NLP Basics: The Map Is Not the Territory – A Trainer’s Confession

You hear it in NLP and elsewhere,”The map is not the territory.”

That means if you read about something, you know that is not like actually experiencing it, right? I pretty much just accepted the idea, it makes sense, a map you have is not the actual territory. That’s all I thought it was at first.

This phrase actually is true on different levels that apply to NLP.

Yes, reading about NLP is not the same as using the processes with another person.

But it goes deeper.

Have you ever decided to visit a new place, say Hawaii, and you read everything you can about it. You go online and download maps, places to eat, hotels, activities. You listen to Hawaiian music, go out and buy some poi. You start eating macadamia nut cookies and ice cream, do some hula dancing to burn off some of the calories…

Then you go there. You land in this beautiful airport, that has actual live flowers everywhere. I never do think about what to expect at the airport… its funny how it is is always a surprise, especially at island locations. You deplane right outside, and not through a tube into the terminal. You get out of the plane, and the humidity hits you, the air smells like the ocean. After renting your car, you drive down the road to your hotel, you pass the little stores… how curious! A new world opens up. Your hotel room has a lizard on the wall. No one said there would be a lizard on the wall, how cute!

Three levels of “maps” are happening here.

The internet and book research

Your take on the research

Your experience that first day – your inner map

You see, our inner map changes.

On the second day you may drive down that same street and see a luau going on, you join the festivities and end up getting invited to go sailing. Now when you drive down that street, you have that new memory. You have a new “fixtures” in your inner map.

Well the person with the hotel room next door also flew in with you. They checked into the hotel, walked down to the beach and met a new friend who showed them a great secluded beach. They have a different map of the same territory.

Our inner maps change every day, with every experience. Sometimes we re-write entire portions of our maps.

In every experience there are around 2 million bits of information that may be absorbed from the outside world. We are able to take in about 143 bits, or 7 “chunks” of information. (From research of Miller, Galanter & Pribram) Seven “chunks” refers to items such as digits in a phone number.

We are actually filtering the 2 million bits through our senses down to the 143 bits.

How do we choose those bits?

What are we aware of?

How do we choose on which 143 bits to be aware?

We then take that data and delete, distort and generalize it.

When I see a motorcycle driving on the other side of the road, and the rider is doing a wheelie, my brain does not quite “understand” the shape of what is approaching.

It takes a moment, then I see the rider and the bike clearly.

Now, for someone who sees this often, their mind registers it quickly.

This reminds me of the story of the Native Americans who first saw the ships of Columbus. Supposedly they did not “see” the ships. I can relate to that, the motorcycle doing a wheelie certainly did not “register” at first for me.

Considering your own inner map… is that the actual territory? Our inner maps seem like so much part of us, that they can appear to be reality itself. What is the actual territory? Now that’s a question to ponder. For me, I am extremely curious as to what other ideas I can take to deeper levels, just by revisiting them.

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