How do people’s beliefs shape their perception?
A founding principle of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), the distinction between a map and a territory was first explored by Alfred Korzybski in 1933. At its simplest meaning it is comparing what’s writ-ten on a menu with the actual food produced in the restaurant or a road map with the road itself.
The idea seems simple enough — who, after all, would confuse a roadmap with a road, or a menu with a meal? Yet Korzybski observed that people often believe that what they think is reality!
Our brains will work with whatever map we give them and usually without question. The brain being fundamentally ‘lazy’ it doesn’t want to do any more than it has to in order to make sense of the environment or situation that it finds itself in. Given that our individual reality is a unique collaboration be-tween time, experience and emotion, our historical socialisation – influenced particularly when we are young without the critical faculty we develop as our beliefs mature – shapes our map of the world.
As this map builds we delete distort and generalise the mass of data flowing to us from our senses. If we didn’t have these filters in place we would be overwhelmed and swamped by the information we are receiving so we have evolved internal and largely unconscious mechanisms in which to comfortably parcel and make ‘sense’ of our external world. We chunk the information down to manageable ‘bits’ that fit neatly into our package of beliefs.
As we challenge our view of the world through circumstance, maturity, self-awareness or desire we can realise that our maps or internal beliefs do not work well in a changing dynamic world. In fact we can come into and create conflict due to our resistance to that change.
We see what we want to see and disregard the rest. The map is not the territory. Consider Allan Watts quote “We know the world by a process of constantly transforming it into ourselves.”
John Hoag, in a very insightful article on the subject writes: “The Map is Not The Territory,” has tremendous therapeutic value. It allows us to accept our thoughts and feelings for what they are — just thoughts, just feelings. It encourages us to take our thoughts with a grain of salt. We can become curious about them, we can evaluate them, and we can change them if other thoughts or feelings would be more useful, healthy and life affirming”.
As we take the courage to explore, challenge and improve our ‘maps’ we can by impact improve the quality of our lives. Are your maps in need of updating in this dynamic age we are living in?