The Map is not the Territory

Through this series of articles I will be taking some of the main points of NLP and give you a brief explanation of what they mean.

Lets start with ‘The Map is not the Territory’. To make sense of this point I first need to explain a few things about how a map is created and then I will explain how this fits into NLP and behaviour.

A map is just a representation of a landmark, and although is some aspects it is very accurate, to enable this representation to fit on the paper some changes have had to be made.

  • Distort – the map has to be scaled down, it is a fraction of the real size of the location. A full size map is not going to be very helpful
  • Delete – information has to be deleted to enable the map to be scaled down, so things that at not totally relevant/important will be left out- for example the number of houses on each street is not essential for us to find our way around.
  • Generalise – for easier understanding, similar places are categorised under the same symbols like schools, churches and hospitals.

In much the same way as creating a map, every time we have an experience we store a representation of that experience in our mind. Just like a map we make changes to the representation and distort information, delete facts, and generalize them. Our memory of the event is now different from the true experience. The way that these changes happen depend upon our beliefs and values prior to the experience. Our belief and values are built from our family, cultural, social and physical environment.

So for every experience that we have, we create an internal representation (map) of what happened. It is no longer as factually accurate as the true event. It is our version of the truth. We create ‘maps’ for every experience that we have. And the experience could vary from something that you saw, or perhaps something that you heard, or something that someone told you.

So what does this all mean?

Your map is your internal guide to how to do something. This map you have created will determine how effective you are at the task and/or behaviour. Some maps are more effective than others. If your map of the world said that public speaking is scary, and you need to deliver a talk, that is not a very resourceful map to have. Usually, the limitation is that we are unaware that this lack of resources lies within our map.

If you have a behaviour or experience that is holding you back then you need to take a look at your map and see what changes you can make. After all, the map is just your representation. If you change just one or two things on your map, you could find that your ‘territory’ has just doubled and there are a whole lot more opportunities out there for you. When you become consciously aware of all this you start to realize that your thoughts and feelings are symbols of your territory and not the territory itself.