NLP Map Of The World: Why What You See Is Fatally Flawed


We all have our own unique map of the world; our own perception of life

This simple fact is enlightening — and annoying

It’s enlightening because another’s understanding can give us new insights and perspectives. And it’s annoying because — well — sometimes we just want people to agree with us!

An NLP presupposition (aka an assumption) recognises our different ways of processing information:

Everyone has their own unique map of the world

What does this NLP map of the world presupposition mean?

A person’s ‘map’ is their unique way of perceiving the world.

To explain this a little more, think about a paper map. Those things we used to keep in the drivers’ seatback pocket — or the glove box of your vehicle? Remember, before GPS and prior to your phone giving you verbal directions?

A map, by definition, does not contain all the details inherent in whatever it represents

A map is a two-dimensional representation of reality.

A street map, for example, doesn’t show the lands’ contours. A political map only shows each country’s boundaries, without roads or land contours. And a relief map uses shading to show different levels of elevation but doesn’t show roads.

Reality is three-dimensional and considerably more expansive

Your mental map — or your perception (aka NLP Map of the world), does not include all the information that was available in your original experience.

We miss much more than we absorb, and there’s a good reason for this

Millions of ‘bits’ of information bombard us all day long — apparently, 11 million bits.  If we attempted to take in every detail of our ongoing experiences, not only would we get nothing done, but we’d go insane! To avoid insanity, our mind selectively filters out information that doesn’t match what we already know or is peripheral to where we focus our attention.

You experience life through your five senses, but your mind is filtering out much of the detail. It deletes, distorts, and generalises the incoming information based on your beliefs, memories, time, space, language, and values.

What’s left after this filtering process is your map of the world, your unique worldview, or your perception

When you communicate your experience, you can only pass on what’s in your map. Your map contains severely limited information; just a tiny proportion of what was available in that original experience.

Thus, when we re-present our experiences to others, the re-presentation will contain many errors and omissions.

It’s unavoidable

For proof of this happening, check out this fascinating video. And if you believe you’ve seen it before — keep watching to the end (it’s only 90 seconds long) for a couple of extra surprises.

How much did you miss in a 90-second video?

Imagine how much you might miss in an entire day!

The person seeing and hearing our message also filters out much of what we’re saying. They go through the same deleting, distorting, and generalising process with the information they receive from the conversation. They filter the information in a way that conforms to their beliefs, values, memories, time/space, language, and values.

You might be wondering why there aren’t more misunderstandings between people!

Let’s add another piece to the mix

There are phenomena most humans can’t perceive. For example, dogs can pick up sounds way outside our range of hearing. The average dog also has 300 million olfactory receptors in its nose, compared to our meager 6 million. (Although this could be a blessing!)

Because we can’t smell or hear to the same extent as our canine friends or perceive the way 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, mostly, essential to life.

We are further limited because what we see with our eyes can override what we pick up with our ears

We’re such visual beings that our eyes can 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, we create our maps from the small quantities of information we unconsciously extract and filter from the vast profusion of our external world. If you’ve viewed both videos, you’ve experienced this happening in real-time.

So what might the NLP presupposition ‘Everyone has their own unique map of the world’ mean to you?

The presupposition 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 visual observation will override our auditory sense. (Actions speak louder than words).
  • Our perception of the world (our map) is not necessarily ‘true’ (because we filter out so much of our primary experience).
  • Humans hang out with other humans who share similar values, beliefs, language, etc. because they’re more likely to have similar maps and therefore, better mutual understanding.
  • You can get into trouble if you expect others to perceive experiences in the same way that you do.
  • Your map is not reality — just your perception of reality.

Find out more about NLP by visiting this FAQ post.

Discover more about how your maps affect all aspects of your life in my How To Change Your Mind eBook


This is the recording of the interview I did with Aaron Mooar at Raglan Radio about this blog post.


Tags: Communication skills, Perception, Podcasts and audio tips, Thinking and mindset


  1. Anonymous

    You have a way of making complex topics engaging and understandable. Great work on this post!

    • Stephanie

      Thanks so much Michael! 😊


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *