How to Do a Life Review Using a Mind Map

There are times in your life when you need to make significant decisions about how to continue in your business and/or personal life. At these points, it’s necessary that you establish a clear vision about certain life facts. This process must be honest and complete. And, sometimes, it can also be painful. In this article, MindMeister Ambassador Jürgen Schulze shares his proven method of how to do an honest life review, using a mind map.

How to do a life review using a mind map

“In this article, I would like to introduce you to a method that I’ve been using in pre-MindMeister years when friends asked me for help. When I came across the online mind mapping tool MindMeister, this process was improved. I could add the new and fairly innovative dimension of collaboration to the method, resulting in the more formalized approach that you’ll find in the mind map template I’m sharing with you today.

The mind map and the method behind it will help you during your journey of self-evaluation by compiling relevant information and presenting these facts in a comprehensive format to a friend for input. During this process, you will actually start to “see” what you need to do and how.

This is the mind map template:

Pro Tip

Click on the Map Actions button in the bottom bar of the map to maximize it. Click on the same button again to clone this template to your MindMeister account and use it for your own life review!

From Napkin to Mind Map – Life Is Not Linear!

Before we dive deeper into how you can use this mind map yourself, let me just give you the short history of how this method developed in the first place.

It all started years back when a colleague of mine shared with me his dilemma about choosing between two fundamentally different career opportunities. The classic “Jürgen, would you have a minute for me?” in the office right after the first coffee in the morning.

What initially sprang to my mind to ask him was: “What is it that you’d expect from what’s left of your business life?”

He replied that he had never thought about that in detail.

I continued: “What do you think you’re really good at?”

This is a question that is on the no-go list in todays formal job interviews as much as “What do you think you’re really bad at?” because there can’t be an honest answer. I got trained on that 16 years ago already in my hiring certification classes at Symantec. However, it is totally OK between two friends in a secluded setting.

His answer struck me as I had a totally different picture of him. At this point it became clear to me that his situation and decision process would require some formalization and visualization. And this is how the map was born.

Don’t Just Listen. Capture the Meaning!

Why did I end up with a mind map, you might ask? There are a couple of reasons. Some, you might be able to relate to. Some are pretty individual to me:

  • Structure does not develop in my head. Information does. That means that I have to put down my information somewhere and structure it there. Linear representation is difficult to structure and I hate scrolling back and forth. Hence, a mind map comes in handy: I can see things at a glance and add topics where I see a gap.
  • While developing the method, I used a mind map to dump my thoughts and experiences in. After a while, these topics could be organized into clusters, which then mercilessly pointed out to me what was missing. I literally saw it! In short: Information creates clusters, shows missing information and promotes further clustering. A very creative flow.
  • Putting things in a meaningful order requires a lot of shuffling around of information and re-clustering. Try to do that in a flowing text and you know why I always choose to use a mind map.
  • When the mind map was finally as complete as I wanted it to be, the question was: How to present it to the target audience? How can a story unfold in the eyes of the beholder? Going through this map is not a linear process. While you answer one question in the map, another answer to an unrelated question on the other side of the map might just pop up in your mind. Because you always see the open spots, you can easily jump left and right, top and bottom and still stick to a structure.
  • Collaboration is the key element of my method. Collaboration works perfectly fine when face to face over a glass of wine. But this is a process that will never come to a final conclusion, as previously noted. Thus, remote collaboration is a smart way to interact. Set the preferences for the map to notify when changes are applied and trigger off a constant flow of remote interaction, which will continuously fine tune the map.
  • Last but not least: Seeing and listening closely are important while working on such an intimate topic, but you need to go one step further and truly capture the meaning. A mind map will help you to see things in context, and see how they develop and relate to each other. This is key for being able to open up and challenge, respectively. When providing feedback, adding visuals to indicate feelings about a certain topic, emphasizing certain elements through formatting and showing consent or dissent by voting, commenting and, most of all, asking (Carl Rogers) are strong tools to drill deeper into the matter and look behind the statements being made. You are able to actually “describe” digital information (text, content) with analog elements (icons, formatting, position, relation) to create a picture in the mind of the collaborators that they can even talk about without the map in sight. Over a glass of wine, that is! (-;

How to Fill Out the Mind Map

Life Review Mind Map Template

Simply clone the mind map template I’ve created to your account and start filling it out. My advice to you would be to start as you would in a typical mind map, with the topic located at 1 o’clock, and then move around the center clockwise.

There is a logic in the order suggested in the map, but once you’ve started, you might see answers to other questions popping up in your mind, as previously described. Particularly, when you have a friend reviewing what you do and potentially triggering thoughts you would not have had on your own.

The underlying concept of this technique is to answer a set of questions that are clustered under main topics, and have those answers challenged by a close friend. This way, your self-image (self-perception) can be adjusted to reality by getting an understanding of your public image. However, it requires you to be courageous and to refrain from feeling attacked.

In my experience, this process already raises new questions that will have to be answered to understand the bigger picture and ultimately support the decision-making process.

Like life itself, this mind map reflects constant learning and change. To arrive at the exact answer for things might be a challenge as we get older, learn new things and find new priorities in life. However, it is highly advisable to work yourself through all elements at least once in order to have a good and solid starting point for an ever changing life review. My own life review map is now 5+ years old and still in motion! As much as I am…

Some Explanation on the Various Mind Map Topics

Mind Map Topic

Vision

The dream everyone has in mind. The big picture! Not the “I want to be a billionaire”-thing. It is about the ultimate goal one wants to achieve and the “final destination” in that very moment.

Desire

The journey is the reward. It should be fun and fulfilling. Thus, the way to achieve the goal needs to be clear as there are many ways to Rome!

Skills

This is where it gets tricky. What can you do and what are you really good at? This is where self-perception can easily be at war with your public image. And this is where a good friend needs to be ruthless with her/his observations!

Missing Skills

Admitting what’s missing is another painful exercise. But this reflection is required if you want to proceed to the next topic.

Ability to Learn

Putting things on a timeline makes it a bit easier to answer these questions. As I’m getting closer to retirement, I don’t bother starting off new revolutions. Improving on the things that I’m already good at is what fits into the remaining time. Learning also becomes a bit more difficult with age. However, your choice!

Willingness to Learn

It is one thing to be able to learn. But do you really want to learn? Learning is progress but learning fundamentally new things might also be stressful. Something to be seriously considered!

Strategy

A wise friend of mine from Saudi Arabia once told me “Failing to plan means planning to fail.” There’s another approach, “Laissez-faire”, which can be useful as well, at a certain point in time. Living a life between boundaries can be limiting or rewarding. That depends on personality.

Tactics

When the strategy is the tool that you’ve chosen, tactics are about how to use the tool. This actually puts the strategy at test since a strategy that cannot be delivered upon is not a strategy but a dream.

The Value of Life

This is likely the most intimate question to ask. And it is likely the only constant in life and hence the most difficult to answer. Being consequent on your values and not bending backwards in times of challenge is a virtue.

Network

Don’t be shy. Life is a give and take, a quid pro quo amongst friends and business partners. Giving is rewarding. Giving without expecting a return is altruism. Always giving without receiving is draining. It is my personal opinion that things will level to equilibrium during a long life. However, there can be a point in time when help is needed. And there’s nothing unethical about asking people to return a favor.

Professional Identity

The classic self-/public picture exercise. This is where you might need more than one friend to give you honest feedback. How you WANT to be seen is not an invitation to act. This is an invitation to evaluate if you HAVE to act or if it is really you.

Life in Balance

“Work gives us meaning,” some say. That might be true. Or not. One thing is for sure: We spend more time at work than with our loved ones. It is important to draw a line and make sure that there’s enough emotional energy left for yourself and your family after work.

Work in Balance

Last but not least: How far do you want to go when it comes to work? How much do you want to sacrifice? Clearly defining your limits will help you make a decision. It will also help you to be happy at work and, hence, happy at home!

Wrapping up

All of that said: I’ve, again, gone through this map and come to the conclusion to do what I’ve had in my mind for the last 10 years already: Writing a book.

If you use my mind map template to do your own life review, I’d be curious to hear what you learn and conclude!