary institute. It is also great for planning ahead for birthdays and holidays.

Once you’ve begun experimenting, you can adjust your mind maps to be as big-picture or as micro-detailed as you would like. Often, when I have multiple projects going on, I create a monthly mind map to document the key points that I would like to take action on that month.

Ultimately, mind mapping the year ahead creates intention. I’ve found that things I noted in my mind maps, even if I was unclear how it was going to happen, do come about—in some way, shape or form. Sometimes things happen in a way that I had not envisioned, and when I go back and look at my mind map, it never ceases to amaze me what ideas (and wishes) have come to fruition.

Happy New Year & Happy Mind Mapping!

Resources: I was introduced to the concept of Mind Mapping as used for setting goals in Michael Gelb’s marvelous mind-expanding book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. I then learned more about using mind mapping as a tool for monthly planning , or even a daily performance evaluationsl, in Tony Buzan’s book Mind Mapping. If you are more of a list maker, or want a quick life-area evaluation tool, I recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, The Life Pie exercise or Barbara Sher’s yearly planning map in Wishcraft.

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