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NLP basics 2

Everyone has a unique map of the world

Have you ever tried to use a new gadget for the first time without reading the instructions first? Or assemble that flat pack furniture? Most of us have, and quite often things are intuitive enough to work out. We may not find all the features without the instructions, or perhaps have a few screws left over at the end, but mostly we can often get by. Understanding how your mind works is similar, it seems mostly intuitive, but no-one gave you a user guide to help you out. NLP training is a little bit like finally being given a 'Dummies guide' to the how your mind processes the world.

To start with its important to understand that you have a conscious and an unconscious mind, and they do different things, both equally important. The conscious mind is the one we are most aware of, and it is the rationale processing centre of your brain. Its the part of your mind that works things out, the intellectual part, the part that differentiates between reality and fiction, the bit that thinks it knows what is going on. Trouble is, it has limited processing power and can only manage to deal with relatively small chunks of information at any one time. Our unconscious mind however, notices everything, and filters out all the things that are 'not important' in the moment. It has a set of really important functions all of its own, and is the domain of our emotions, runs our habits, and where all our learning truly takes place.

The 'external event', that thing going on around you wherever you are right now, contains a wealth of information, and significantly more information than your conscious mind can process. As I sit here writing this I can hear the river outside, with the birds singing, and music playing inside, but as I direct my attention to all the things I can hear, I find that I stop writing because the limit of the conscious processing mind is busy with other things. We receive all of our information about what is going on in any moment, through our five senses, what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Our unconscious mind is able to notice all of those things simultaneously, and has the job of filtering down all of that information into a very small number of chunks of information that our conscious mind can deal with. To that we all have 3 filters.

The first filter is deletion. Our unconscious minds simply deletes anything it considers unimportant in the moment. Have you ever had a headache, or other pain, that seems to draw all of your attention, and stops you concentrating on other things you want to do? At any other time you would not notice how your head felt, but pain is important, in the moment, to draw your attention to a problem. Think about driving along a road and all of the cars and traffic you pass - what do you notice? If you are thinking of getting a different car you may find yourself noticing the model of car you have been considering getting. You will notice the traffic lights you come to because they are important. But generally you may notice very little, and remember even less. There is lots of information available, and so the filter provides an important function by deleting all the surplus information. We will come to how the filter chooses what makes it through and what doesn't shortly.

Then we have the distortion filter. Human beings generally feel safer when things around them feel familiar. We like things to fit in with our concept of the world. On the other hand we also need to be alert to danger in case we need to react. If you have ever been alone in a house at night and hear a knocking sound, finding you become instantly alert for danger. Once you realise the heating has gone off and the pipes are knocking as they cool down, you calm down again. Your unconscious simply distorted your interpretation of the sound as a protective response. Most often we come across distortions in the form of mind reads. We notice an expression on someone's face and 'know' what they are thinking. Of course we can't possibly know what they are actually thinking but interpret the information based on our own experiences.

And finally we have the generalisation filter. Although we can make generalisations after only a small number of experiences, some generalisations are well embedded. They are very useful as this filter means we do not have to learn things each time we encounter them, we can generalise how things work. Take doors as an example. We pass through many hundreds of different doors in our lives, but we do not have to stop each time we come to a new one and wonder how it works. We know that we will need to either push or pull the door, and it may have a handle you need to turn. If there is no handle then you will definitely have to push it open. So we can come to a door that we have never been through before, and still reach out confidently knowing what we will need to do to pass through it. On the downside, our generalisation filter can be difficult to overcome when we meet exceptions to our generalisation rule. Ever heard someone say 'I've tried everything, nothing works'. They are expressing their generalisation based on a small sample. They may have tried 3 or 4 things, but you can be pretty sure they haven't tried everything, but when the first few things didn't work that was enough for the generalisation to take hold.

So if our unconscious mind uses three filters to strip out huge amounts of information, how does it decide what to keep? Well different things are important to different people. Our values are the things that we hold to be very important. For example if being on time is important to you, you will be inclined to notice the time, it will be one of the bits of information your unconscious mind pays attention to. We also have a range of different personality traits which affect what we notice. Some of us are predisposed to notice things we have in common with each other, whilst other are inclined to notice differences. Then we have our beliefs, such an important aspect of what we notice. If we believe we can achieve something we will notice the evidence of progress, if we believe we can't we will notice the evidence of failure. Then we have our memories, experiences, and decisions we have made. Our self talk is an important part of this, along with our feelings. By the time it is all packaged together, these internal influences on our filters lead to each of us having a different perspective on what is happening, what we notice in the world. In NLP terms we refer to this as our Internal Representation, the thing our conscious mind notices about reality.

Our behaviour in response to whatever is going on around us is based on our Internal Representation of that event. Often we refer to this as being our model or map of the world. Each of us has a unique map, which is no more right or wrong that someone else's, it is simply different. So next time you are about to tell someone that isn't what was said, stop for a moment. And wonder curiously what you might have missed. Whether you distorted what you heard to fit in with whatever you already believed.

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