Keeping the mind on course

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 09 Oct 2005

LIKE many children, Tony Buzan was once deemed “non university material” by his teachers for several conventional reasons, among them day-dreaming in class, lacking concentration, and being mischievous and lazy.  

But Buzan, now 63, went on to author and co-author 92 books, which are published in 32 languages in 125 countries and with over five million copies sold in the last three decades. 

But he does not attribute his success to wanting to prove the teachers wrong.  

'It is about mentalliteracy, learning howto learn and not justlearning what needs to belearned only, andpractising what welearned. — Tony Buzan

Buzan’s works, mostly on the workings of the mind, creative thinking and “learning how to learn”, nevertheless can be traced to his curiosity about the assumption made on him and children like him back then. 

“My three big questions then were ‘Who says who is intelligent’, ‘Who is the authority to define what intelligence is’, and ‘Can IQ be changed for the better?’” said Buzan during an interview last week.  

The first “breakthrough” came when Buzan, like many of his peers in the threshold of their teenage years, took up body building exercises to shape up their bodies and look macho.  

The results – feeling good and looking good – not only convinced him that the physical body could be transformed but the mind could as well. 

And the rest is history.  

Graduating from the University of British Columbia, Canada with double honours in Psychology, English, Mathematics and General Sciences in 1964, Buzan published his first book – Use Your Head – 10 years later (1974). 

Buzan had been devising and using mind maps, which he defined as “the thinking tool”, while in senior school and varsity. 

It was two most dramatic mind maps in 1971 that mapped his life thereafter, he said.  

“Words came popping out when I started to draw the mind map on memory and creativity. I suddenly realised that I was using it creatively. Because of mind maps, I discovered that memory and creativity are very similar,” he revealed.  

The second mind map was on a poem titled “Structure in Hyperspace”, said Buzan who is also an award-winning poet.  

“I suddenly experienced this big explosion of ideas for a massive poem. It was like a dream and it was going to disappear anytime. It began when I started to mind map to get the key ideas,” he recalled fondly.  

He said his brother, Barry Buzan, who is now head professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, also played a pivotal role. 

“He helped me to realise that mind mapping is not just memory,” said Buzan.  

The brothers also co-authored books on the subject.  

But what stood Buzan out was that he put together his thoughts, explorations, discoveries and understanding of the tremendous power and beauty of the human brain into steps for others to follow and benefit from, hopefully via a smoother journey compared to his.  

“It is about mental literacy, learning how to learn and not just learning what needs to be learned only, and practising what we learned.  

“It is about using 100% of our mental faculty and not just the usual 1% in all our endeavours,” said Buzan, who stated that his mission in life is to promote mental literacy globally. 

“Mind mapping can be applied to all facets in life, at any age and not just for academic excellence,” he said, adding that it was also a “stress release tool” . 

“It helps us to manage our lives well and be in control, and thus less stress.” 

Known as the “mind mapping guru”, Buzan said acquiring the know-how, practice, perseverance and discipline were among the basics in embracing mind mapping. 

Buzan who, at the age of 63, is a picture of health and confidence exudes a burning desire and abundant energy to share his vision for the betterment of mankind. 

He spends about nine months a year travelling all over the world to conduct lectures, seminars and promotions on thinking, learning and creativity.  

He is also international business consultant to several major multinational companies, and consultant and adviser to governments and government organisations for several countries.  

Despite his hectic schedule, there are two things that Buzan – a firm believer in “a healthy body, healthy mind and vice-versa” – will never miss each day: at least two hours of exercise and eating proper meals.  

He cooks his own meals if he is not travelling or dining out.  

HOW IT WORKS: A mind map by Buzan which was published in his first book Use Your Head.

A typical day for this “mind magician” while he is abroad begins between 5.30am and 6am when he wakes up and goes to the gym for some exercise. He then goes to the pool for a swim, and has breakfast after this.  

Lectures start at 9am followed by lunch at noon before more lectures, and meetings with the media or officials from the government, business and education sectors.  

Buzan said he would have another round of exercise, for about 45 minutes starting about 6pm, before he goes for dinner with friends. 

“I also take several five- to 10-minute rests in between,” he said. 

Back home in England, he wakes up between 5.30am and 6am and goes for a 10-km row along the River Thames. This takes him about an hour and 15 minutes to complete.  

“After breakfast, I will take a 15-minute 1.5 km walk along the River Thames to my studio where I work between 9.30am and 1pm,” he said, adding that he would walk back to his house for lunch. 

He takes another 15 minutes rest after lunch before he walks back to his studio where he will work until 8pm or 9pm. 

Dinner is either home-cooked food again or dining out. 

On his two-hour daily exercise, he said, the walks in particular are certainly more than an exercise as he enjoys the beauty of nature, looking at the swans, plants and clouds, and exercising his mind.  

He ends his day between midnight and 1am in order to get six hours of sleep. 

Asked about the golden rule in optimising the use of mind maps (he mind maps everything he does), Buzan said: “Learn to use it (mind maps) well and look after your body.” 

It is also about discipline and perseverance, as Buzan described the importance of practising the six steps (trials, event, feedback, check, adjust and success) or TEFCAS in achieving one’s goals.  

In simple terms, one has to start to put into practise what one learns, analyse the feedback and make adjustments in order to achieve one’s goals. And the process goes on and on.  

Buzan who said “Work for me is play” also has a long list of hobbies, including playing mind sports/ games such as chess, reading, martial arts like aikido, swimming, dancing, photography, writing poetry, cooking, astronomy, art (drawing), and spending time with friends. 

He founded the World Memory Championships and World Speed Reading Championships. 

Having lectured in 72 countries with an average of 25,000 participants a year since the first lecture in 1968, Buzan is fast becoming a household name worldwide in tandem with the rising awareness on the incredible power that could be acquired via thinking, learning and creativity.  

As the world’s leading author on the brain and learning, Buzan has, over the last three decades, inspired children as young as five years old, disadvantaged students, first class Oxbridge graduates, the world’s top corporate leaders and government officials.  

And there are countless testimonials from individuals worldwide who attribute their dramatic accomplishments to “The Thinking Tool”. 

In Malaysia, Gerakan deputy Youth chief Lim Si Pin has testified that his grades at varsity went “from bad to top 10” in class after he read a book on mind mapping by Buzan. 

“I read it from cover to cover and I told myself, I’m going to see if it works. So I mind-mapped all my notes and, poofh! I shot up to the moon,” he said in an article in The Star on Friday.  

Lim, 36, who is a corporate finance manager now, did a double degree in economics and law and then his master’s in the University of Wales.  

Buzan’s latest inroad is China. With a population of 1.3billion there, he is very excited over it.  

The Education Ministry in China began publishing six of his books this August (Creative Thinking, The Power of Social Intelligence, The Power of Spiritual Intelligence, The Power of Verbal Intelligence, The Power of Physical Intelligence and The Power of Creative Intelligence). Three more will be published this December (Brain Child, Mind Maps for Kids and Ultimate Book of Mind Maps). 

In Malaysia, Buzan, who is also a member of the international advisory council of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar), said he will be back here for two months a year from next year onwards. 

And topping the list of his mission here is working together with Utar to come up with courses on creative thinking – a three-week course for certificate, diploma (six months) and degree (three years). 

Talks with Utar chairman Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik to embark on this very ambitious mission next year began recently. 

“It is about reaching out to millions of Malaysians on learn how to learn,” said Buzan, who estimated that Malaysia would be able to move up the ranking on world competitiveness: to be among the top 20 from its current 24th placing in five years' time by harnessing the potential of Malaysian brains and optimising their usage.  

Buzan on how to make a hobby of your brain


Q: How can people start on mind mappingand how can it be made more accessibleto Malaysians. 

A: There are several ways. First of all, themedia can help to create awareness by printingthe mind maps in newspapers. Awareness willlead to wanting to learn how to practise it.  

Buy books and read on how to do it.Go to the websites( and to find out more. Enter mindmapping and memory competitions, or attendcourses by Tony Buzan or teachers in mindmapping (there are five in Malaysia). 

Make (a) hobby of your brain. Read more oncreativity, memory and intelligence and go surfingon the topic on brains. 

Once the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahmancourses are on, there will be more students andtrainers to reach out to the masses. Childrenaged five years old can attend the one- to twodaycamp on mind mapping for kids. 

Q: What should we learn first? 

A: Learn the things that will help or enableyou to learn the things you need to learn. 

Q: What are the benefits of mind mappingor the impact on those who practise it? 

A: Superb memory, brilliantly creative, veryfast learning, exceptionally good communicationskills, visionary, read and study fast andretain all the information acquired, flexibility inthinking, adaptive and readiness to embracechange. 

Q: Do some people somehow learn how touse their brain without realising it? 

A: Most people don’t and training will help inthis case. 

Q. Is learning how to learn picking upmomentum fast because of the increasingcompetition worldwide? 

A: Yes. The latest is China. Over 200,000 ofmy books were sold in China last month alone(September). Estimated 300 million of the population(in China) watched my one-hour seminarin English with Chinese sub-titles via itsCCTV in August and this is indeed an extraordinaryresponse. 

Emphasis on learning is very strong for mostfamilies in China to ensure their children have agood education. 

There is this special interest in teaching on “-learning how to learn”. It is learning how tothink, how to be creative, to remember andhow to learn. 

China started publishing my books inNovember last year. It started with one book inNovember followed by four more this May.The Ministry of Education has started publishingmy books, six in August and anotherthree in December. 

Q: Many motivation gurus say 75% of successfulpeople are propelled by adversities inlife. Could it be their situation that forcesthem to find a way out and thus use theirbrain more than usual? 

A. Yes, situation forces them.The people around them like their families,friends and teachers could also help increasetheir potential. 

Q: Can mind mapping be abused by thepractitioners for their own vested interests? 

A: No. The practitioners who acquired theskills and benefits will be much more ethical,spiritual and interested in education.If you think you are not very bright and notvery creative and of not much influence for thefuture, you will not care for yourself and valueswill not be so important to you. 

On the other hand, if you know your brain isfunctioning more powerfully than any computer,if you have a good memory, are creative,able to communicate and successful and thateverybody else is the same, then you will valueyourself, look after yourself and also value otherpeople and want to look after and help them.— BY FOONG PEK YEE 

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