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The Map Is Not The Territory

In Coaching and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) we have a saying that ?the map is not the territory?. The experiences that we have of the world are not the world itself. A large proportion of the human species believe their internal map to be a true representation of reality, when, in truth, it is only one possible interpretation of it. You can?t drive your car along the lines on the map.

We can never know reality directly. The best we can do is to create a model or a map of reality in our minds. This is why we need to remember that our understanding of life, the universe and all that, is not the real thing, not true reality, just a very rough approximation of it. A key element is that we form our unique internal mental maps of the world as a product of the way we filter and perceive information absorbed through our five senses from the world around us.

Everyone Lives Within Their Own Unique Model or Map Of The World. This is how we process our external experiences. Our own personal internal map governs several key things:

1) How we feel,

2) How we behave,

3) What and who we attract into our lives,

4) What and who we are attracted to.

These things, collectively, create everything that happens in our lives. By mastering what generates these things, we can learn to master our lives.

Whilst we might think that all other people are similar to us, each of us will have our own unique internal map of the world, creating the vast variation in the ways that we each think and behave. We only ever know our own version of events and reality and most of us assume that our version is the correct one, or even the only one possible.

Often when people argue or dispute a situation, it is because their maps are different, not that one map is more valid than the other. For example, four people can watch a television programme and all of them will perceive it differently, not because they have watched different versions of the same programme but because their differing maps influence their perceptions of the programme.

The main point here is that whatever is happening in life, inside and out, we are generating for ourselves. It isn't just happening to us. If we can find out how we are doing it, we can change it. A lot of my clients ask me why they have been getting certain results. I tell them that ?why? isn't the most resourceful question. What matters is HOW we are creating whatever is happening in our lives. If you're anxious, how do you DO ?being anxious?? If you can't make enough money, how do you do ?not making money?? If you're afraid, how do you do ?being afraid?? I keep saying that we must all take 100% responsibility for whatever happens in our lives. This means that we must acknowledge that whatever is happening, somehow, we are doing it to ourselves. You may not know how, but there's something you're doing inside that generates it.

All the ways we ?code? life, such as time, memories, emotions, how we model reality in our brains, are systematically organised. By understanding how we actually structures our experiences internally, we can learn how to make changes.

It most cases we are not doing these things consciously or intentionally, but still, it's coming from something we are doing. This is a very different way of looking at life than you are probably used to. What happens is coming from you, and your job is to work out what you're doing inside that generates it.

Change Your Life with NLP:
The Powerful Way to Make Your Whole Life Better
by Lindsey Agness

Learning about how we think is a huge topic. So is learning how, what we think affects the results we get. My other articles on this website go into different aspects of this question. If you just read my articles you might find them really interesting but you won't create the changes you want to make unless you go inside your own mind and watch what you're doing with your own Internal Map of Reality.

Watching what you do inside your head isn't easy at first. Up to now, you've been running your Internal Map of Reality automatically and unintentionally. Sometimes it generates what you want, and at other times it generates what you don't want. This is your chance to go inside and watch it create your life, to notice your other choices, and then to exercise those choices.

If you practice doing this, you can and will master it. Then you will have so much personal power that there won't be anything you can't do. You'll be in charge of your emotions, your behaviour, what you attract into your life, and what you're attracted to. Instead of all of this happening unconsciously, you'll be in charge of it.

Your Internal Map of Reality evolved as you grew up, and it was organised in a way that created the greatest amount of safety for you, given your family situation, when you were very young. So you created your Internal Map of Reality, your way of thinking and acting, your way of perceiving yourself, other people, and the world, in the exact way you needed to create it in order to make it through your childhood.

If you had loving, aware parents and grew up in a safe and nurturing environment, your Internal Map of Reality probably works pretty well and creates positive results most of the time. On the other hand, if you had parents who were in some way emotionally dysfunctional, your Internal Map of Reality probably creates many undesirable results.

The more traumatic your childhood was, the more likely it is that you've structured your Internal Map of Reality in a way designed to avoid danger and create safety. However adult life is not like your family situation The strategies you created during childhood may create problems for you in adult life. Your Internal Map of Reality may well attract people and situations like those in your family and you will not notice other choices that are open to you.

The part of your mind which is programmed to protect you from potential danger, pulls your focus and attention in certain directions in order to avoid that danger. Since your mind creates or attracts more of whatever you focus on, placing your attention on what you want to avoid is not resourceful. Instead, it causes you to create or attract more of it. In all probability, you don't notice when you're doing this.

In order to take control of what you create you must acknowledge that somehow, even if you don't understand how, YOU are creating what's happening to you. You aren't doing this intentionally, and you aren't doing it consciously, but still, what's happening is coming from you. It is you who is creating whatever is happening to you. You do this by focusing your mind in certain ways. Master your internal processes, learn to operate them consciously and intentionally, and you master what happens to you.

Please don't misunderstand. When I say that you're creating your life, I'm not saying that what you're creating is YOUR FAULT. This is not about fault, it's about responsibility. Fault implies that you did something wrong, and that's not the case. You aren't doing any of this intentionally. Something happened to you, though, that caused you to make your Internal Map of Reality the way it is, and now it's just doing what it was set up to do. You have to take that map off autopilot and take conscious charge of it. Once you do that, you can create anything and everything you want.

To quote Bill Harris, ?For any outcome, whether internal or external, there's a certain way of thinking and acting that will get it for you. You have to find it and be flexible enough to adopt it?. Finding it is the easy part. Being flexible enough to adopt this new way of thinking and acting is the challenging part, because, as I said, you may not feel safe focusing your mind in a different way.

Your task now is to discover HOW you're doing whatever it is you are doing, to become aware of the other options you aren't exercising and to begin to create your life consciously. Here's how this thing works. You receive some kind of input from the environment. This means you see something, hear something, touch something, smell something, or taste something. You have an experience. This sensory input, as it comes in, is filtered. This filtering mechanism severely affects your Internal Map of Reality. These filters include your beliefs; values; memories; decisions; the language you speak; how you sort, store, and retrieve information; your strategies for making decisions; and a few other things. These filters have a huge effect on your experience of life. If you can make this filtering process conscious, you can have a huge influence over how you create your life.

Beliefs are probably the most important part of our Internal Maps of Reality. They are also one of the most misunderstood, as you will soon see. For this reason I have written an article on beliefs. These filters delete, distort, and generalise everything that comes it. First they delete some of the information as it arrives. In fact they delete most of it. There are millions of bits of information coming into your mind in each moment, and a whole lot of it you just don't notice. You don't notice every spot on the carpet, every scratch on the furniture, every whorl in the wallpaper, for instance, even if your eyes see them. And the same filtering process happens with what you hear, touch, smell, and so on.

This deletion process happens so automatically, so quickly, and so unconsciously, that you don't even notice it. Whatever your beliefs, values, decisions, memories, and other filters are set up to delete, gets deleted. We tend to delete whatever doesn't agree with what we believe. Contradictory evidence would have to be huge and right in your face in order to override your tendency to automatically delete whatever doesn't agree with what you already believe. More on this in my article on beliefs.

When you focus on something, your mind finds a way to create or attract more of it. If you focus on being a success, for instance, you'll figure out how to create or attract success. If you focus on failing, or even on not failing, you will attract or create failure.

The importance of these filters is that they determine what is available for us to focus on. If we delete all information, all ideas, all beliefs, all strategies, all data, about success, we can't focus on them. If we delete the possibilities in a situation we will think we have no possibilities but if we let these things in, they're available for us to focus on and create in our lives. So if we can consciously choose what to delete and what to keep, we will have a distinct edge in creating what we want in life.

These filters also distort a lot of what comes in. Sometimes they do this in order to make what's coming in confirm what we already belief, value, and so on. Or, we might distort what comes in by adding something that really isn't there, or create some other misperception so that the input, the experience, conforms with our current Map of Reality. This distortion could be either harmful or beneficial.

As an example, say that you believe that no one will ever love you. Someone then turns you down when you ask them for a date. Because you believe that no one will ever love you, you might see this as rejection, as evidence that you are, indeed, unlovable. Of course this may not be the real reason. Maybe that person was already in a committed relationship, or had another commitment that night, or you just weren't their type.

Distortion can be resourceful, as well. When we envision the future, when we make plans, when we set goals, when we imagine something that doesn't yet exist, but which we want to have happen, we're distorting, but in a positive way. Clearly it would be beneficial to be in charge of this distortion process, rather than just letting it happen automatically.

The third thing these filters do is create generalisations. These can often be very useful. We would never get anywhere if we had to re-learn what a door is and how to open it every time we came to one. Generalisations can be negative though, such as when they cause us to fail to see the differences that make something unique. If you had a bad experience with an authority figure, or a romantic partner, or when you were in a learning situation, it would be very limiting if you generalised this to include all authority figures, all romantic partners, or all learning situations.

Often when people have a traumatic experience, they make these kinds of broad generalisations. If you do, you might worry (focus on what you don't want) whenever you encounter a similar situation. Since focusing on what you don't want creates more of it, and also creates bad feelings, such generalisations would lead to negative results for you. The truth is that some authority figures might really want to help you, some romantic partners might really love you, and some learning situations might be great fun.

However, if you've made generalisations about certain classes of people, or certain classes of situations, you'll attract more of the same in order to confirm that you're right. You won?t, however, attract people and situations that will allow you to see the bigger picture and be happy. One clue that generalisations are being made is when you hear global words like ?all, never, always, no one, or everyone.?

So your filters delete, distort, and generalise the input as it comes in, based on the way your Internal Map of Reality has been set up. And it all happens in a split second. What's left is a filtered version of reality, which provides the raw material you'll use to create your focus. If you're doing all of this unconsciously, you may not filter what comes in resourcefully and you may not like the results. But if you're filtering intentionally, you can direct the process. Doing so gives you tremendous power.

So information has come in through your senses, and you've filtered it by deleting, distorting, and generalising. With what's left you make what are called internal representations. That is you think about it using one of the six thinking modes (or ?modalities? if you must use a fancy word).

You can make internal pictures (visual), internal sounds (auditory), internal tastes (gustatory), internal feelings (kinaesthetic), internal smells (olfactory), and what in coaching we call Audio Digital (which is just a fancy way of saying ?internal dialogue? or ?self-talk?). So we focus on the data by making internal representations using one of the six thinking modes. Most people use the word ?thinking? to mean internal dialog, but you can actually think in any of these six ways.

Remember that the internal representations you make and store are not what originally came in through your senses. That input has been significantly altered by the filtering process. Instead, these impressions are merely representations of reality, which is why they're called internal representations. For most of us, most of the time, the process of making internal representations goes on automatically, very rapidly, and almost always unconsciously. You can, however, become aware of how you do it, and learn to do it consciously and intentionally if you watch yourself in real time and with awareness.

There internal representations generate three very important aspects of your life. First, they generate your emotions, motivation, satisfaction, curiosity, and so on. Happiness, sadness, anxiety, depression, motivation, confusion, clarity, excitement, fear, and all other emotions and internal mental and emotional states, are directly generated by the internal representations you make

If you go inside and find out, for instance, what internal representations (thoughts) lead to anxiety, you'd have control over whether or not you felt anxious. Knowing how you were creating anxiety, you could decide not to do it any more. In other words, you could decide not to make those kinds of internal representations. Not to have those thoughts, any more.

To do this you have to be aware of them. What internal representations you make, once it's a conscious process, becomes a choice. If you go inside and find out what internal representations lead to feeling happy, you could make more of them. Again, if you're aware of how you do happiness, it becomes a choice, and you can do more of it. Can you see why it might be important to create internal representations consciously and intentionally, rather than just allowing them to happen automatically?

Another thing internal representations generate is behaviour. When you take action, or decide not to take action, your choice is preceded by certain internal representations. If you're motivated to act, it's because you've made certain internal representations that create the motivation to act. If you procrastinate, it's because you've made certain other internal representations. If you decide to smack someone on the nose, kiss them, avoid them, speak to them, or anything else, your behaviour is generated by the internal representations you've made. All emotions and all behaviours are generated by the internal representations you make.

Internal representations also generate the people and situations you feel attracted to. The people you choose to become involved with, and the situations in which you put yourself are the direct result of the internal representations you make. You are making internal representations right now, and right now they're generating feelings, behaviours, people, and situations. It's just that you're doing all of this automatically.

Assuming that you want to be in charge of what you are creating, your task is to learn how to generate your internal representations consciously and intentionally, in a way that gets you what you want.

Let's look at how internal representations (thoughts) attract people and situations into your life. Let's say that you want to make more money. You decide to make internal representations of making more money. What happens when you do that? First, you begin to get ideas about how to make money. Second, you notice external resources that might help you to do so. You would find yourself noticing and being attracted to people who could help you. Books would jump out at you at the bookshop, you'd notice snatches of conversation about making money, or a advertisement for a seminar that you would have otherwise ignored.

You would also discover and draw on internal resources you otherwise wouldn't notice or tap into otherwise, including things like courage, persistence, learning from mistakes, greater mental clarity, and greater energy. Finally, focusing on making money would create the motivation to act once you had an idea about how to actually create more money. In this way, focusing on how to create more money causes it to happen. There might be a learning processes along the way. You might make mistakes and learn from the feedback you get, perfecting your ideas for getting the money. If you keep focusing on how to make more money, and take action, you will eventually get the money.

What if you focus on what you don't want instead? What if, for instance, you focus on not being poor, or not being in debt? In that case, even though you don't want it, you will find a way to create poverty and debt. To focus on not being poor you have to make internal representations of being poor, with the idea that you want to avoid it.

Your mind (or at least the part of it that generates your results) takes whatever you focus on literally, as if you want it. It can't process the ?not? part of it, because it just sees the internal representations and assumes that its supposed to create or attract it. So, being a good servant, your mind attracts people and situations that will cause you to be poor, to lose money, to make bad financial decisions, to lose motivation, and so on. And, you'll also feel bad, because focusing on what you don't want creates all bad feelings, and you cannot feel good while focusing on what you don't want.

So now you should be beginning to see that, by being aware of and in charge of your internal representations, you are in charge of nearly everything in your life. Of course there will still be random events in your life. Nevertheless if you can take charge of your internal representations, you have so much control that random events have only a small effect on you, and even when they happen, you're able to turn them to your advantage. If you focus on being happy, you are making internal pictures of being happy, talking to yourself about being happy, or perhaps experiencing internal sounds, smells, or tastes, or internal physical sensations, of being happy. Focusing means making internal representations.

This process by which you take in sensory input, filter it, and then make internal representations of it is what creates your Internal Map of Reality. If your Map of Reality does not work very well, you can change it so as to create what you want in life. If it already works well, you'll be able to improve your results. Just watch with awareness, in real time. You can only create negative results unconsciously. You can not continue to so consciously. As you become more conscious of the process your Internal Map of Reality must reorganise in a more resourceful way.

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