Making Maps to Live By

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Our range of vision is only 1 three trillionth of the electromagnetic energy wave lengths. Insects see in infrared and reptiles see in ultraviolet on the ends of what we can see. We have developed technology that translates that additional information into what we can “see” with special binoculars so the information can be put on graphs. The same is true with sonar for sound waves. Therefore, we do not see or hear the whole picture; we see or hear only what the first filter in our brain lets us access.  Our second filter is that within the range we can see, our naked eyes do take in five million bits of information per second, but our brain can only process 500 bits per second. Our brain chooses which 500 bits to process based on how it has been programmed as you grew up.  As you can see, we really have a very limited sense of reality. 

Think of a paper road map of your city. It is a very abstract and limited tool in some ways. Look at how much it leaves out. It doesn’t show where a mouse got caught by the cat so the cat wouldn’t starve or where the mouse escaped, and the cat died of starvation. It doesn’t show the growth and beauty of the plant life. Until the technology of Waze, it didn’t tell you where construction was taking place or where there was an accident, where a road had been closed, or where there was a new road. But despite the information that is filtered out, a paper map is still a very helpful tool for getting around in the city. Even with its abstraction and limitations, it is a powerful tool for getting somewhere for the first time. 

The second filter is our core belief system, which determines which 500 bits of information we pay attention to every second.  Our core belief systems are our stories, scripts, and models of how to get around and along with our personal, social, ecological, and technological environments. These belief systems are our internal “maps.”  Growing up is the process of continually updating the sources of information that inform our core beliefs, beliefs that have mostly been programmed into us, and updating our “maps” to fit the current reality. Sometimes our maps are old, out-of-date, or no longer consistent with what is actually happening.  In those cases, our core belief systems need to be edited to ensure that we function optimally, and we actually get where we want to go.  

It is never the event, but our interpretation of the event that determines how we will respond. The interpretation of the event is based on which information is processed in the brain, and the (often automatic) sense we make of the information, using our core belief systems.  Cognitive reframing is a process for viewing the event from a different perspective than that provided by our core beliefs. Reframing is enhanced by empathic and active listening to other peoples’ perspectives and considering other possibilities. This ability to learn from others allows us to: 1) attack the problem instead of the other person; 2) look for win-win solutions; and, 3) instead of competing for a bigger piece of the pie, learn how to build a bigger pie so we all get more. 

Here is a process to help you identify your own core beliefs and to help you understand the beliefs of others:

Can you make up a list of humans’ needs?

Can you identify what and when needs are not getting met?

Can you identify what strategies you are using to get your needs met?

Can you identify when you have a conflict between two of your needs?

Can you identify when your partner and/or children have different needs than you do?

What strategies do you have for trying to get everyone’s needs met and who owns what part of getting needs met?

What strategies do you have to attack the problem instead of the person?

What habits do you have that are abusive and damaging to your relationships?