Most people are living their lives with out-dated maps inside their heads, causing them all kinds of frustration. By ‘map’ I’m referring to the internal representation of you have about your world and which you use to navigate it.
We all have a map inside our head about how the world works. In any moment, whatever happens to you, or whatever you are doing, or whoever you are with, your decision about what to do next is made by first referring to your map. It’s all done by the brain very fast and usually we’re quite unconscious about it happening in the moment.
In psychology, there is a concept called ‘schema’ that is related to the map I’m describing. A schema is defined as:
A cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information.
Schemas (which are like the building blocks of your map) are really useful because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting the large amounts of sensory information we encounter in each moment. Schemas allow us to avoiding having to think through every step of a decision process hundreds of times a day.
So your map and each of your schemas are absolutely necessary for functioning in life. BUT your map can become a problem if it becomes out-dated and no longer relevant to your current life.
The creation of your map started when you were born. When you first came into the world your mind was virtually empty of experiences. Then, through your experiences, you started filling your map with schemas and beliefs and lots of rules about how the world works, how you need to behave in the world and how others should behave.
An example of one rule that I have encountered with lots of clients during coaching is “I should avoid conflict.” Associated to that rule are often rules like “Conflict is bad” and “Conflict makes me feel inadequate”. Different people have different variations of these rules but you get the gist.
A rule such as “Conflict is bad” most often, if not always, stems out of childhood. This is not really surprising when you consider that a child’s view of the world occurs in the context that they are quite small compared to the rest of the world and most of the people in it. When you’re small, all conflicts probably seem big and therefore scary. So creating a personal rule about avoiding conflict makes sense.
Psychgologist Alfred Adler was interested in children in this context. He believed children that are growing into an environment in which everyone else seems bigger and more powerful seek to gain what they need in life by the easiest route. Children will form beliefs that make sense at that time in order to compensate for any weakness they feel.
As you grew, you kept creating schemas, rules and beliefs about you and your world until your map was complete – all while still in childhood. From this point, what happens with many people as they grow up is the environment changes but the map stays the same.
Let me explain…
At the age of 40 or 30 or even as young at 20, you are not the small child that you once were. The world is not threatening in the same way it once was when you were small compared to your environment. When you were a small child, you virtually depended on others to care for you for your survival. When you’re an adult, it is certainly nice to be looked after and have people to care for you but your life does not depend on it. So you’re environment from child to adult, and who you are in that context, changes dramatically over your lifetime.
For a long time psychologists, including Adler, believed that the human psyche and patterns of behaviour remained mostly constant over the lifetime. In other words, the character you’d created by about the age of seven was pretty much what you had forever. By that belief then, the environment changed, but the map of your character stayed the same.
Today, views have changed and it’s believed the human psyche is not so set in stone. We know about things like adult-learning and neuroplasticity and you absolutely can revise the way you think and view the world. In other words, you can change the map.
But there is a catch…
Even though we have the ability to change the way we view the world and our rules for how the world works, most people don’t. My experience is people don’t consciously revise their maps simply because they don’t realise they need to.
Consequently, the work I do in coaching is often about revising a person’s map so that their rules and beliefs are more relevant to their current situation. Revising a person’s map is also about creating rules and beliefs that are most likely to get the person to the goals they want to achieve.
To explore the effectiveness of your map in achieving your personal goals, try asking the following questions:
- What goals do I want to achieve?
- What are my beliefs about achieving that goal? What are my beliefs about myself?
- Do my beliefs and behaviours serve me in achieving that goal or do they tend to slow me down or sabotage my achievement of the goal?
- Where and when did I create that belief? How was that an appropriate belief at the time it was created?
- How is it not an appropriate belief anymore?
- What beliefs and rules for my life are most likely to get me to my goal?
I suggest each year at least, taking the time to revise your map to ensure it is as relevant as possible to your current environment.
P.s. Want to do some serious work on your map to get some seriously awesome life results? Email me to find out how.