Last week I posted a mind map that captured words that I associate with the word “courage.” Which reminded me about a conversation I had last month with my friend and web designer, Susan Preston. We were talking about hope, for a guest post she’s working on. Susan was taken with the mind map I drew as we talked through some ideas . “You should share how you did this!” she said. “I think it would help a lot of people.”

Maybe it would! Now, my way is just one way. There’s lots of ways to create mind maps and at least as many ways to use them. Mine work for the “diagram impaired” among us. I use them to sort out tangled ideas, discover what is most central to what I want to say, and to get focused on the process of writing or speaking.

Mind maps come in many variations, many of them very detailed and complicated. I can only deal with so many lines, colors and little boxes before going into visual overload. So I keep my mind maps simple.

There are apps and templates for drawing mind maps. I’m not linking to any of these, because having tried a number of them, I find them either too simple so that they’re constricting, or so technically difficult that I lose track of what I had wanted to map to begin with. If you’re curious though, enter “mind map” in your search engine and you’ll find a wealth of resources.

Here’s an approach to mind map creation that I enjoy and that works really well for me. I write the main word in the center, thinking, in this example, what is it that’s important about “hope?”

There’s so much I could say in response to that question. People have written articles and entire books about it. I’ve blogged on this topic and held numerous conversations with people about it, one on one and in groups. This mind map gives an overview, capturing the words that came to me as Susan and I spoke. It helps me remember the rich conversation we had, and allows me to add to it as new ideas occur to me.

Going around the map, you see 2-way arrows connecting each word to the central word, and 2-way arrows connecting each word to the word that follows. This is meant to convey that all these words (each of which represents a wealth of ideas) are inter-connected.

I purposely avoided drawing arrows from each word to every other word, because I find that much visual detail obscures rather than illuminates meaning. If you like more detailed graphics, by all means add all the lines you wish to have!

There are so many other key words that could be on this map! For me, part of having a usable mind map is making choices about what to include and what to leave off the map for now. You might choose to write smaller and add more words.

I did add some “detail maps” to a few of the words: Faith, Perseverance, and Courage. I may go on to add detail maps to the other words. That’s a nice feature of mind maps; they can evolve as your thinking evolves.

As you may have noticed, this mind map isn’t an elaborate piece of art. They can be.If you have those skills, go for it! The good news is, the process of creating a mind map works to to engage both creative and analytical ways of knowing, no matter how you rate your artistic abilities.

It’ a visual way to represent your ideas, and engages your brain and mind in making connections, expressing and allowing you to analyze intuitively understood ideas, and choosing key themes on which to focus.

For me, that’s the major function of a mind map – to sort out what matters most from a welter of ideas, concepts, thoughts and feelings what matters most. I use them to guide me in finding what I want to say, what I wish to write and what I want to do.

How do you use mind maps? Comment here, or share your thoughts on Facebook or with me at @KeysToChange onTwitter.