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What is a Personal Map of the World?

Updated on April 13, 2013
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Stories move, define, and help us grow. Through stories we connect with and share new ideas. This is why Cole loves stories in all forms.

Your Mind

Inside our minds are our Personal Maps of the World. The way we experience the world is a representation of existence outside us, based on what our minds witness. This is all influenced heavily by our own perspectives, beliefs, and understandings.

We create our maps through series of processes without realizing it. These processes are:

  1. Chunk
  2. Delete
  3. Distort
  4. Generalize

Our brains apply filters to each of these processes and the end result is our map of the world.

Now, all of this is very heady, so I will do my best to explain it very clearly.


What is a Map?

Map: Defined by Merriam-Webster:

  1. a: a representation usually on a flat surface of the whole or a part of an area b : a representation of the celestial sphere or a part of it
  2. 2: something that represents with a clarity suggestive of a map <the Freudian map of the mind — Harold Bloom>
  3. 3: the arrangement of genes on a chromosome —called also genetic map
  4. 4: function 5a— map·like adjectiveall over the map: marked by a high degree of variation— on the map: in a position of prominence or fame <had put the fledgling university on the map — Lon Tinkle>

A map is a representation of something. Traditionally a given location. In this case we are talking about definition two. "something that represents with a clarity suggestive of a map <the Freudian map of the mind — Harold Bloom>"

As an NLP trainer put it, If you made a map of California to scale, even if it was one hundred percent flawless in it's accuracy, it would still be a re-presentation of California. It could never actually be California. A map is a representation, a re-presentation. It can never be the thing it represents.

The map in your mind is a bit like a virtual construct of our world, created by you. Each of us notices certain things and builds our own Map. No two are exactly the same.

What is a Filter?

"Rose Colored Glasses": Quite possibly the most famous, and poignant phrase to explain a filter. In fact, there are numerous songs dedicated to the phrase.

Looking at things through Rose Colored Glasses is to see things from a positive light, whether or not it's warranted. A person looking through rose colored glasses is filtering out the bad and focusing on the good.

Filters are the perspectives we all carry around with us based on our own experiences, emotions, and ideals. The filters we use are a compilation of values mixed with the beliefs we hold close. Add to that our personal fears and biases and we get a beautiful filter stew, unique to each individual.

A person who values books may see a library as a beautiful treasure trove, where a person who hates to read may see the same library as boring and useless. These assessments are all based on our filters.

Filtering water removes the things we don't want and keeps the water. Same idea.


We are constantly being bombarded with information. More-so now than ever before in history. Surrounding us at all times are millions of bits of data. It's commonly accepted that we are taking in two million bits of information per second. That's a massive amount of data. More than the human brain can handle.

The human brain is capable of handling 7 plus or minus 2 Chunks of information at a time. 5-9 Chunks of data at a time.

So, how do we go from 2 million bits to 5-9 Chunks? The three stage process: Delete, Distort, Generalize.

Chunking is the process of sorting information into blocks. Visual stimulus, audio stimulus, mental stimulus, etc. are taken in, and sorted into blocks. Blocks of information are a little like files for our brain to process.

Here, take these file folders...

These blocks, or files, are then evaluated and sorted into our Map of the World.

Awareness Test (Deletion)


Deletion is when our minds examine 2 million bits of data and decide what is relevant and what is not. Our mind filters out what we are not sorting for and deletes the data from our awareness. These things do not make it into our Map.

As the video to the right suggests, what we do not look for, we do not see.

Deletion can be as simple as ignoring the sound of your computer's fan. You know it's there, you don't need to to focus on it, so it fades into the background. It can also be as complex as ignoring the movie your kids are watching, or seeing a thousand faces and ignoring any that do not look familiar.

Have you ever been to a store, looking for a specific item, and somehow, you keep passing it by? When you finally find it, it's the brightest package of the bunch, at eye level, exactly where you thought it would be. It happens every now and then, right? I've done it, and helped other people get around this problem more times than I care to count. Usually, the items packaging changed, or it wasn't exactly what we expected to find. This is one little way Deletion can cause us issues.

Imagine you hear about a store you want to visit, you look up the address, only to to realize you have driven past it every day for the last two years without knowing it was there. You drive to the store and see the great big sign with it's bright coloring right next to the road. It stands out like a sore thumb, yet somehow, you never noticed it before.

These things are made possible by your deletion process. The unnecessary becomes unknown.


Our ability to distort Makes this readable.
Our ability to distort Makes this readable.


Distortion is when we examine things and warp them to fit our Map. 5ometimes this is a really simple thing, other times it's very complex. Have you ever been driving and seen a snake, only to find out it was a stick? That's one example of distortion.

The video to the right is a good example of Ditsrotion. It shows a woman turning, but depending on how you are sorting it, she is either turning left or right. Our minds disrort certain aspects of the images in order for it to make sense.

This is why we can see faces and patterns in walls and ceilings. Our mind sorts the textures in things to resemble the things that make sense to us.

Distortion also allows us to recognize things or people from different angles. If we couldn't distort, we wouldn't recognize faces form new angles. Of course, this is also why we see a person we don't know, and compare them to our memory of someone we do know.

0n a side note, have you ever confused one actor for another? If not, have you known someone who did, and you thought it was plain crazy because the two actors look nothing alike? Since we all use different filters, we sometimes disagree like this.

It's our mind's ability to distort that makes all these things possible.

This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. | Source


Generalization is when we take a concept and extend it to encompass new information. We label the unknown to help make sense of its purpose or function. This enables us to interact with new people or things and have a basic understanding of who or what we are dealing with.

Take a chair for example. We can recognize a chair we've never seen before because we know the general idea of chair.

When we have an experience, we take in the new information and decide whether or not to generalize, and if so, how. Say you fall off a ladder. You have choices.

  1. Think nothing of it and move on.
  2. Decide all ladders are bad.
  3. Decide you can't use a ladder for the life of you.
  4. Fill in the blank. There really are any number of decisions you could make about any given event or thing.

We use this kind of label for all manner of things. The simple labels are easy to notice: Human, kid, dog, cat, chair, couch, table, food, drink, or other tangible or physical things.

The complex labels can be more abstract; Social cliques, artist, writer, scientist, good, evil, etc.

Or downright hidden from our concious mind: In many cases these are things like a low self worth, racism, and bigotry. In other cases these are things like an infectiously positive personality, relentless courage, stubbornness, and respect.

We all have ideals rooted in our past experience, teachings, and beliefs. Identifying them is sometimes easy, sometimes a serious challenge. No matter what the case, these ideals heavily influence the creation of our Map.

I apologize to the proofreaders.

Did you notice the errors above?

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The Finished Product

We take these Chunks of information created by Deleting, Distorting, and Generalizing, and we apply them to our Map. We do this constantly. There's never really a Finished Product, because with every new experience we have, new information is added. This means our ever expanding map, also get's updates and changes as we learn and grow.

What Our Map Represents

Most people go through their lives acting as though what they see is the world. The truth is, what we experience is our Map of the World. There is always much more going on around us than we are ever truly aware of. Our Map represents our clearest, best, and most complete knowledge of our surroundings. Or we could say our map is the world we live in and the real world is this collaborative abstract thing we will never truly know.

So remember the next time you disagree with someone. As far as you are concerned, they are wrong. As far as they are concerned, they can be nothing but right. The experiences they have had, and their reactions to those experiences, give them little alternative but to be right, in their own Map of the World.

© 2013 Cole Ikerd


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      5 years ago

      I have a map to draw...


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