The number one presupposition of NLP, as if it was written one the back of one of the stone tablets brought down from the mountain, is considered to be “The Map Is The Territory”.

The saying “The Map is Not the Territory” actually comes from Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics and states (very, very simply) that the words we use to describe something is not the thing (if you are thirsty no matter how many times you said “water” you will still be thirsty), however we often act as if the words we use are the things we are trying to describe and the words we use to describe something can actually change our interpretation of what it is, for example if I said “be careful, that dog bites”, I have essentially changed your reality and you will act as if it is true…

In NLP, Richard Bandler took this phrase and expanded it to describe the idea that our internal representations (how we think about things, what images, sounds, feeling and tastes and smells that we create in our minds) of the world are not the world. These representations are just a map of the world that we use to navigate the external “territory”, but more often that not we forget that this map is only a map and act as if it IS the territory. From which problems can arise!

However, I have discovered over the years of teaching NLP, this phrase can be a tad too abstract for people to get their heads around. They are so used to treating their map of the world AS the world that the idea that is isn’t is not adequately conveyed in the idea of the “the map is not the territory”.

So, I prefer an alternative analogy or metaphor that that I believe was said by Alan Watts (in his usual light hearted way), and that is “The Menu is Not the Meal” If you think about it, “The Menu is Not the Meal” is a much better way of thinking about our internal representation of the world (our “menu”) and how they interact with the outside world (the “meal”).

The description of the food is not the food; reading the menu does not make us full (although, ironically, it may make us feel more hungry!). The description of the food written on the menu, the picture of the food (if it is a menu from a dodgy takeaway!) or the waiter describing the food to you (if you in a fancy restaurant) and the way that description makes you feel IS NOT the food. It will never be the food. You cannot experience the food until you actually eat it! But, you need the menu to know what you could be eating, to help you make an informed decision and to understand the food (this is your “map”) and, obviously there is a feedback there; we have to have eaten the food, or some of it, so we can create a representation of what the menu is describing.

I think “The Menu is Not the Meal” is an easier and more immediate (it is simple, easy to understand and grounded in our experiences) to understand that our internal representations of the world around us are not the world around us, than the phrase “The Map is Not the Territory”.

So, do you prefer the analogy “The Menu is Not the Meal”? Or do you like the more traditional “The Map is Not the Territory”?! Please feel free to leave your comments below.