A Reflection on 100 Days of Mind Mapping

From September 15, 2016 to January 9, 2017 I made one hundred mind maps, as a #The100DayProject project. All mind maps can be viewed here.

How the Project Began

On August 15, 2016 I wrote on my blog “I’m pretty convinced that it would be really good for me to do a 100-day project. Meaning I want to do a 100-day project, but I haven’t yet committed to a start date nor what I would do.”

In that same post I went on to explain, for those first learning of elle luna's #The100DayProject, “The 'project' isn’t about making one final product, but rather choosing one action to do every day for 100 days. It celebrates the process, making, and showing up every day.”

Then I went on to list some ideas I’d had so far: meditating 10 minutes, writing three morning pages, asking a certain question to a stranger, two minutes of the confident Superman pose and reading affirmations, etc.

Ironically, I made a bit of a mind map when I was brainstorming for #The100DayProject ideas:

But at that time last August, I was hindered by the opportunity cost of choosing just one, and my natural inclination towards efficiency. It wasn't until one night in September on my tram ride home that pieces began falling into place, though I didn't know it at the time.

I was coming back from my weekly Couchsurfing language meet-up, the tram slowing for my stop, when a young man cat called to me as I walked towards a door. It wasn't malicious, but I didn’t like it. I almost had enough guts to say something back at him, as my buzz hadn't yet completely waned down from the evening's drinks, but I couldn’t think of a clever comeback/response in French on the spot and simply walked home.

I couldn't get the scene off my mind, though. I didn’t like how it had made me feel, and I pondered various responses to be better prepared for any possible future cat-calling incidents. During the following week I did a survey of a few friends as I saw them: What do you think of cat calling? Do you ever respond or tell someone to stop? Then I discovered the hidden camera ad in Peru where men’s mothers dressed in disguise to teach them an unforgettable lesson about harassment. I also looked for the cat calling response cards which I knew I’d seen years ago (Cards Against Harassment), and generally left behind an online history that week full of various cat calling pages and articles.

On September 15, 2016, after these ideas had been swirling for several days, I made a mind map with “How to Respond to Cat Callers” in the center — and thus began Day 1 of #100DaysofMindMapping.

Despite all of the documenting I usually do, I don’t remember why I chose mind mapping as the action for this project. What I do remember is not overthinking it at that point; I simply started. I wasn’t really a fan of mind maps to begin with, as you'll soon find out, but I had suggested them in an article for English learners I'd fixed up for work that summer — so perhaps that played a part in inching mind maps towards the front of my mind.

After having spent so much time discovering and thinking about the content of my first mind map, though, I felt a little rushed on the days to follow. By Day 8 I was running out of ideas. Oh gosh, what have I gotten myself into? How will I ever make it to 100?

Well, I made it. It took more than 100 days, as I'd miss days here and there (December 24 would have been 100 days exactly)—but I finished. The internal rule which worked well for me was to not miss two days in a row. If I missed a day, that was all right—things come up and it happens. But once one was missed, I made it my top priority to get a mind map in there the very next day.

Since I got to make up all these guidelines and choose the entire project myself, you might think I had a rosy history with mind maps. Our relationship, in fact, wasn't that sweet.

The Ugly Side of Mind Maps

The truth is I didn’t like mind maps very much to begin with. Throughout the project I often found myself wondering why on Earth I had picked such a device to record thoughts/information, cursing my past self for punishing me with this daily burden. Just take a look at what I wrote in Day 15’s mind map about mind maps, under the branch “My opinion”: “messy,” “incomplete,” “regret,” “tree-shaped lists,” and “not top visual graph.”

Disorganized format

On many days it felt like I was merely making lists, but pointlessly spreading them out into a hard-to-read web when the information could have been much more organized in a different way. Day 2’s “Things I’ll Miss About My Job,” Day 3’s “Reasons I Left My Job,” Day 4’s “Friends in France,” and Day 6’s “French Islands” all felt like this, for example.

Never knowing what would come or how much space I might need per sub-topic, mind maps were all so messy! So ugly! And there was so much room for misinterpretation (by viewers)!

Room for misinterpretation

Upon wiki-ing “Mind Maps” for Day 15, I discovered that the creator said mind maps should have only one word per line. I’m all for doing your own thing and breaking this type of rule, but for a time I gave it a shot, attempting to use mind maps the way they'd been intended. This was quite contrary to how I usually share my ideas online, writing the full context and explaining myself. But a single word? People wouldn’t know what it meant!

On Day 23’s “Waunakee Restaurants” mind map, I had written “sells drugs” as a branch coming from “Spring Garden” because when I was in high school over ten years ago, I remember hearing that a cook or someone had been selling drugs from the restaurant. Before posting the picture to my blog, I realized this could be taken the wrong way — even if chances were slim for the mind map to reach someone in town and actually cause harm. Very slim.

But not wanting to defame any restaurant without reason, especially in a small town where my name is known, I edited the image on the computer and added a brief clarification in parenthesis behind an arrow pointing to that line: "old staff."

This would happen again from time to time for various reasons: me cringing at the fact that my single-word-per-branch mind maps would be misunderstood without any narrative to explain what was going on. Yet at the same time, I certainly understood this trouble only came from sharing them online. I could have very well done the project without taking photos of the mind maps, keeping it all to myself. But in the end, the overall benefit was much greater to share my behind-the-scenes than to hide it all merely because of a slight discomfort in knowing that someone could possibly misinterpret a mind map. They are very incomplete pictures, and if anyone jumps to conclusions based on one rather than taking it for what it is, so be it. I chose to share. I opted for the chance that someone sees these mind maps and begins a project of their own.

Filler mind maps

Another aspect that made me cringe was having “filler” or boring mind maps—the ones without any meaty content. At first a day seemed like a long time to get in a mind map, but the next day always came sooner than I thought. I’d start all over with another blank page: What will I mind map today, what will I mind map today? So, often I’d just take the first idea and run with it — even when I thought “This is so stupid” or “This is such a filler,” or when said “stupid idea” took forever to come to me. Such mind maps include, but are not limited to:

  • Day 9's "Moving"
  • Day 16's "Watercolors" (filled in with info from Wikipedia)
  • Day 18's "Metro Ride Pueblo Nuevo → Ópera"
  • Day 19's "Books" (I did this topic twice! Day 83 is arguably the more unsubstantial of the two, as I merely listed various genres, using Amazon when I ran out of ideas)
  • Day 33's "Relaxing"
  • Day 63's "Parenthood (Season 1)"
  • Day 98's "Dinner Appetizers"

As time went on, I was quicker to grab a filler idea and run with it, without giving second thought to the airy content or seemingly lack of purpose. It was just today's mind map; tomorrow it would be history.

To contrast, holidays ended up being good topics, as were childhood memories. I loved using content that already existed and summarizing it with the mind map. I did this with podcasts (Day 10’s "The Power of Categories, Invisibilia podcast"), magazine articles (Day 47’s "Meanwhile in Myanmar…" from Flow Magazine), book chapters (Day 38’s "Denmark," Day 39’s "Iceland"), full books (Day 41’s "Evicted"), TV episodes (Day 37’s "One episode of Super Nanny" France), YouTube videos (Day 44’s "Multilevel Marketing via Last Week Tonight"), and even phone calls (Day 11’s "Phone Call with Chad, Tues”).

Daily weight

Looking back I should have done them first thing in the day, as many days I could feel their weight more hours than I got to feel the relief of having finished for the day. And after a night of shut eye, the slight weight returned every morning.

And yet, among all of my complaints—the format and structure of mind maps, the daily task I’d given myself, the struggle to find ideas—I’m very glad that I undertook (and completed) this challenge. Here’s what I appreciated about my 100 Days of Mind Mapping project:

The Bright Side of Mind Mapping

Forced creation

I had to create one small thing a day, no matter what. This allowed more space for ideas to get out of my head and onto paper: the first step of many future creations and writings, I’d later discover. It was also a fantastic exercise in creativity. Here's a blank piece of paper, make a mind map. Limitations and self-imposed rules can be very helpful towards strengthening creativity. (Speaking of which, did you know Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham" came about when his publisher bet Seuss he couldn't write a book using only 50 words?)

Inspiration doesn't just strike randomly; having some sort of daily means to get thoughts/images/ideas out of your head and onto paper provides valuable practice in engaging your creativity. And when there's a standard format (i.e. mind map, 2"x2" square, haiku, four measures), or limitations (i.e. two colors, 10 minutes, two key signatures), that'll push your creative muscles further.

Constant between locations

I began this project while I was still living in Montpellier, continued it during my sojourn in Madrid, and finished it while at home with my parents in Waunakee. Although I’m used to moving around — stopping, starting, and pausing various lives around the globe — this new constant did help make the transition even smoother. No matter my surroundings or language or daily routine, each day I had to make a mind map.

Memories of days

While I journal quite regularly, I like that this project left me with a steady documentation of my days. The mind maps which covered the day’s events in some way will be especially memorable. Examples include:

  • Day 45's "Reactions to Election Results"
  • Day 43's "Saturday November 5 (2016)"
  • Day 59's "Games Played on Thanksgiving"
  • Day 79’s "Baking Christmas Cookies with Kayse"
  • Day 89’s "Wichelt Christmas"
  • Day 90’s "Thering Christmas"
  • Day 95's "NYE Drinks"

Normalization of sucking

Although it didn’t feel great at first to have “filler” topics, I realized that with a frequency of one mind map per day, it was totally okay to have “sucky” ones. This is advice I’ve read again and again by writers or creatives. The first short story you write isn’t going to be your masterpiece. You can rewrite and edit all you want, but if you lower the bar and amp up quantity, your creative muscles will grow and have space to be freer, not restricted by pressure to succeed. After all, if you’re only giving yourself one shot to get it right, that’s an awful lot of pressure. It takes much doing to improve at something.

So, what I appreciate about #The100DayProject in general is that it removes focus from the result and puts it on the process. My mind maps can suck; it doesn’t matter what’s on them. The purpose is not to create a content-rich or creative mind map every day, the purpose is simply to create a mind map each day for one hundred days. If I make a mind map, any mind map — I succeeded that day. Pressure removed, voila.

And I really saw the benefits of this type of thinking—thinking which aligns quite closely with a growth mindset. Through this experience, I understand more deeply:

  • The more frequently you create (and the more you emphasize the process over result), the more it feels okay to experiment and take risks, as you become at ease with letting it “suck.”
  • The more “bad ones” you create, the sooner you’ll get to a nicer (small) selection of “good ones” (if that's an aim).
  • The more you let it out, the more ideas/action will come.

Shitty first drafts (and thus, polished pieces)

Relatedly, I’ve read in numerous writers’ memoirs that writers just need to spurt out their ideas into a shitty first draft. (Most recently, Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird.") It can look nothing like the finished piece and it can be absolutely terrible writing, but you just have to write it down somewhere. Unknowingly, mind maps became my shitty first drafts.

So while understanding the importance of allowing high-quantity, low-quality creation was probably my most worthy takeaway, this project ended up nurturing several written pieces and other creations into existence — which I couldn’t have predicted ahead of time.

For example, after Day 61 I wrote the below post on being two years Facebook-free:

In the weeks after Day 86’s "To Write About" mind map, I wrote "[Life Evidence] We Can Grow by Doing," "The Impermanence of Words," and "Never Again," my first notecard story (below).

Exploring possible topics for a rebel story submission in Day 78’s mind map resulted in my first public piece about the difficulty of coming out as an atheist in middle and high school—a story I'm so glad to have finally shared.

After finishing #100DaysofMindMapping, I created more things whose seeds were planted in these mind maps, such as self-permission cards (Day 91) and an ESL tutor training video (Day 40).

And since 2017, I’ve used mind maps to brainstorm a bunch of different topics—from "Personal Projects" (which resulted in "Personal Projects: Ideas to Kickstart Your Next Creation") to "Moment Catchers" for a brief community testimonial.

It’s funny because I just kind of started doing it naturally — without second thought — and it was only upon writing this post that I noticed how many mind maps I’ve made in my “brainstorming”/sloppy notebook since the project ended.

Satisfaction of finishing 100 days

Finally, I enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing this project through to completion. Back in 2014 while living in Korea, I had begun a project on Give It 100 (site no longer exists) to stretch each day, with the goal of being able to touch my toes. The platform required you upload a 10-second video each day, so this actually turned into a more involved project than you’d think, as I would record myself from my laptop while stretching, then later edit it down to 10 seconds. Sometimes I’d add music and such, since it was fun to create with video — but it required a decent chunk of time daily.

Anyway, I made it to day 77, notably improving my flexibility—and then stopped. I think it was around the time when my sister and grandma came to visit, so we were traveling together for two weeks during my school vacation. And then I never got back into it. I still made huge progress during those 77 days—that’s not lost on me—but I never completed Give It 100. So three years later, it felt extra sweet to finished this 100-day project! (And at the time of writing, I've now finished a second 100-day project as well, which I began in January shortly after I finished this one: 100 Days of Writing in My Journal.)

Final Thoughts

In sum, the thing I hate most about mind maps — that they look ugly and don’t feel organized—is exactly what makes them the most useful for me personally. Since I know it’s going to look terrible and be "disorganized" no matter what I do, I have permission to spit all over the page. And by getting those first words/thoughts out somewhere, I’m much more likely to later turn it into a blog post or more polished creation. If I were to try writing the blog post first, however, there’d be much more resistance. (Case in point: I used my mind map from Day 100 to start a draft for this very reflection!)


Have you ever done a project that required a small creation every day? How did it go? What did you learn?

If not, would you ever try one?


If you enjoyed this piece, you might like my ebook about the year I followed my personal compass: “Compass-Directed Moments.” I created the compass during the same time I began this mind mapping project.