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Is Not To Be To Be?

By Peter Wright

When philosopher and scientist, Alfred Korzybski coined his (now) famous quote: "The map is not the territory," I wonder if he had any idea that 70+ years on, some of his original thoughts and ideas would be having such an effect on as many people as they are today.

Considered by some as a crucial ancestor of NLP, Korzybski compared the statement "Joe is an idiot" (concerning a fictitious character, Joe who has committed a crass act) with "Joe has done something idiotic." The first statement implies Joe is something of a simpleton while the second statement is all about some thoughtless act he has done. It is centered round the use of the verb 'to be' in language. In the case of "The map is not the territory," the distinction highlighted by "is not" points directly towards a founding principle in NLP, hence its often quoted reference. You could extend this to "the team is not the team sheet," "the holiday is not the brochure," or "the meal is not the menu"... mind you in some fast food establishments the menu (and what it is printed on) can be a distinct improvement on the meal!

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 confuse what they think with 'reality.' Korzybski also coined the term 'neuro-linguistic', referring to the connectedness of our nervous systems and physical responses to our thoughts as structured by the language we use.

Let's roll out some of the maps Joe might have in his chart room:

"I'm useless - I'll never make it,"
"I never feel confident,"
"No one ever listens to me."
I'm sure you can think of many other generalizations like these, made over the years by you and other people. But once you start to pose specific questions of these particular maps, these generalizations, then the picture changes.
"What evidence is there that tells you that?"
"What makes you think you'll never make it?"
"You've never felt confident ever? Not at any time, about anything?"
"What no-one, ever? Why, I'm listening now!"
Now consider some of your own maps - especially those in areas where things always seem to hold you back - and then start breaking them down by questioning the assumptions and generalizations. If you are totally objective you should start to feel differently about them. We all carry some limiting beliefs around with us and if they are traced back to origin we might be surprised where they came from! They are not always our own judgements, or those of our parents, or friends, colleagues, classmates, or teachers or coaches, either. They might even be attributable to some casual overheard remark by someone totally unqualified to make any such observations.

Without questioning them though, our lives continue their course with these distorted maps. When we then come to specific areas where we might be having difficulties, it is as if we then look at the maps, then look at the world around us, and our will and confidence inside just dissolves. "There - see. I knew I wouldn't be any good at it!" This reinforces the credibility of the maps and makes them equally relied upon and trusted the next time they are consulted. "I'm too old to learn new tricks; I'm too young to do that" - Limiting Beliefs - Distorted Maps.

Without questioning and if left to their own devices, our brains will accept whatever maps we give them and will use them again and again. They have a strong tendency, however, to re-use preferred maps, regardless of the territory. So you might be undertaking a new task and your brain will go and search for a strategy (a map, a program) to assist with the task completion. However, imagine the outcome if the particular chosen map does not correspond to the territory you are navigating! Chaos, disappointment, external ill-judgement, reduction of confidence, reinforcement of low self-esteem, etc, etc. It would be as if someone moved to France from UK but continued to use his UK roadmap because he was familiar with it and liked it better than the French roadmap. Sounds ludicrous - but we all do something like that with our mental maps. Mainly because we often don't realize we are using a map at all.

Take the very organized, controlled person for instance. Their map, strategy, programme for dealing with the world and other people would serve them particularly well if their job called for someone with these specific attributes. However take this map into social and close relationships and it might not suit the situations anything like as well. Think of people you know who are like this - and I guess there are many - and then find yourself pondering why they do it, or how their life might be better, easier, improved if only they had another behavioural map here. There are lots of people who do have a range of behavioural maps - and there are lots who don't!

NLP began in the mid 1970s in USA with the work of John Grinder, a professor of linguistics, and Richard Bandler, a psychologist. They began by studying excellent communicators, building models of communication skills. These methods could then be modelled by and taught to others so they too could get the same results. This is rather along the lines where you would use a perfect exponent of a particular skill within your profession or sport as an illustration, and then model your actions upon that master. NLP is really tailor made for coaches and performers in whatever discipline because through the various stratagems (or models as they are known) you can learn and understand the reality of how the masters work, think and represent the world and their perception of it, and can match their various patterns accordingly to help you move towards and achieve your goals. Put simply NLP can be explained thus:

Neuro (logy) - The mind and how we think
Linguistic - How we use language and how it affects us
Programming - How we sequence our actions to achieve our goals.
NLP also studies how we represent our subjective experiences, how our senses build our internal perception of the world, how we think about our values and beliefs, how we create our emotional states. NLP extends the definition of 'map' to include all the above. The implications are profound. We can never know a thing in itself, we can only know our own neurological translation of it. By the time we are aware of anything through our senses, it has already undergone significant transformations. Information has been deleted, distorted and generalized by our nervous systems in the very process of performing what we call 'perception'. So our view of reality has been processed in our sensory language all of which will be different mine, yours, his or hers or theirs.

As an individual performer this information can be really beneficial in helping you understand yourself, what your various maps are and how they might be improved, and what the effects of good state management might bring for you.

As a coach, team leader or player you already know how important communication styles and language are in helping the team function better as a unit, how the team will have a better rapport and improve their interaction, and NLP will illustrate for you the means of enhancing these skills and competences. An astute manager will be able to communicate with the team in such a way that he or she is on the wavelength of all of them. An astute coach will be able to communicate with clients in such a way that reaps greater benefits.

Astuteness does not come as standard though. However, with even some knowledge and practiced use of NLP, you will find your understanding and influence of yourself, players, teams, groups, clients will be greatly enhanced and that your evolving team dynamic drives all members forward with congruence and increased potential for success.

The key to integrating NLP into your everyday communication is to have and to hone a style that encourages everyone to improve their skills and competences through experience and perception; to understand what is happening to yourself and those around you; and what you and they need to do, internally (neurologically) and externally (physiologically) to bring about change. Take a look at these key maxims:

  • People are not their behaviours
  • There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states
  • If it's possible in the world then it's possible for me. It's just a matter of how
  • For things to change, first I must change
  • There is no failure only feedback

The road to consistently successful performance is paved with good preparation and organisation. "Fail to prepare" and you "Prepare to fail" is often quoted, and is a good mantra for motivation. But you can be the most diligent and motivated person in training but fail to spot that the Maps that are your guide are faulty. It's true you can be well organised but when the kitchen is getting hot can you still turn out zabaglione or will you burn the toast?

NLP and other mental skills training will help you cope with yourself, expand your awareness and perception both of language and communication, and will make you think and act and effect change for yourself and those around you.

The "Law of 21" - If you keep up with a new mindset and take action on it for 21 days in a row it will begin to become a habit. Your mind will become so accustomed to that behaviour, that it will begin to accept it as second nature. So the particular actions I recommend, such as abdominal breathing, SMART goal setting, getting control of your state, enhancing your communication skills and sensory acuity, using visualization, all fall under the Law of 21.

As with all transformation and change your positive involvement is vital. It won't just happen for you - you will have to work at it, but it will be worth it! The ratio of preparation to performance should be akin to an iceberg. All the prep is below the surface. The duck glides smoothly across the water, while below the legs are paddling furiously.

Discover how important questions are within NLP - questions that challenge Maps, Over Generalizations, Unconsidered Opinions... Are you ready to make all the necessary changes? As an old dog can you learn new tricks?

Peter Wright is an accredited Hypnotherapist and Sports Hypnosis specialist and helps people with a variety of issues using trancework and associated strategies such as NLP, Thought Field Therapy and Time Line techniques. This article forms part of the preface to his book "Don't Think of a Black Cat - a Basic NLP Toolkit for Coaches and Performers." You can reach Peter by email.
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