You Can Learn More in Less Time Using an Imagined-Journey Map in Place of a Traditional Mind Map

Updated on April 7, 2019
Duane Hennessy profile image

I'm a certified Professional Coach (AIPC) and a member of the International Coach Federation. I coach for career and creativity.


There is much advice recommending you decorate your mind maps with lots of colour, symbolism and images which when coupled with words, numbers and lists have a greater impact on the brain for retaining information in your memory. However, worrying whether there’s enough colour, symbols and images for memory retention can consume more of your time with the creative aspects of designing a mind map, leaving less time for studying. If you use mind mapping software you may spend your valuable studying time searching the web for the images, editing images and attaching them to the various branches of your mind map.

Here’s a mind map memorisation trick I use, integrating all aspects of brain functionality whilst using less time to create an image or scene:

  1. I incorporate my mental model of the streets I’ve travelled from my childhood or of the streets I drive to work into the learning process.
  2. On those streets I imagine vibrant, moving, noisy action scenes related to the information I’m learning.
  3. I attach a short description of each scene to the mind map.

With drawn mind maps you’re trying to etch those drawn images into your memory whereas this trick reverses the process by starting with the image created in your mind and attaching it to what I call an imagined-journey map.

Illustrated below is an imagined-journey map I created comparing the methods of mentoring and coaching. The lack of imagery and the monotone nature of this style of mind map is not enticing to remembering the map per se but some of the ends of the branches are surrounded by cloud shaped borders highlighting descriptions of mental imagery I’ve used to memorise the information.

Tying the Information to the Imagery

Let’s focus upon a single branch of the imagined-journey map to understand how it works.

This branch’s information outlines the process a mentor or coach goes through when presented with a problem by their mentee or coachee:

  1. Client presents a problem.
  2. Coach/Mentor thinks back to when he/she encountered similar issues, either personally or in supporting others, and how they were resolved.
  3. Coach/mentor tries to present/recast the knowledge gained at that time for access by the client. (In the coaching process this is done implicitly through the careful formulation of questions).

The leaf node, highlighted by the cloud shaped border, describes the imagined scene I attached that information to:

“Einstein in rocking chair at Dandenong Road. Reminiscing about resolving an issue. Puts down knowledge in code so the mentee can access it. I ask questions instead.”

Below I have illustrated the scene putting you as the viewer in the mentee position.

Einstein is the symbol I chose to represent a mentor and the rocking chair is incidental though it gives the scene extra movement. I have also imagined him oversized and larger than a truck adding to the novelty and therefore recall. Dandenong Road is the name of a road I travel across on my drive to work. The action I chose is Einstein rocking back and forth in his rocking chair ruminating over his past experiences. He writes his solution as symbolic code on parchment and hands it to a mentee. I stand next to Einstein asking questions of the mentee and he or she explains the deciphered message to me.

It took me five seconds to imagine the scene and 10 seconds to type a description on my imagined-journey map before continuing with my study. In contrast to an estimated 2 minutes to draw and colour a picture the 15 seconds it took to imagine a scene and write a short description is an 88% reduction of time used whilst producing more impactful imagery which can include visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory information of higher quality than can be drawn.

The Essence of the Imagined-Journey Map

The imagined-journey map is actually a wholistic view of a street journey taken within your mind and the drawn map is not memorised but used for review at mnemonically propitious periods. An important distinction between an imagined-journey map and a traditional mind map is mind maps rely on one or two keywords per branch as a hook for the information you have learnt: Imagined-journey maps are not reliant on simple keywords because all of the information is held within the mental imagery, therefore you can provide more information on the map’s branches such as short paragraphs, quotes, hyperlinks, book citations and so on to review what the imagery represents whilst the leaf nodes remind you of how you assimilated that information into an imagined scene.

Improve Your Mental Journey for an Improved Memory

All journeys need a starting point and using regular starting places for your mental journeys makes it easier to find the beginning of memorised information. Mine start from where I live, either my home I live in now, or a home in which I have lived in the past. For example, I have lots of database management system information scenes all over the streets and fields of Andover, Hampshire where I grew up in England. I have scenes of information I studied on intrapreneurism starting at my home in Oakleigh, Australia.

I use key features of streets such as—bridges, roundabouts, traffic lights, buildings such as carparks or takeaway stores, onramps to freeways, public art and so on—to which I attach mental imagery from my imagined-journey map’s separate branches of information making it easy to review when I mentally travel the journey without viewing the map.

For the example map I created on coaching and mentoring my mnemonic journey begins at the front of my house—a key feature—where I imagine a large coach (bus) with a massive engine and I’m teaching a group of people how to maintain it. The scene is described in the cloud surrounded leaf-node below:

Teaching skills to a group of people reminds me of “skills development” and the large engine reminds me of “performance enhancement”.

As you travel your imagined journey with scenes containing information you may naturally link the scenes together by mentally driving, running or cycling around the streets you’ve chosen. You can expand on this linking behaviour in a number of ways:

  • You could extend the action of one scene to another. I imagine the coach mutating into a robot and running to the street corner where I see a bridge to which I’ve attached another imagined scene.
  • A linking action can be as simple as looking towards the direction of travel and seeing street features and concomitant scenes being played out.
  • You can include your passions and pastimes into the imagery. For example, if you like water slides, maybe each scene includes a water slide to the next scene.

You could improve your recall by using bizarre situations such as travelling your streets in a hot air balloon or swimming in the air above the streets or even leading a brass band through the streets where the interaction of the band members with the imagery displays the information you’ve encoded into the scene.

How and When to Review Your Imagined-Journey Map

It’s worth mentioning at this point how you would review your imagined-journey map and on what schedule. I review my imagined-journey maps by mentally travelling down the streets, passing the scenes I’ve created and recalling the information I’ve learnt. If there is any doubt, I will review the drawn map and either reassociate it to the scene or change the scene slightly to improve recall for the next review.

The map review schedule to get the information from your short-term memory to long-term memory is the same as for ordinary mind maps:

  1. Review 10 minutes after you’ve drawn the imagined-journey map.
  2. Review 1 hour later.
  3. Review 1 day later.
  4. Review 1 week later.
  5. Review 1 month later.
  6. Review 6 months later.

If you’re tired of drawing traditional mind maps, carrying coloured pencils with you, searching the web for images, worrying about your artistic skill or felt like you could have learnt more just reading a book and drawing nothing then I recommend trying the imagined-journey map and cut down the time taken to draw a mind map whilst increasing the information you can learn in one sitting.

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