NLPrep: Keep Your Eyes on the Map and Your Feet on the Ground

In preparation for a course on NLP that I’m taking next week, I’m reviewing some books, articles and previous learning on the topic. This blog post is part of my pre-program process… it includes by reference another blog post from last year:  Effective Instruction Through Reverse Engineering: 2 Kinds of NLP and the 49 Teaching Techniques of Lemov’s Taxonomy

Who Is This Lady That Got People All Gaga?

NLP got all the wrong kinds of attention for itself… it was a 1970’s era débutante gone wild, an embarrassment to its uptight psychotherapeutic establishment cousins.

At first it had some interesting things to say, like for example how we use our eyes when we think, how our choice of words can resonate in our minds and how we attach sensations to ideas… but then it reached for the fast money too fast.

Now, almost forty years later, with its faded tattoos, scratchy voice and not-cute-anymore tantrums,  it’s hard to say which parts of the “fringe pseudo-science” of Neuro-linguistic Programming were successfully borrowed/repurposed/grafted into the “acceptable social science” of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other forms of psychotherapeutic counseling… and which parts of those therapeutic approaches have been rebranded as part of the newer, more mature packaging of NLP.  The familyof  cousins has grown and here and there you’ll find some members swapping wardrobes…some people are wearing vintage NLP on top and spray it with a heady perfume… others wear it secretly underneath their conservative professiorial attire, where they’ve dabbed it with a mild fragrance.

Korzybski’s Cartography

When John Grinder and Richard Bandler (co-founders of NLP) cobbled together version 1.0 of their “technology,” they referenced a famous quotation from Alfred Korzybyski, which went like this:

“The map is not the territory.”

– Alfred Korzybyski

This quotation became one of the presuppositions — a core operating principle — guiding the practice of NLP.

To NLP,  “the map is not the territory” means that each person carries within themselves a perceptual “map” of the world that is necessarily different than the real world surrounding them.  To be a better communicator is to learn how to better interact with those maps… your own maps and those of others.

Well, here’s an alternative interpretation to Korzybyski’s quote:

‘The map is not the territory’ means that NLP is a map.  NLP is a map that describes things that may not actually exist as it describes (or even exist at all)… but it’s a map that can help get you where you need to go anyway.

Yes, you could say that an embedded command within the subconsciousness of NLP’s presuppositions there is a doubting of the reality of its own identity. (..or you could just watch Inception and call it a day…) Way too much time and energy has been wasted trying to prove/disprove the minutia of NLP’s maps, its variegated claims and mental models.

Look… some of it works… and some of it doesn’t.

In fact, NLP works the same way some religions work:  It provides a person with an elaborate narrative, a cosmic map that guides them to do things correctly, like helping others and living a good life.  Yes… Pastafarians may never truly know whether there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster up there… but they can still celebrate their rich cultural heritage and contributions to society at large by speaking like a pirate every year on September 19.  Similarly, it may take decades to completely figure out how eye accessing cues really truly work… but in the meantime we can use this map to better orient ourselves and connect with another person’s unique thinking patterns. (Worst case scenario: None of it is “true” at all and the movements are statistically random…  and yet, by simply trying to notice those cues we’re making ourselves  improve the quality and intentionality of our eye contact in face-to-face conversation… boom, swish, bang… we’re still building rapport)

There is a quote attributed to Korzybyski which goes like this:

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.”

– Alfred Korzybyski

What I do know is that I’m excited to sharpen my skills as a coach and facilitator, so yeah, let’s go… more NLP… bring it.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 21, 2011, in Communication Skills, Learning, Metaphors and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Further reading for the curious, tangential mind:

    Wikipedia has a great article all about this quote, “the map is not the territory”

    (It’s a well-constructed article… and also a wonderful example of the elasticity of Wikipedia’s No Original Research policy: how such works of art can — and should — exist on Wikipedia… as long as the topic and its treatment appeal to the obsessive compulsive geek culture Hive Mind of Wikipedians. Philosophy of Reality? Yes! Recursive humor? Yes! Dancing Bananas? No! Yes! No! Yes! Edit War! )

  1. Pingback: Get More Money & Love with an Abundance Mindset… maybe. | Dan Spira

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