Read to Remember Part II: Mind your Mappers!

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In Part I of Read to Remember we discussed how SQ3R can help improve your reading retention, even up to 400% if you weren’t doing any sort of review or deep processing before.

Andy Hunt, in Refactor your Wetware, makes a strong case for incorporating mind-mapping into your learning regimen.

But how does mind-mapping help your brain? Isn’t it for grade-schoolers?

How mind-mapping works

Mind-mapping can help focus the entire learning process and encourage greater depth of processing and stronger and more varied links between the components of the material in question. When it comes to your brain, you don’t want it to be a well factored computer program - Each concept should be coupled to as many other concepts as possible. Your memory engrams are like Git’s DAG. If a blob of knowledge stands alone in your mind without links to its brethren, your memory’s efficient garbage collection system will kick in and prune it out of existence. Wave goodbye to your hard work.

So SQ3R works by forcing you to think. Mind-mapping super-charges it by forcing you to link. How so? In trying to figure out where to place each new point, you must continually scan and review your emerging mind map in order to find where the new point best fits in. This forces you to see the big picture and how the different concepts relate to one another. You’re not just learning random bits of information - a sure recipe for failure - you’re getting a feel for the universe.

SQ3R forces you to think; Mind-mapping forces you to link.

Mind-mapping and SQ3R

You can use mind maps throughout the five steps of the SQ3R method. When you’re surveying the text, you could start by writing the theme in the center. Perhaps additional headings could extend out of that central idea like outriggers. Your questions can be written on the mind map itself or on another piece of paper. The reviews tend to happen naturally. As we mentioned earlier, the process of deciding where a new factoid fits in your wonderfully structured doodle obliges you to review the previously covered material, even if you’re not consciously aware of it.

When your mind map is complete, it’s probably pretty messy, just like that ridgy gray lump between your ears. If the material you’re studying if sufficiently important, consider drawing it again. The process will help further consolidate the main points in your mind’s eye, as well as acting as yet another review, and a rather pleasant one at that. Who doesn’t like doodling, am I right? :)

For additional time-spaced reviews you could try snapping a picture of your mind map using something like Evernote or Google Keep. Configure the “note” so that it reminds you to review the new mind map tomorrow. When tomorrow comes and you review your mind map, push the reminder off another 3 days. Keep increasing the time interval between reviews and you’ll exploit the cognitive benefits of the psychological “spacing effect”. (See Spaced Repetition.) Over a consolidation period of around 10 years[ref]Sorry it takes so long. Perhaps we were meant to live longer.[/ref], you’ll be strengthening those shiny new connections between the hippocampus and the cortex until eventually, the hippocampus cuts the cortex loose, and those precious memory engrams remain baked into your cortex, forever.[ref]Barring brain damage or death of course. Those events do tend to rain on your cortical parade.[/ref]

P,p,p…paper?

You’ll notice that I mentioned using paper. Studies consistently link handwriting with better memory performance. Again, probably due to the greater depth of processing. Unless you have a tablet with amazing handwriting support, I find that most of them still just get in the way. They require greater processing, but in the wrong direction. You’re not meditating on the material; you’re fussing with repositioning the caret after a stray brush with the screen sent it off to Never-Neverland. And instead of forcing you to digest, integrate, and compress the subject matter, you’re mindlessly Ctrl-C/V’ing your way through the text like the morning commute in your CRV.

Conclusion?

Mind mapping… good. Mmmm.[ref]Yes, that was a yummy sound.[/ref]

Additional links

If you’re interested in learning more, definitely check out Andy Hunt’s book, Refactor Your Wetware (Amazon, Pragprog). He enumerates a whole host of techniques to help squeeze the most out of those 3 pounds of invisible fat.

Another fun read is Brain Rules, by John Medina.

And even though paper is best, a great free (well, freemium) mind mapping service is MindMup, by Gojko Adzic. He made it surprisingly quick and painless to create professional-looking mind maps.