Mind Mapping -- A Tool for Visual Thinkers

Bernardo Schubsky, MD, MSc


September 14, 2021

Have you ever met someone who was able to remember full books, from cover to cover? That was me from age 8 to 10. It was a party trick that I performed to amuse adults: reciting jokes for several minutes, non-stop. I certainly did not understand all the jokes nor did I tell them with the right timing. It was all a matter of memorization.

That also got me into trouble sometimes, especially when teachers thought I was cheating on tests. Then I would have to prove it "live": If they read the first line of a page, I could usually recite the whole chapter of my books. And nothing gives a kid more pleasure than proving an adult wrong.

I had no idea how I could do that, but the ability just faded away as I got older.

But something remained: I became fascinated by how our memory works, and I would read every book I could find about speed-reading and memorization techniques.

During my second or third year of medical school, I heard about an English fellow called Tony Buzan. He allegedly spoke over a dozen languages and was able to grasp and memorize complex concepts very fast. It is easy to understand how enticing that ability was for a student struggling to remember all the forearm ligaments — unthinkable and very close to witchcraft! Now there was another layer that I had not thought about before: Understanding was probably more important than memorizing.

I needed to know how he did it, so I found a copy of his book Use Both Sides of Your Brain in a used-book store.

That was my first contact with the concept of radial thinking, or mind mapping. Tony did not create the idea of mind mapping, as there are records of radial thinking being used by the Greeks back in the 3rd century, but he developed and popularized the technique worldwide.

Mind mapping is a technique that supports study, brainstorm, memorizing, and note-taking. As with any method, it requires some training, but it pays off. Once you have a central concept, you can branch out the essential elements. Because it is a visual tool, let's check out an example of what a medical student mind map would look like:

Courtesy of Bernardo Schubsky Download PDF

A few years later, in 2014, I heard that Tony was conducting a workshop in New Jersey. That was my opportunity to "meet the man" in person. So, I registered and traveled from Brazil to Jersey. It was a tiny and diverse group, with students from all over the world. After asking where we were from and what languages we spoke, other than our native ones, he started to have small talk with everyone, alternating languages and moving on to the next person. That small demonstration took probably 5-10 minutes, and he covered an astounding amount of languages. The first point taken: He could speak that many languages!

Next surprise: Each one of us received a package of crayons and a large pad of paper. From that moment on, we were not allowed to take traditional notes. Everything on the workshop would be done on paper, with colors, and full of doodles. Yes, doodles! I can't draw anything even if my life depends on it, but according to Tony, mind maps are personal, so if the author can understand and remember what the drawings mean, all is fair game.

At the end of each session, the students would tape their mind maps over the walls so we all could see the team's progress. After practicing, everyone was creating maps faster and more meaningfully.

As a teacher — and Tony was very proud to be called so — he was passionate, empathetic, and supportive.

Sadly, Tony passed away in 2019 at the age of 76, after living a prolific life, having published over 100 books on mind literacy (memorization, creativity, note-taking and note-making, and speed reading, among others).

According to Tony, mind mapping requires attention to details and taps into the logic and artistic areas of the brain. That makes them more memorable in comparison with linear note-taking.

It is a powerful method that everyone should at least give a try. It may not be for everyone, nor for every single class. Still, it could be part of the toolkit of every student; use it when you need to brainstorm on an idea or break down complex concepts into tidy bits of more easily digested information.

A more effective mind map needs to be colorful, fun, and personal. With the volume of information that healthcare students and professionals need to acquire, a glance at a map produced by you will trigger an immediate recall effect.

If you never tried mind mapping before, I recommend reading one of Tony's books first to get familiar with the concept. Then, don't overthink it; give it a try. It might be precisely the method you were missing to better tackle a specific challenging subject.

And by the way, there's no need to use paper and crayons anymore, unless you want to. There are several digital applications available for desktop or mobile.

Here are a few of my recommendations:

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

About Dr Bernardo Schubsky
Bernardo Schubsky graduated as a physician, with a master's in healthcare education. He is currently pursuing a PhD in the same field. Connect with him on LinkedIn


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: