The Map Is Not the Territory: NLP Presuppositions

Filed under: NLP Techniques

NLP Presuppositions

Do you ever wish you could just close your eyes and change your life? Or even just change the way you view your life so you feel happy and successful?  

Neuro-linguistic programming is about as close as you can get to that goal. Especially when you adopt what we call NLP presuppositions.

In NLP, presuppositions are what we bring to a situation in advance. These presuppositions come in the form of natural beliefs, unbiased beliefs, or convenient assumptions.

In this article we’ll teach you six different NLP presuppositions that serve as a useful model to help you live a better life.
Imagine that presuppositions are like a filter or a lens through which you view the world..

If you view past, present, and future experiences or situations through these lenses, or apply these filters, you can increase your knowledge about yourself and the way you understand your world.

We’ll split up these six presuppositions into two categories: Communication and Change.

Let’s get started.

NLP Presuppositions about Communication

Communication presuppositions are useful truths to apply to your life that involve, you guessed it, communication.

The difference here though, is that communication is a loosely based term that we use to mean:

  • How you communicate verbally and non-verbally
  • How you internally communicate with yourself
  • How you interpret and understand what others are saying
  • How others are interpreting what you are communicating back to them.

This brings us to our very first presupposition from neuro-linguistic programming.

You Cannot NOT Communicate.

Did we take you for a loop?

How can you not - not communicate?


Consider this.

Only seven percent of communication is verbal.

Yeah. Seven percent!

The other 93% of communication comes from your body language, the context of the situation, hand gestures, facial expressions, and tonality of your voice! (Yes, your vocal tone is actually considered a non-verbal cue)

Even when you are attempting to NOT communicate, you are communicating something. Silence, for example, can communicate strength, shock, fear, or any number of things!

When you start viewing your life through the lens of this presupposition, your ability to be self-aware of how you are communicating increases.

You’ll become a much more effective communicator and the quality of your relationships will increase exponentially.

How exactly would it improve the quality of your relationships and overall life?

What if we told you that there is a specific way your brain processes information and the experiences that you have in every moment?

That brings us to our second communication presupposition.

There Is A Structure To Human Experience

Quite literally - there is a structure mapped out within your mind for every single experience you’ve ever had.

What do we mean?

Whether you are playing chess, fishing, or talking to the fish you just caught (hey, we’re not judging you), everything is experienced internally.

You live your life through your senses because it’s the only way you CAN live your life.

For each moment that passes, your unconscious mind is interpreting everything you see, hear, taste, smell, and fee. It’s interpreting this data into a format that you are able to recognize and understand.

This format, or structure, is often in the form of:

  • Pictures
  • Sounds
  • Movie reels
  • Physical sensations

This helps improve the quality of your life because once you realize there is a structure to all human experience, you can deconstruct or decode the experience.

When you do that, you literally change the way the event or experience is processed in your mind.

In NLP terms, we’re talking about the submodalities of the event. Submodalities are like the building blocks of an experience in any particular sense.

Some common submodalities are how bright the image is, what sounds are heard and how loud, or where on the physical body a particular sensation is felt.

When we understand this simple presupposition we can decode the submodalities and change them using various techniques that you can learn with our awesome course, NLP Essentials.

By changing the structure of an experience by changing its submodalities, like adjusting bright images to dim ones, loud sounds to soft, or the texture of a physical sensation, we ultimately end up changing the way our mind processes the memory.

And because the structure of the experience is changed that means the internal representation of the experience also changes.

Those changes in the internal representation of the experience also directly affect how you will feel emotionally about the experience or help you notice a difference in the way you view it.

In fact, the way you view your own experiences and even the world around you isn’t entirely the truth either.

Like we mentioned earlier, everything in your reality is just a representation of how your mind perceives the world around you.

This means that what is happening on the inside might not actually be the true nature of reality on the outside.

Which brings us to our third communication presupposition.

The Map Is Not The Territory

Imagine you walk into a pizza shop.

You see a poster for your favorite type of pizza on the wall and it’s exactly what you want.

The person behind the register takes your money after you tell them you want the pizza that is shown on the poster…

...then suddenly you turn around, rip the poster right off the wall and start eating it.

The now befuddled person who just took your payment for the pizza looks over at his co-worker and says, “This guy thinks the map is the territory!”

As we mentioned earlier, you experience the world through your senses. 

However, the internal model or map we construct is not the real world. 

You probably have experience with a map. 

You know that features on a map can denote specific features of the territory it represents.

So let’s say you are in a national park and looking at a map.

The nation park map indicates that there are trails, wooded areas, restrooms, and possibly waterways which are defined on the map itself.

Does that mean the map is constantly shifting and moving to adjust to the continuous growth and change of the physical area?

Of course not.

While the map may help you figure out where landmarks and specific points of interest are, it doesn’t tell you the specific vegetation, where the wildlife is at, or how many people are walking the trails.

This same concept applies in your everyday life.

Take first impressions, for example.

Have you ever met someone and had the wrong impression of them or found out that what you originally thought about them wasn’t true?

What about a situation or circumstance that you thought was one way, but later on found out it wasn’t anything like what you thought?

We can impose our view of the model on others or within different situations.

Mike Mandel often shares a story about his perception of a keynote speaking event where he needed a quick shift in perspective.

While preparing to go on stage, Mike peeked into the room and noticed that it was a rather small, intimate gathering of 30 to 40 people. They were all at the bar, super loud, and drunk.

At least, that was his perception of what he saw in the moment.

He decided that he didn’t like the way he was viewing the situation and with his knowledge of the presupposition, the map is not the territory, he decided to look at the situation with fresh eyes..

Everything changed after he shook off the unwanted state and put on a different state, so to speak.

Essentially, if you don’t enjoy your current perception of a situation or event, shake it off and try on a different one.

By physically shaking his body, Mike was able to break the emotional state he was in and approach the keynote event with a fresh lens.

When he went back into the room, he noticed everything was different.

The people weren’t drunk and loud, they were just enjoying themselves and waiting for Mike to start his presentation.

It turns out, most of the crowd was also just drinking soda rather than alcohol. 

Because of his adjustment to the map and realizing that it wasn’t the actual territory he was in, Mike gave one of the best keynote speeches of his life and uses it as a reference to this very day.

Communication is just one way we can apply presuppositions to our lives.

Are you ready to dive into another way we can harness the power of these useful beliefs?

In a moment we are going to discuss presuppositions involving change.

However, before we do, would you love to upgrade your life and learn some really awesome ways you can increase your confidence, become more influential, and improve your relationships?

If you said yes to any of these then check out NLP Essentials because in as little as 6 hours, you’ll effortlessly learn the principles of neuro-linguistic programming and be good at it.

Now, let’s move on to our top three presuppositions involving change.

NLP Presuppositions for Change

There is a saying that the person in charge of a situation is the one who has the most options available.

Maybe you’ve noticed this in your own life?

Would you much rather have the anxiety of only one choice or the comfort of knowing you can decide upon a plethora of options?

What if these different options were resources that you could use to improve your life?

These resources could be a way to naturally exude confidence, effortlessly be influential, or gain a new skill or ability.

Whatever the case may be, if you could make your life better, you would, would you not?

These next presuppositions are all about change and how you can automatically make your life better when you look through these useful belief filters.

The Law of Requisite Variety

Pay attention to this because it’s one of the most important NLP presuppositions for personal change.

The law of requisite variety basically says that you have more control over a situation if you have more options available.

As we said at the beginning of the communication section, having choice is better than no choice.

When you don’t have options it’s very easy to feel stuck. That’s no fun.

Usually, in those moments, it can feel like the world is happening to you.

This is why the usefulness of the law of requisite variety is so powerful.

It’s so dang powerful because choice gets you unstuck. Choice gives you freedom.

When you take ownership of your ability to choose and begin taking responsibility for your life, you can much more easily start to discover other options are available.

Some of these options include:

  • Who your friends are
  • What hobbies and interests you spent time on
  • Your choice of employment or career path
  • What sort of education and training you seek
  • The new skills you choose to learn
  • How you decide to invest your time
  • The ways you choose to communicate with yourself (internal) and with others (external)

The difference between somebody who is successful in life and someone who wants to be successful all boil down to the options a person is willing to give to themselves.

Yes, you read that right.

Options A Person Is Willing To Give To Themselves

By realizing how much control a person actually has, the greater their tendency is to live a fulfilling life.

You can give yourself more control over your life just by making some simple language changes.

Consider a group of friends hanging out.  It’s well into the evening and everyone is having a blast. And then one friend says, “Well, I have to go to work early tomorrow, so I’m out of here.”

It’s so common to say “have to”. It just rolls off the tongue automatically. But it’s a phrase that unconsciously suggests a lack of choice. It’s disempowering.

So let’s make a simple change.

Have To > Get to  


Have To > Choose To

Do you notice the difference between these phrases?

"Have to" indicates your control over the choice has been removed.

If someone has to do something, there is a good chance the decision was out of their hands.


If someone gets to do something, then there is a clear indication they had some part in their selection.

And likewise, if someone chooses to do something, they are outright expressing their control in the agreement.

Think of the law of requisite variety as a lens through which you see the world. It’s a lens that gives you the power of choice. When you do this, your life will vastly improve.

Feel free to realize that you have everything you need right now to live the life you really want.

People Have All The Resources They Need

You have everything you need to make changes right now. 

Your life is rich and varied enough to give you the resources necessary to make changes.

We mentioned resources a few times, so you might be wondering what exactly resources are.

A resource is anything that you can use in order to get what you want.

Certain resources can be:

  • Movies you’ve watched
  • Books you’ve read
  • Experiences you’ve had
  • Podcasts you’ve listened to
  • Moments of excitement
  • Accomplishments
  • People you know

The list is loooooong and that’s a good thing because the law of requisite variety still comes into play here.

When you learn to access the extraordinary number of available options you have, your life will drastically improve.

Remember, the more choices a person has, the more in-control that person will be.

So how can we use these resources?

Well, there is a saying for that.

“The broader the base you build, the taller the tower you can maintain.”

If you want to create a fulfilling life then you must build your foundation first.

When you have a concrete and robust base then it’s easy to create a tall tower.

As you unearth more about yourself and your internal world, you can discover more about the possibilities you have when you look back on your past.

Each of us have an internal operating system that produces automatic patterns, behaviors, and habits, known as schema.

Schema are the blueprints you use every day to operate at an automatic level.

Imagine you want to open a door. Very rarely would you have to look at the door or the handle and try to figure out how it works.

The only time this happens to us is when we get stuck with the Push/Pull doors.

Which way are you supposed to open?! Gaaahhh!!

We digress, back to schemas.

When you were little you learned all types of schema ... directly and indirectly.

For example, imagine if your parents constantly talked negatively about money. You could grow up with some internal schema that says, “Money = Bad.”

Or if you discovered that fire is hot and hurts, your unconscious mind created a schema that immediately taught you that fire is somewhat unpleasant when applied to skin.

You use schemas (or schemata, if you want to sound fancy) to operate your social life as well.

In a nutshell, there are schemas for a LOT of different things and the best part is that you can create new ones.

Think about it.

The last time you wanted to learn a new skill or hobby, your unconscious mind had to create all the necessary blueprints so you could perform like it was natural.

Someone who’s been driving their car for a long time will eventually reach a point of second-nature, muscle-memory development.

Just like if a person has been playing a sport or learning an instrument - eventually they create an internal schema where it’s as natural as speaking.

When this happens, their unconscious mind will access that schema and immediately apply it in the most efficient and effective way.

Neuroscience calls this the model of firing and rewiring.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. When this happens the neural connections become stronger.

Resources can be used as a reference point to remember just how difficult some things were in comparison to how easy they are now. Think of driving a car or riding a bike. Those tasks used to seem difficult! Now they’re automatic and easy.

This means, when you want to gain a new skill or learn a new ability, it may be hard at first but eventually it will become second nature.

By looking back and accessing those moments in time where you overcame difficulty, achieved victory, and found success, you’ll naturally unlock resourceful emotions, memories, and triumphant points in time.

Each new skill you gain or ability you learn will increase your overall life experience, thus widening your base.

Remember, the bigger and sturdier your foundation, the more awesome of a house you can put on top of it.

Often, people will think that they are incapable of accessing resources or deserving to live a life of success and happiness because they think they are broken.

This brings us to our final presupposition of this blog post...

People Are Not Broken

We are all imperfect. But we are not broken.

When it comes to a person’s overall sense of self, the vast majority of people will often play the comparison game.

They will look at where they are in their current life, situation, experience, or body, and then immediately compare how they think they are doing to the world around them.

We could get into a discussion of the dangers of social media, but we’ll save that for a different day. For now just know that social media is a bastion of comparison possibilities. It’s way too easy to notice how someone else is better looking, smarter, faster, stronger, etc.

It can become such a nightmare to even consider a person’s own self-worth when social signals, such as likes and comments, are added to the mix.

We digress.

The NLP presupposition of “People are not broken” is an incredibly powerful lens through which to look at the world.

This presupposition speaks an eloquent truth which may often go misunderstood.

Thinking that people are broken is only creating a generalized blanket statement and does a disservice to everyone who’s fixed.

Here are a few examples of how society might look at someone as broken or fixed:

A person who may be viewed as broken can include:

  • Someone who is afraid of spiders
  • Someone who doesn’t feel like they can get out of bed because of their emotions
  • Someone who abuses alcohol

A person who may be viewed as fixed can include:

  • Someone who owns a successful business
  • Someone who is of celebrity status
  • Someone who has a lot of money

Like we discussed in the previous presupposition, people have all they need to make change, they are just stuck in patterns and don’t know how to get out of them.

Because the truth is, people are not broken.

And nobody is fixed.

In fact, they are both working just fine.

The difference between broken and fixed is actually just a difference between someone who is able to think outside of their current situation and to expand it to come up with something else.

There is an old story about what happens when a person decides to stay limited in their mindset.

It goes something like this:

There was once a man who loved to drink. He loved it so much it started becoming a problem. One day he drank so much that he found himself stumbling off until he blacked out. When he awoke, he found himself in the middle of a vast and distant desert. 

He started walking, with the hopes and prayers that something would help him. It was then that he stubbed his toe on a cactus, tripped over it, and fell down a giant sand dune. At the bottom of the dune, he discovered an upside down bottle of vodka.

“Yes!!” he exclaimed, as he opened the bottle in a hurry and tipped it toward his mouth.

“Oh, ho ho ho, my friend! You cannot drink me!”

Gobsmacked, the man threw the bottle down as a colorful mist poured out of the top, revealing a genie who had been stuck inside.

“I’ll grant you 3 wishes for helping me escape,” said the genie.

“Oh wow!” the man replied, “I want a glass of the coldest, most delicious beer ever!”

*Snap* The genie’s fingers went, as a glass mug of ice cold beer appeared in the man's hand. 

Excited for what just happened, the man downed the entire drink in one go and he discovered the glass was automatically refilled with beer.

“That glass will always fill up with the most delicious beer ever! Now, what would you like for your last 2 wishes?”

The man, defaulting to his usual way of thinking, downed the newly refreshed glass of drink, looked the genie right in the eye and said:

“I tell you what! This is the most delicious beer I’ve ever had! Just go ahead and give me 2 more of these!”

So you see, sometimes a person may feel stuck, but really they are just stuck in their old way of thinking.

Each of us have old schema or old patterns, which are outdated and obsolete.

Unless we are aware of the patterns or even know that we are able to change them, a person may end up feeling like they are stuck in a never-ending loop.

Once a person realizes they have full control to be able to make choices and break from the mold of how they used to be, then it is at that moment they can realize that they were never broken, just misguided.

And misguided people are merely off the path.

If someone was walking in the woods and stepped off the path, they would be lost instead of broken, wouldn’t they?

When you view life through the lens of the presupposition, people are not broken, then you’ll begin to recognize that everyone is doing their best.

Even you.


Can you imagine just how awesome your life can be if those old ways of thinking were crushed and replaced with positive and powerful thoughts?

Just like you learned earlier, if what you are doing isn’t working, anything else is more likely to work.

This is what makes having the knowledge of neuro-linguistic programming so incredible.

It’s like having cheat codes to make your own life better.

The best part is that NLP can be used for either yourself or to help others improve their lives.

All it takes is a little knowledge and the right trainers.

And if you have 6 hours you can spare and on your own pace and time, then you will love NLP Essentials.

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You’ll also be able to make powerful decisions, expand your thinking, and give you the tools to persuade and influence others.

If you are the kind of person who knows they deserve a life full of fun, happiness, and success, then you are the type of student who will excel at learning NLP and get really good at it.

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