October 6, 2022

Maps and Territory

Knowing that our mental picture of our external reality is real and accurate is comforting. To think that we are merely playing a movie in our heads that is unique to us is unsettling. So, we defend our reality. What would happen if you stepped into the world of “not knowing?”

Certainty about absolute truth is fragile. What you believed about the world when you were young is different from what you believe now, and it will be different from what you believe in the future. If you think you hold the absolute truth at any point in time, then you need to shut out all information that doesn’t support the truth. This requires a fixed mindset that is out of rapport with reality. Just like tectonic plates that shift, building tension that ends in an earthquake, holding fast to beliefs sets up a major tension that sets you up for personal disruption. You can move gently with your openness to your experiences, or experience major disruption in your life when the big one hits.

Alfred Korzybski famously said that “The map is not the territory.”

What if you were to look at your beliefs as an imperfect map of reality? What if your job were to continually update the map with feedback from your journey? I teach my clients to add this to their communication. 

  • “My current way of thinking is. . .”
  • “The model I am using for this problem is. . .”
  • “I am currently looking from the framework of. . .”
  • “I found a filter that really works well right now.”

Defending a current “absolute truth” is a burden. Holding what you know as an imperfect map relieves all of us of the burden of defending an absolute truth. It opens the door to wider views of the “territory” that provide valuable feedback. It allows for incremental improvements in our map of how we operate in the world and avoids that big belief earthquake.

How do our maps and models work? Reality is persistent and will give us the feedback we need to constantly upgrade our beliefs and behaviors. It is a great feeling and experience the results our time-tested maps of the world and create modifications that continually serve us better.

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