The Map is Not the Territory

“The map is not the Territory” is one of a number of key principles (sometimes known as presuppositions) that underpin NLP.  Here we will look out how this simple statement can be used to unlock your personal power and potential.

First – What does “the map is not the territory” mean?

Korzybski was the first to use the phrase in the 1930s to describe our human tendency to confuse what we think (our perceptions and beliefs) with a knowledge of actual reality.

Magritte knew this when he painted his picture of a pipe with the words “this is not a pipe underneath” – it is not a pipe but merely some paint on a canvas representing a pipe.  Or as Magritte said himself, “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!”.The map is not the territory

A good map helps us to navigate territory but it can never replace it.  Think about the London Underground map (coincidentally also introduced in the 1930’s) as a means to navigate London by tube it is excellent but distances and directions are distorted to such an extent that to get around London by foot it is next to useless – the map is not the territory!.

Or to use another analogy – the menu is not the meal.  Whilst we may get an idea of what our meal will look like and even taste like from looking at the menu, it is not the same as the experience of actually eating the meal!

Why is this useful?

If we choose to believe that the map is not the territory, this gives us the ability to change our experience and our beliefs about ourselves and the world.  If the opposite were true, we would be believing that our view of the world is the right one and that everyone who disagrees is wrong – a recipe for conflict, fundamentalism and war.

How do we do it?

We essentially have our 5 senses with which to take in information about the world around us, some people focus on what they can see, others tune into the sounds and others get a feel for what is going on.  Some get a taste for what is happening and others might smell fear, or roses!

All this sensory input is “coded” internally to generate our internal representation of what just happened (our map) – but it is just our interpretation based on what we noticed.  Everyone sharing the same experience will have formed a different representation of it for themselves, but none of them are what actually happened.

Enriching the “map”

Practise using all your sensory input systems – whenever you are in a positive situation really notice what you are seeing, hearing and feeling.  This will ensure that the sensory richness of the experience is stored.  You can also do this with existing memories, for instance, remember the last time you felt really relaxed, recall the experience by seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and feeling what you felt.  The great thing is that you will be feeling that relaxation now as a result!

We all have our preferred input channel for taking in information about the world around us and from that, creating our map.  Do you concentrate on the visuals, the sounds or the words being said, or how you are feeling?  The great thing is that we can train ourselves to pay attention to all the channels.  If you are not naturally a visual person, you could visit galleries, look at photographs or art books and really start to appreciate what you are seeing.  If the auditory channel is your least preferred, switch the TV off and listen to the radio instead, and really tune in to what is being said – the words, the pace, the tone, the inflection and the volume.  For those who want to develop their “feeling” side, try setting a reminder every hour and ask yourself how am I feeling?  Whatever the response enquire further – what is that like?  Where is the feeling located? Is it moving? Does it have a colour, a texture, a temperature etc. etc.

These simple tips will help you to create a rich map of your experiences – remembering all the time though that it is just a map and maps can be updated, enriched and changed any time you like.

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