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The Representational Systems
by Rex Sikes

Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting is how human beings experience the world around them. These are the five primary sensory modalities by which people encode, organize, store and attach meaning to perceptual input.

In the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming, we call these modalities Representational Systems or Rep Systems. As input from the five senses is processed in the brain, it is translated into corresponding internal representations, or maps, that constitute a likeness to the outside world. This means that on the inside we see pictures, hear sounds and have feelings. We can also remember tastes and smells. What is most important to keep in mind is that our perceptions and "reality" differ greatly because of our filters, deletion, distortion and generalization. This means that the map (internal sensory re-representations) and the real world are not the same while most people act as if it is.

Remember: The Map is not the territory

This is not new. Scientist and psychologist have known this for years. What distinguishes NLP is that the developers discovered that within each modality or Rep system are smaller components which are called Submodalities. For example, within the visual modality are Submodalities such as the size of the image, location, brightness and color. For the auditory system, there is location of the sound, loudness, distance from the individual. The kinesthetic (or feeling) rep system Submodalities include temperature, location, pressure, duration.

Why is this discovery so critical? Because it is at the Submodality level that experience is coded, and therefore it is at this level that experience can be changed. The developers found that by changing the Submodalities without even knowing the content, people could have instant relief from bad feelings. For example, try criticizing yourself in a sensual, inviting tone of voice, or a Mickey Mouse tone. It's pretty difficult to feel bad when you have Mickey Mouse talking to you.

Every moment throughout the day, we have a tremendous amount of information bombarding our Rep Systems. This input is filtered by the central nervous system allowing only a limited amount of information to reach our conscious attention. As an example, when you pour chalky fluid through a filter, not all of the contents within the fluid are allowed to pass through. In this same way, our filtering mechanism screens sensory input through a set of operations called deletion, distortion and generalization. Without these neurological filters, we would be overwhelmed by the constant deluge of information.

While these filters serve to protect us, they also explain how is it possible for one person to be excited about public speaking when another person is terrified by it. It all lies in what they do inside their brain and what kinds of directions they have given it. The wonderful part is that we are limited or enhanced simply by what we happen to be paying attention to or NOT paying attention to at any given moment. In NLP, we utilize this naturally occurring process to RE-DIRECT the person's brain so that they are paying attention to different things.

Each person's internal map of reality will be different. A persons map is an accurate reflection of that person's internal processing, yet it is an inaccurate and incomplete representation of the world. Altering the map changes the person's experience in the real world.

Personal Map Of The World

All of us have our own unique perception of the world around us which constitute our map of the world or "Map". That means our friends, customers, parents, children and loved ones don't see the world through the same set of filters as we do. What we think and do, what we say, and our words and phrases may mean something completely different to them than they do you. (examples - different perceptions of a car accident, or crime) Our maps are based on our prior life experiences.

When making a map of a city, a cartographer must decide what to include and what to leave out. Just as when making a menu, the cook decides what to include or not. The menu is not the meal, the map is not the city. It only represents the city. Our Personal Map is only a representation as well. Remember, the Map is not the territory. Over time, cities grow and change so the map needs to be adjusted and updated. Just like our Personal Map needs to be adjusted and updated when we grow and change.

Our perceptual filters will determine what we remember. (Delete, Distort, Generalize) Our memories and beliefs are our personal maps of an outer reality. But they are not reality itself.


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