In this chapter, you will learn a very powerful technique for taking notes. This technique uses the recent research on how the brain works. The notes written with this technique are called “mind maps”.
This technique uses the power of both the left brain and the right brain, while the traditional notes use primarily the left brain. As a result, mind maps are the best for memory and recall.
An additional advantage of the mind map technique is creativity, which you will learn later in this chapter.
Every Word Has Many Meanings
Write down the meanings of the following words. Do not skip this exercise.
The dictionary meanings
Here are the meanings of these words from the dictionary Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. This dictionary has a total of 1050 pages.
- run – There are 38 different meanings given for run. The word run occupies more than one and a half pages in the dictionary.
- night – dark hours between sunset and sunrise or twilight and dawn.
- fun – (1) amusement, sport; playfulness (2) that which causes merriment or amusement
- hero – (1) boy or man respected for bravery or noble qualities (2) chief man in a poem, story, play, etc.
- film star – person famous as a singer, actor, actress, etc.
The true meanings
You have probably noticed that the meanings you gave for the words above were only a part of the dictionary meanings. For some of these common words, even the meanings you gave may have been different from the dictionary meanings.
The true meaning a word has for you is still different from the definition you gave as well as the definitions the dictionary gave.
In your mind, words have different meanings based on your experiences. These are the true meanings for you. A word may have more than one meaning for you. And a word can have different true meanings for different persons. For example, let us consider the word “night”.
- To a small child, the word night may mean fear.
- To lovers, the word night may mean beautiful moon-night and love.
- To a thief, the night may mean work.
- To a police officer on duty, the night may mean danger.
- If a dog bites someone at night, then the word night may mean dog-bite.
- To someone who has worked hard and does not expect success, the word night may mean life: only darkness of failure; no light of success.
- If someone has worked hard and is expecting success, the word night may mean the darkest hour of the night and it simply signifies that the sunrise is near and that success is near.
So, you see, a simple word “night” may mean almost infinite meanings to different people, based on their experiences in life.
Similarly, each word can mean many different things to different persons.
Key Concepts and Keywords: The Nature of Memory
Get ready for a small exercise. Describe any book you have read or any place you have visited or any film or videos you have watched. Close your eyes and do it for about 2 minutes.
- People cannot tell word-for-word what happened. What they remember are the main features, outlines, and main incidents of the film. These are keywords or key concepts.
- You remember things like keywords and key concepts rather than word-for-word details and word-for-word descriptions. This is the very nature of your memory.
Memory Keywords and Creative Keywords
There are two types of keywords. The memory keywords help memory. The creative keywords help creativity. What is the difference between them?
The memory keywords generate some specific meanings in your mind. The creative keywords generate many different possible meanings in your mind. Let us see an example to understand the difference. Here is a paragraph from a famous author, Osho. Find the keywords.
“It is natural to feel doubt. If there is no doubt, then there is no growth either. The more you feel full of doubts and still, you go on the journey, that makes the difference. The stupid person, the imbecile, the idiot may not feel any doubts, he may simply believe, he is not going on any adventure; he cannot understand what adventure is. He is just accidental, he is at the mercy of the winds. But the intelligent person is bound to feel doubts. Despite the doubts one has to go; that’s how life is. This is the law of life. Despite all the doubts, one has to go.
“Do you think the people who were trying to reach Everest were not full of doubts? For a hundred years, how many people tried, and how many people have lost their lives? Do you know how many people never came back? Not even their dead bodies came back; they got lost, lost forever. But, still, a few courageous people went on and on.
“This fact has to be noted down: that no Indian ever tried. This country has lost the spirit of accepting challenges. That’s why this country has lived in slavery for two thousand years …
“But people went on coming from all over the world, risking, knowing that they may not come back ever, they may be lost. But it is worth it because in the very risk something is born inside you: the center. It is born only at risk. That’s the beauty of risk, the gift of risk.”
Some of the possible keywords are doubt, natural, Everest, Indian, died, adventure, lost spirit, challenges, and a hundred years.
Imagine ten years from today, you want to remember the above message of Osho. What keywords and phrases will help you remember? My answer would be: intelligent people doubt, no Indian tried Everest.
If I were to choose the word “Everest”, then ten years later, I cannot recall the message. Why? Because, Everest means many things: snow mountain, beauty, the highest peak in the world, etc. So, the word “Everest” is a creative keyword.
Learn to find memory keywords and creative keywords in whatever you read. And use ONLY the memory keywords for taking notes.
The Traditional Linear Notes
The notes of most people look like one of the following two forms.
Some notes are like paragraphs
Some notes are like outlines
These forms of notes developed because we human beings talk (one person to another) in a linear sequence of words. We write also in a linear sequence of words. So, people started writing linear notes (two types of linear notes are shown above).
Connections: How The Brain Stores Information
To understand one aspect of how your brain stores information, let us do a simple exercise. For a minute or two, think of all things that the word “yellow” may bring to your mind. Let your thoughts flow. When you finish this exercise, continue reading.
The thoughts go in all directions and the keywords that come to your mind are like this: Yellow is a flower. Sun. Sun is hot. Hot is tea. Yellow is a skirt or saree. Yellow flower. It is beautiful.
Notice that one word or thought connects to another, then to another, and another and so on it goes. Then you break the chain, come back to yellow, and start another chain of words. Linear notes cannot capture this flow of thoughts.
This thinking can be much better shown in the following picture.
Many different chains of thoughts come to your mind
when you think of the color “Yellow”
This is a good representation of how ideas, words, and concepts are connected in your brain. And when you think of one word, all the related words come to your mind. A hologram provides a good model of how this happens.
A hologram is like a photo, but more than a photo. To develop a hologram, a laser beam is split into two. One goes to the holographic plate and the other to the object and then directed to the plate. These two rays fall on the plate. The plate has millions of particles that store the combination of the rays. When this holographic plate is held in laser light at the same specific angle, the whole image of the object forms in the air. It is not like a cinema projector. It creates a three-dimensional image and that image is called a hologram. You can look at the image from above, below, or from any other direction, and it will look like the original object.
Just as a laser ray at a particular angle can bring back the image of a hologram, some keywords or tastes or smells, or sounds can bring back memories.
How to Make Mind Maps
Let us learn a new style of taking notes that uses this knowledge of how the brain stores and organizes information. This technique is called “Mind Mapping”.
Use the following guidelines while drawing or writing a mind map.
- Use a keyword or key phrase at the center.
- Then draw lines from the center.
- On each line, write keywords in CAPITAL letters. Using capital letters helps revision and memory.
- Use only one word per line. This makes it easy to make connections.
Let ideas flow. Do not try to “think” hard. Just write down whatever comes to your mind. The aim is to write everything that your mind thinks about the central idea. Your mind thinks faster than you can write. So, you should not pause or stop momentarily. Just keep writing or drawing.
Here is a mind map on “Mind Maps”.
Mind map on “Mind Maps”
Tips for making mind maps more memorable
Here are some elements or graphical parts for diagrams that you can use in your mind maps.
Colors are very helpful in mind maps. We remember colorful diagrams more easily as compared to black. So, colors help you use both parts of your brain. You can make images colorful. You can write in color. You can use color to show that different parts of a mind map are related in some way.
Use arrows to show connections between different keywords/concepts of a mind map. An arrow can have one head or more than one head.
Use different codes such as asterisk, cross, exclamation mark, and question mark with keywords to show something “more”.
Use squares, circles, and triangles to mark areas in a mind map that are related in some way. They can also show the order of importance. For example, use squares for the most important ideas, circles for less important ideas, and triangles for the least important ideas. Note that ideas near the center of a mind map are more important.
You can make some of the shapes in three dimensions. For example, you can cover some pictures in an ice cube.
You can use any other images that represent visually the ideas. For example, for a mind map of the Solar System, you can show, Sun, Moon, Saturn, etc. Images are easily remembered by the right brain. You should practice and use images in your mind maps.
How Are Mind Maps Better than Ordinary Notes
A mind map is far superior to linear notes in many ways.
The first and most important is that the mind map technique uses the current scientific knowledge about how the mind stores and organizes information.
Mind maps use only keywords and key concepts while linear notes use complete sentences and paragraphs. The keywords and key concepts use only 10% of the words. So, if you use linear notes, you waste time writing those 90% additional words, and more importantly, you waste time reading those 90% additional words every time you revise. In linear notes, you waste time searching for the keywords because they are mixed up with non-keywords (non-memory words).
The mind map has the following additional advantages. The mind map clearly shows the central idea or theme. The relative importance of an idea is clearly shown. The ideas nearer to the center are more important. The links or connections between the key ideas are clearly shown. The nature of the structure makes it easy to add new information without scratching or writing in small letters. Each mind map looks different from other mind maps and this helps memory.
When you use a mind map you do not have to worry about the problems usually associated with linear notes such as order, sequence, the emphasis of ideas, beginning, ending, and organization. These problems are simply eliminated in the mind map technique.
Below is an example of a topic in Physics:
Memory Map for a topic in Physics
The Best Way to Take Notes
The best way to take notes is to combine mind maps and other types (graphic + linear). You can use the left pages of your notebooks for mind maps and the right pages for descriptions.
The best way to take notes is to write mind maps on the left page and on other
type (graphic + linear) on the right page of your notebook.
Initially, you may not feel comfortable with this process. With one week’s practice, you will begin to feel comfortable.
Use the book margins to save time while revising
I recommend you buy your books so that you can use your precious time more effectively by making marks in the book margins.
Use one line for important sections, two lines for easy sections, and a wavy line for difficult sections.
After some revisions, you learn a section well, you can draw one more line. In this way, you will know easily which sections you know well and which you do not.
This technique will save time for you during revisions. You should spend more time revising difficult and important sections as compared to easy sections (sections that you already know well).
A Sample Mind Map on Memory
The most important step now is to practice. You have read about mind maps. Now to benefit, start writing/drawing mind maps for your study notes and even a shopping list.
Do a simple exercise. In 3 minutes, create a mind map about what you have learned from this book so far. To be creative, just write/draw whatever comes to your mind. Do not think too much. Do not try to make your mind map systematic. The mind map allows you to simply write whatever comes to your mind.
To give you a little more practice with mind maps, a few mind maps follow. You should study them and get a feel of how to write a mind map. Then experiment and develop your unique style.
Mind Map on MEMORY