We all have our individual ways of thinking about things.
This simple fact can be enlightening – and at the same time annoying. Enlightening in that another’s way of thinking can give us new insights and perceptions, and annoying because, well, sometimes we just want people to agree with us!
The assumption (or the NLP presupposition) that recognises our different ways of thinking is:
Everyone has his or her unique map of the world.
But what does this presupposition mean?
A person’s ‘map’ is their unique way of thinking about the world. The terminology of a ‘map’ is entirely appropriate since a map is a two-dimensional representation of ‘reality’. Reality is three-dimensional and much more expansive. A map, by definition, does not contain all the detail inherent in whatever it represents. Likewise, your map does not include everything that you might experience.
We miss more than we take in
There’s a good reason for this. We are bombarded by millions of ‘bits’ of information all day long. Trying to take in every detail would probably result in insanity! So we selectively filter out information that doesn’t match what we already know or is peripheral to where we’re focusing.
Your mind deletes, distorts and generalises reality
Even as you experience life through your five senses, your mind is filtering much of the information that is absorbed. Your beliefs, memories, time and space, language and values act as filters of ‘real life’ and they delete, distort or generalise the incoming information.
What’s left after this filtering process is your map of the world – or your unique way of thinking.
A person’s map then, is their unique world view
When you communicate with someone else, you do not describe reality itself. You only communicate what’s in your map. You can’t communicate something that isn’t in your map. As we’ve already seen, a lot of information that was present in the initial experience will have been filtered out. It is replaced by your map which contains just a tiny proportion of what was available in the initial experience.
Have a look at this fascinating video for proof of this happening. And if you think you’ve seen it before – keep watching to the end (it’s only 90 seconds long) – for a couple of extra surprises. If you can, do this now and then come back to this article.
The Monkey Business Illusion
How much did you miss in just a 90-second video?
Imagine how much you might miss in a whole day! Thus when we re-present our experiences to others, that re-presentation will have many errors and omissions. It’s unavoidable. The person seeing and hearing our message will also filter out much of what we’re saying because they go through the same process of deleting, distorting and generalising the incoming information according to their beliefs, values, memories, time/space, language and values. By this stage, you may be wondering why there aren’t more misunderstandings between people!
Let’s confuse things, even more:
There are phenomena beyond our five senses that the majority of humans can’t perceive. For example, dogs can hear sounds that are way outside our range of hearing. The average dog’s nose is tens of thousands of times more sensitive to odours than yours.
Just because we can’t smell or hear to the same extent as our canine friends, or perceive things that other creatures can, does it mean those things don’t exist? Of course not! We can’t see electricity, air or gravity, but they still exist and are, for the most part, essential to life.
A further limitation is that what we see with our eyes can override what we hear with our ears
That’s right; we’re such visual beings that our eyes can affect what we hear and trick us into hearing things incorrectly. It’s called the McGurk effect. Have a look at this fascinating 3-minute video from the BBC to see/hear what I mean.
The point is that our maps are created from the small quantities of information we unconsciously extract and filter from the vast profusion that is our external world. If you’ve looked at the videos you will have experienced this happening in real time.
The presupposition, ‘Everyone has his or her unique map of the world’ encompasses several points:
- We’re all entitled to our point of view.
- No map is any better or worse than any other.
- No map is right or wrong; they’re just different.
- Our perception of the world (our map) is not necessarily ‘true’ (because so much of our primary experience has been filtered out).
- There’s a tendency to hang out with people who have similar values, beliefs, language, etc. because we’re more likely to have similar maps and therefore better mutual understanding.
- You can get into trouble if you believe that others think as you do.
- Your map is not reality – just your reality.