Unblocking With Mind Maps

FreeMind 0.9.0 RC4 - Mind Map with User Icons
Image via Wikipedia

With a good plan, an article or blog post practically writes itself.

There has been a deathly hush on this blog for a few weeks now, broken only by the tumbleweed of the odd visitor bowling through. Since making a decision, for a season, to concentrate on a couple of fiction writing projects I seem to have lost the ability to churn out blogs and articles that require a bit more research and a different sort of attention. It has brought home to me the broad difference between essentially factual and fictional writing.

When writing from the imagination, in spite of having a vague idea where things need to go or end up, the author experiences many surprises and cannot predict the outcome. Like remembered dreams, plots and characters continually bewilder me because I know that they arise from my own mind but I am as surprised to see them as anyone. Getting used to this kind of writing has its own kind of thrill but I have fallen down when I have expected to be able to take the same approach to non-fiction. It is a very different discipline – of course, silly me, anyone could have told me that.

A simple tool is unlocking things for me again.

I have not posted on this blog for a long time because of the overwhelming amount of things whirling around in my brain and my utter inability to get a handle on it and work it into any shape.

Enter: Mind Mapping

Around New Year I always give some thought to identifying priorities and threads to follow in the coming year. Sometimes I work through a list of questions I ask myself at such times. This year I opened up a nifty piece of Mind Mapping software called “Freemind” (it’s free); and started storming ideas and organising them into nodes and branches. Wow! In ten minutes I had 2011 mapped out on a single page. Since I had the application open, I started to get down a few ideas for articles I have been meaning to write. Suddenly, everything seems manageable again. With a good plan, an article writes itself painlessly … sweet!

I always hated doing “spider diagrams” at school because they were something that we were supposed to do and I was against that in principle (the “supposed to” bit, I mean). Subsequently, attending training days and work related meetings where some appointed “scribe” would have to put our pointless ideas on a flip chart in spidergram form has done nothing to improve my taste for them.

Mind Mapping, invented by Tony Buzan, is so much more than a spider diagram, however. In its truest form it uses as much colour and visual signage as possible. It hangs on simple keywords and it adds the possibility of multiple branching or hierarchies that enable the representation of vast amounts of conceptual and material information for any purpose. As a system it is intended to imitate neural pathways in a way that is supposed to be really intuitive for the brain.

Where it has saved me today is by helping me to get unblocked. Paralysed by information and ideas? Unable to settle into any one of the hundred things calling for your creative attention? Pull up a page and sketch out a plan, make a mind map, and get something on paper. It feels great.

Opportunities vs. Temptations

“Opportunity knocks only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”

Can you tell the difference between an opportunity and a temptation? As a freelancing homeworker with a gazillion things clamouring for my attention and no-one telling me what to do from day to day and from hour to hour, it is really quite important that I learn to tell the difference.

I am not a “go getter” in life. I always default to passivity and it’s not something I am proud of but I also reject both go-getter-ism and let-it-happen-ism. There is a third way that assumes that everyone encounters opportunities, maybe five a day, regardless of who they are and what their circumstances. Each opportunity requires active appropriation – it’s the perfect blend of waiting for it and reaching out to grab it. It is not lazy for, as John James Ingalls said, “opportunities are usually disguised as hard work so few people recognise them”. By the slow accumulation of taken opportunities, massive change takes place.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), an early thinker in the Arts and Crafts movement writes in “The Philistine” that:

” … the only place where you can get away from Opportunity is to lie down and die. Opportunity does not trouble dead men, or dead ones who flatter themselves that they are alive.”

It is simply not true for anyone to say that they do not have opportunities. It would be truer to say that we are simply quite poor at detecting their presence. Preoccupied with the demands of the rat-race and the need to maintain our standard of life and retire with a tidy sum, it is easy to think that there is nothing else for us.

Good Morning
A Window of Opportunity

Deep down, I think we all know the difference between an opportunity and a temptation and we can spot it well enough; we just want to kid ourselves that that temptation is really an opportunity.

Opportunities have a different flavour to them, they are like the hint of a scent in the breeze. They are a time-limited phenomenon that catches your attention for a moment, just like that knock on the door. I have a friend who has no qualms about politely addressing strangers on the train, “Please excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing you talking about … X … and I happen to be quite interested in that area, myself.” Conversation ensues, contacts are exchanged, connections are made. I envy that ability, but it is a highly developed instinctive recognition of the scent of opportunity. Opportunity, hangs momentarily in the air and then it is gone.

I see opportunities as doorways that stand open for a short time before closing and disappearing. They are always portals to a whole host of further possibilities. They often catch us on the hop and we never have enough time to weigh them before we need to decide. Because they are so transient, we have to prepare ourselves mentally to capitalise on opportunities and this involves being very aware, listening for that timid knock above the incessant, buzz of temptations.

Temptation is less delicate, in fact it is downright rude and it capitalises on missed opportunities saying, “I’m still here, you know … if that other thing doesn’t work out for you, you can always try me.” These nagging possibilities are often the good that is the enemy of the best if they are not monstrous time sinks with rapidly diminishing returns. An opportunity can take a few seconds to engage with and bring massive returns. A temptation sucks everything you have got and when you have finally extricated yourself from it, it sits in the corner making faces at you.

“I knock unbidden once at every gate — If sleeping, wake — if feasting, rise before I turn away — it is the hour of fate, And they who follow me reach every state Mortals desire, and conquer every foe Save death, but those who doubt of hesitate, Condemned to failure, penury and woe, Seek me in vain and uselessly implore, I answer not, and I return no more.” (John James Ingalls, 1833-1900)

I wish the reader all the best in staying awake and saying “yes” and “no” to the right things today.