Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

Mind Mapping Model Behavior

by Andre · 8 Comments

Mapping How would you like to act on a daily basis? What habits or behaviors would you like to install or uninstall? New Year’s resolutions are helpful for defining those behaviors, but not sufficient for following through with them consistently. Create a visual aid to remind you of habits you want to maintain and those you want to eliminate can do wonders for keeping those habits conscious.

Mind map your areas of focus

Instead of creating a list of behaviors, we’re going to create a mind map, digitally or by hand. This gives us the advantage of being able to link specific behaviors with the life themes they manifest. “Stop smoking” falls under the focus area of “Health,” or an equivalent in your own words. Linking the behavior with the focus area helps infuse the desired behavior with meaning. You don’t stop smoking to stop smoking, but for a larger purpose — in this case, health and vitality. Without explicitly mapping the relationship between what you don’t want and what you want, the restriction slowly becomes a demotivating “should” instead of a means to a positive end.

Focus Areas

Ideally, you would start with all of your areas of focus first, then branch out to behaviors, projects and next actions, but any order is fine. The goal isn’t to fully replicate your project and action lists, but primarily to identify what drives them. Your map should go where your attention flows. The sample I’ve drafted here in a few minutes is a fraction of the size of my actual model, which would be unreadably dense for a screenshot.

Behavioral Model

One of the reasons for using a map instead of a list is that it gives you a chance to “refactor” what you write down — to rearrange your contents’ relationships for more accurate meaning. For instance, I put down “Scuba lessons” first, which triggered the focus area of “Fun and Adventure,” which reminded me of a hike coming up this weekend, and then some upcoming films.

Fun and Adventure

A specific behavior or action might kick start the process, but ultimately, completing your inventory of focus areas is what seeds deeper thinking about how you want to act in the world. A focus area is just a category in your life that needs attention. If “Focus Areas” sound to clinical, put down “Roles” or something more user friendly. Examples focus areas would be:

  • Family
  • Finances
  • Travel
  • Spirituality
  • Career
  • Community
  • Education

Avoid the temptation to list generic categories that you think you “should” have, unless they’re important to you. “Spirituality” or “Travel” might not be on your list, nor should they be if they don’t have your attention. If collecting stamps is a recurring behavior that has your attention, put “Stamp Collecting” down as a focus area.

What would that look like?

Areas of focus are necessarily abstract. A mind map gives you the chance to make them concrete. What does “Education” look like: taking an extension course, going for a degree, or reading a book? You can drill down each focus area into as much detail as you need. Or you can leave some level of detail unfinished if it’s something that’s inactionable under the current circumstances (like waiting for a raise to start prepaying your mortgage). Maps like these can mark placeholders for future thinking, either as additional branches or as separate mind maps.

A completed behavioral model allows you to look across all of your categories and their details in a single snapshot. You can see how focus areas interrelate, and see specifics of what do no next to facilitate each of those areas. Just as importantly, you can see which areas you’re ignoring as you view the whole map. You might decide that these need further attention, you might decide they’re being handled appropriately and don’t require addition action at the moment.

When to review the model

I like to look at mine daily, first thing in the morning, but experiment with different review frequencies for your ideal. One reason I pull it out daily is that I make local updates on it frequently, often twice a week. I originally thought it would be a weekly review item, but I found that this forest-and-trees view sensitizes me to my action lists, which makes working off of them less mechanical. But it’s less cumbersome than scanning a nested project list with next actions. A behavioral model is more personal than a project list, can be reviewed in seconds, and makes it convenientĀ  to view at any level of detail you find relevant in the moment.

(Photo credit: kentbye)

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Tags: Lifestyle Design


  • George GarrettNo Gravatar // Jan 2, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Great article. I keep meaning to do more mind-mapping, and this is a great reason to do so.

  • Jarrod - Warrior DevelopmentNo Gravatar // Jan 2, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    I like the idea of making things visual, concrete and relating them back to higher level goals.

    But when it comes to implementation I’d only really want to be working on one or two of them simultaneously.

  • Sean JohnsonNo Gravatar // Jan 6, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Awesome article and a great exercise. I posted about what I learned from mapping my areas of focus and how this exercise can be great intput into setting some time management goals. Thanks for sharing this idea Andre.


  • Dwayne CosseyNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Hey great post, I am a very visual learner so the visual aspect of it is great. Just have to ask, what program do you use to make your mind map? Thanks!

  • Raoul FelixNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2009 at 6:19 am

    @Dwayne Cossey – Those mind maps look like they were made using MindManager by Mindjet. It’s a pretty cool program, although you have to pay for it. If you want something not as pretty but free, there’s always FreeMind

  • Joyce JaggerNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2009 at 6:32 am

    This is an excellent post. I found that by using mind maps, I can stay much more organized and it is a lot easier to view what you are doing or planning.

    I do a mind map with each project before ever starting it. The entire process is much quicker that way.

    Joyce Jagger
    The Embroidery Coach

  • Ottawa SEONo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2009 at 7:52 am

    I couldn’t live without my notebook full of lists. Seriously. And I have tried to find an online tool to replace my ratty pad – but realized that for me, there is no substitute for having the physical notebook beside me at all times or in my coat pocket when I leave the house/office. Now – due to the amount of re-arranging that seems inevitable with a mind map, an online tool with drag-and-drop capabilities would be ideal – Does anyone know of such a tool/website? I suppose one could use a program like Visio too… but web-enabled is just so much more fun.

  • AndreNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    @Ottawa SEO: The only online mind mapping tool I’ve used is MindMeister, but I’m sure there are others. MindMeister is nice, but since I have a robust desktop app like MindManager, I haven’t really needed an online app.