The NLP Perspective: Model of the World

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.

The Buddha

We live in two worlds. We suppose that there is an outer world of things, people, objects, places, sights, sounds, atoms and galaxies. The outer world is a very convincing idea, especially if you have just stubbed your toe!

However the only way we can know the outer world is through our senses and mental processes where our inner world meets the outer world. From the overwhelming flood of sensory data we sift and filter to construct a model, or representation of the world, so that we can make sense of it in the flickering magic lantern show of our consciousness.

It’s a very convincing show and usually we agree amongst ourselves that what we experience is really out there, occasionally we disagree and sometimes we even get it badly wrong.

‘A young widower, who loved his five year old son very much, was away on business when bandits came who burned down the whole village and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins and panicked. The took the burnt corpse of an infant to be his son and cried uncontrollably. He organised a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes and put them in a beautiful little bag which he always kept with him.

Soon afterwards, his real son escaped from the bandits and found his way home. He arrived at his father’s new cottage at midnight and knocked at the door. The father, still grieving asked: ‘Who is it?’ The child answered, it is me papa, open the door!’ But in his agitated state of mind, convinced his son was dead, the father thought that some young boy was making fun of him. He shouted: ‘Go away’ and continued to cry. After some time, the child left. Father and son never saw each other again.’

After this story, the Buddha said: ‘Sometime, somewhere, you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, even when the truth comes in person and knocks on your door, you will not open it.’

Just as the map of the London Underground is not the same as the Underground itself, this model is a simplification of the world. It has to be a simplification because there’s not enough room between our ears to accommodate the whole world. How this sensory information becomes our own unique subjective experience is one of the great mysteries of science. While we don’t know how it works in detail, we do know that a lot of what enters our nervous system is ignored, distorted and generalised.

To make the most of our limited mental capacity we unconsciously search for rules of thumb making associations and connections to help us navigate in the world. If this happens it causes that to happen, or if this happens it means this. Usually this works well enough to get us through life, but there’s no guarantee that we will make the right connections.

Usually we don’t notice this going on, the world has a quality of ‘this is the way it is’, but sometimes that understanding can shift rapidly. Have you ever had an an ah-ha moment? Before that moment the world was one way, after the ah-ha it was different. You probably didn’t need to change anything to realise the difference it just took care of itself. A change in your model of the world can change everything for good or ill.

Sometimes these rules of thumb serve us well other times they lead us astray. Because they are part and parcel of our world view we tend not to spot them. In the story from the Buddha the man had so tightly assumed that his son was dead that he could not accept any evidence to the contrary. His son no longer fitted into his model of the world so he was invisible to his grieving father. The father’s behaviour, however irrational it may seem to us flowed naturally from his firm belief that his son was dead.

The power of NLP comes from it’s recognition that we live in our models of the world which may or may not have a good fit to the external world. By changing the structure of that experience you can begin to change the quality of the experience. NLP excels at discerning the model and then being able to change it to allow change to happen.

Try this

Pick a couple of these points of view and imagine what it would be like to live in their world.

  • A four year old child
  • A 95 year old war veteran.
  • A policeman
  • A cleaning lady
  • A terminally ill patient.
  • A super fit athlete
  • A disfigured teenager

What would you see, hear and feel if you were them?

Now come back to yourself, your own model of the world. What was that like? Stepping into someone else’s model of the world is a very useful skill and one that is covered in any good NLP Practitioner training.

Speaking of good NLP Practitioner trainings, IntegrityNLP (which includes me) is running a 10 weekend NLP Practitioner Training in Newcastle starting in September. Find out more at

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