The Map Is Not The Territory

I was recently reading something about Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and the phrase I stole for the title of the post was there. It certainly is food for thought. I thought about the many highway maps I’ve looked at in my travels– I’m old school and like to use paper maps that fold out, and fold out, until they’re really big and you can see hundreds of miles of your route.

I’ve had a lot of fun– and even some adventures– using USGS 7.5 minute topo maps.  Check out the web site if you haven’t:

But a lot of  highway maps don’t have every road on them. And USGS topo maps, while very detailed, have let me down. In one case, the solid blue line that usually means a stream running year round turned out to be an empty stream bed, and we had a long hike to the nearest water. One of the interesting things is that no matter how detailed the printed map, there’s also a cognitive map, the mental map that one makes using some combination of what’s on the page and what’s in the landscape. And people end up getting lost because they believe their cognitive maps in defiance of the landscapes in front of them. In  his book, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why Laurence Gonzales discusses this and gives some cases of people who got turned around because of faulty cognitive maps. Interestingly, little kids below a certain age don’t have this problem, according to Gonzales. Their reaction is essentially, “I’m right here. Mommy’s lost.”

There’s also the experience that some of my hiking friends and I like to describe as “locationally challenged.” We know where we are, and we know where we want to go, but can’t figure out how to get from  point A to point B.

I’m sure that anyone reading this has already taken the point– in navigating the journey of life, we make our cognitive maps, sometimes accurately, sometimes not. We follow them, sometimes ignoring the landscape that’s right in front of us, with unfortunate results. And even when we have good maps and a good feeling for the lay of the land, we still can’t figure out how to get where we want to go.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to correct these route finding problems. Most of them involve other people.

I’d be very interested to hear from people. What has been your experience? When did you realize your map didn’t match the territory? What or who made you realize it? How do you deal with being locationally challenged?Pacific Crest Trail south


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in behavioral health, choices, cognitive therapy, mental health, mindfulness, Therapy processes, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s