Go your own way

How a mind map can help bring you some clarity.

Despite years of wrangling in the worst of my ADHD symptoms, I have yet to escape the haze that brain fog can cast upon me. It’s not uncommon for me to confidently waltz into a room ready to blitz through my next task, only to be left frantically trying to remember what I’d set out to do in the first place. By the time I get to where I’m going, all I’m left with is a Roadrunner-shaped dust cloud where my intent would be standing, had I held onto it. 

Brain fog wouldn’t reach so high up on my list of enemies if it limited itself to things like household chores. On my worst days, my mind feels so overborne with static that it’s hard to follow what a friend or loved one is saying, despite how much I want to hear it. I’ll smile and nod as I grasp onto familiar words or phrases that can help me keep track of the conversation, all while trying to not internalize that my inability to be fully present can come off as insincere.

People are typically understanding if I explain why I need to retread the conversation before earnestly responding, but I’m trying to put less of that burden on others. There’s no certain way to clear brain fog, but I’ve found that keeping my intention at the front of my mind as often as possible is a helpful step in taming the symptoms. I may still get lost in the haze, but it makes it easier to find my way back and try again. 

That aimlessness, whether in conversation with loved ones or as I try to take on my next project, can quickly spiral into self-doubt and crush any chance of ending the day on top, so I try to create as much of a game plan as possible before diving in. More often than not, lately, that game plan starts with making a mind map to establish a starting point for my ideas and let the finer details branch out as they trickle in. 

On your mark

If you’ve spent any time on the internet perusing study tips and hacks for cramming before an exam, you’ve probably seen a mind map or two. These handy visual aids allow you to build branches around a central idea, which could be  broad topics like dogs or narrow issues like net neutrality, and branch into smaller ideas or tidbits of information that remain connected. Each branch adds another layer of depth to the mind map, so you're able to get pretty granular with details without losing track of the main idea that ties everything together. 

Mind maps don’t have to be limited to the classroom, though; whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to do, I like to draw up a mind map to break everything down into more digestible chunks. When I’m struggling to gather my thoughts for a piece I’m writing, I drop everything into my mind mapping app of choice, Mindnode, where I can put ideas and bits of text from other sources together where they make sense before diving into the writing.

More practically, mind maps can also be used to strategize how you tackle things like chores that pile up. You could break them down by room, then each thing you need to do in a room, and branch from there into everything you'll need to get started. It’s a bit of work upfront, but having a plan makes the actual work feel less daunting, and that comes in handy when morale is low.

The power of mind maps lies in their ability to help you gather and expand your thoughts without losing sight of the big picture. Let’s say you’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, but can’t articulate what’s bothering you. If journaling doesn’t help you get your feelings out, you could start with writing your core feeling in the center, and then branch out into everything that might be contributing to your woes. Eventually, you’ll get to the bottom of what’s dragging you down and start working on a path forward.

Mind maps lend themselves to a variety of formats, so if there’s a spot where you’re feeling a bit disheveled, there’s a good chance a mind map could help you find the right gear. If you’re struggling with building a new habit, you could make a mind map to isolate any hurdles you’ve encountered on your journey to improvement, and make smaller branches with ways to fight back. Sort of like a flow chart for feeling better. If you, like me, struggle with organizing things like kitchen cabinets, you could lay everything out in a mind map to get things categorized in a way that makes sense for your brain, then place things accordingly. If you’re crafty enough, you can incorporate a mind map into any of your goings on that could use a little less friction.

The key is to whittle your thoughts down to short words or phrases, and expand upon them with additional branches if you need more detail. This way, you’re able to get a solid understanding of how each thought or bit of information ties back to the last, which helps build clarity in your thoughts and plans. 

Whether it’s in your work or just trying to get through the day, a little fog is to be expected right now. The best way out is to have a plan going in, and mind maps can help you shine a brighter light on your ideas to help them grow in clear ways that won’t lead you astray. 

📚 Good Reads:

The absurd logic of internet recipe hacks (The Atlantic): A few scrolls down your For You Page on TikTok will probably surface at least one or two gross recipe hacks. I’d mostly avoided watching these, but in the past month or so I haven’t been able to look away. Like, @jojo_sinz, who makes bread out of things like Sour Patch Kids or Pop Tarts, complete with a review of how tasty or terrible it is. Amanda Mull writes on what makes these videos so enticing, and how they strike a nerve that other videos simply can’t. 

Apple’s App Store is hosting multimillion-dollar scams, says this iOS developer (The Verge): You’ve probably noticed more apps moving to a subscription model in the past couple years. For developers looking for sustainable income, it makes sense, and there are a lot of excellent apps that have made the subscription model work. But subscription fatigue aside, it’s hard to make a compelling case for handing over a chunk of your paycheck every month to a developer you can’t fully trust. An ecosystem that allows for exploitative apps to thrive harms good developers, and ultimately makes it harder for users to find the apps that can best solve their problems.  

With depression and anxiety, healing begins with learning to cope (MEL): I had my first panic attack towards the end of 2019. By that point, I felt like I’d developed a strong enough toolset to get through even the worst mental health days, and that got completely shaken in a matter of minutes. At first, I felt discouraged, but as this piece illustrates, it became more manageable as I started to view it as another wave to ride out. It hasn’t made the reality of dealing with panic attacks any easier, but it made the truth of their ephemerality easier to believe. 

We’re all socially awkward now (The New York Times): Before the pandemic, I used to love talking to neighbors as we walked our dogs, or indulging a chatty Uber driver about their side-hustle using healing crystals, but now every conversation feels impossibly overbearing. If you’ve felt a regression in your social skills, you’re not alone,: but there are ways to minimize the effects of isolation. Whether it’s a group chat where you can all scream your frustrations together and crack a few jokes from time to time, or a monthly phone call just to check-in, being creative with how you’re staying in touch with your loved ones can help you feel less alone. 

🌐 Just Browsing:

🌸 How TikTok led to this flower getting 90 million hits per day on Wikipedia ☁️ When silver linings don’t cut it, honesty helps. 💧We should welcome the return of the nervous breakdown. 👷🏼‍♂️ Friendly reminder that you are not your work. 🦙 An oral history of The Emperor’s New Groove and why we may never get another movie like it. 🍽️ On the non-debate of indoor dining. 🎸 The guy from Eve 6 has been making the rounds on Twitter. Vulture checks in

🔧 Toolkit:

💕 And now, here's something we hope you'll really like:

Memos (iOS): If you use your screenshot folder as a pseudo to-do list as often as I do, your camera roll is probably a nightmare. Memos scans your entire photo library and performs OCR (optical character recognition) on every image for text, so you can search your photos like you would your notes app. If you forgot your friend’s address, or need to track down an order number, this app makes it easier to find in your unorganized stack of screenshots. 


As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.

My thanks to Medea Giordano for editing this issue.