The map is not the territory

NLP Galway

The map is not the territory* is a presupposition in Neuro Linguistic Programming** (NLP), but what does that mean for us in every day life. If we take a physical example like travelling from Galway to Dublin on the old N6 I’m sure lots of you can remember the long queues to get through the small town’s and villages like Moate and Kilbeggan, some of you may even remember further back to the long wait through Athlone on a regular journey and it being like a car park if it was math day in Croke Park! The map at the time was to follow the N6 and deal with the blockages and backlogs as you encountered them. It was the only way to go, the default and learned route.

Moving time on, the majority of people now use the M6 to make that same journey from Galway to Dublin.  Planners look not only at the map but also at the entire territory; they consider the options, and in the end forge a new path way that will in the longer terms deliver a better way. Indeed, anyone close to a project like the M6 Motorway will be aware of the challenges this option also presents, compulsory land purchases, environmental concerns, etc. However, in the end the project is fully implemented and a new path is created giving many benefits to motorists, businesses, local communities who get their town / village back, travel times improved, safety on our roads has improved, to name but a few.

So going back to NLP and considering our own map in life, what benefits could we get if we regained our power, took responsibility for our choices and really looked a the same old road we travel; our current behaviour on a daily basis, with family, friends and co-workers? Is it time for change? Is our model of reality, reality itself? Could we look at things differently and achieve what we want to achieve.

Today’s challenge is to take one aspect of your life that currently presents a challenge; and consider your model of what’s going on, then consider the model from every angle, e.g. the other person, the communication, the language used, the default programme you have chosen to use and ask yourself honesty, might there be a better way? You have the power to make the change, take it.


* The map is not the territory was first used by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish American Philosopher and scientist and author of Science and Sanity. The map is not the territory encapsulated his view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself. Korzybski held that many people confuse maps with territories, that is, confuses models of reality with reality itself.

** NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: neurology, language and programming. It was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s.  Máire uses NLP as a tool within the coaching environment at Smaoineamh.