Awareness – Reality Modelling – The Meta Model

Friday, July 24th, 2009 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined the difference between reality and perception. Between the physical universe and your understanding, your map or model of that world which you’ve built in your brain. The virtual reality which can sometimes poorly reflect the actual environment in which you live.

We noted that the scientific method or empiricism has proven perhaps the best tool mankind has developed for trying to make your map, your impression of the world, more accurately reflect the world as it actually is, while always knowing that it can never truly be totally accurate (for a map the size of Rome is no use in exploring Rome). We discussed some scientific methods which can help you in your daily life.

This week we’ll point out some linguistic tricks, routines, verbal ticks, which you can make into a habit which should both help you understand the differences between your map and actual reality in your own life, and help you to help others notice those differences in their own.

The Meta Model

Richard Bandler and John Grinder, together developed what they called the meta-model of therapy in the seventies. Essentially, the meta model is a set of questions, linguistic ticks, which are designed to help find and eliminate common distortions in your map brought on through the use of language.

Most of these distortions take the form of an unwarranted assumption. That is, the way you use language tends to take some things for granted, things that are not always in fact true. By remembering to bare in mind the questions suggested by the meta model, you can more easily spot these assumptions and investigate their truth.

Assumed Causality

Your brain is wired so that it will see causation everywhere. If it experiences one thing, and then another thing happens, it immediately postulates that the first thing caused the second. If you are always miserable at work, it may assume that work makes you miserable.

However, there will always be mechanisms to any causal effect. Ways to interfere with it. Divert it. Suppress it. There will be exceptions and hidden causes and even simple mistakes. Not to mention the fact that simple correlation doesn’t always imply causation at all.

When you find yourself thinking things like my job makes me depressed, it’s worth investigating deeper. How does this first thing cause the other? Could something be done about that? Are there any exceptions? Are you sure?

Assumed Equality

As well as assuming causality, sometimes your map tends to be biased towards assuming equality. That is, you have an inherent bias to using the verb “to be“. We casually throw around phrases like “John is a car mechanic,” or “Joined up writing is grown-up” or “Television is rubbish” even though these are not actual statements of equality. This assumed equality is usually just an exaggeration of correlation. It is certainly not true that John is exactly the same as all car mechanics. It’s barely even sensible to claim that writing is ‘grown up’ rather than indicative of the age of the person who wrote it.

Noticing an assumed equality should suggest questions like “What else does John do?” or “What is it about television which is rubbish” or “How is joined-up writing grown up?” – questions which make you examine the actual correlations instead of assuming equivalence.

Assumed Telepathy

Your mind has a series of complex systems designed to interpret other’s state of mind. You are constantly analysing glances, smiles, and gestures. Looking for clues to other people’s moods and intentions. You’re probably even keeping a subconscious running count of positive and negative sounding words people use. Then all this information is presented to your consciousness as the neurological equivalent of the phrase “Peter is angry”.

Note the assumed identity there, before also realizing that simply because you believe Peter to be angry does not make it a fact. You should be asking yourself questions like “why do I believe Peter is angry” or “What makes me think that Joan is psychopathic?” You do not have direct access to other people’s brains. Your channel to understanding their moods is noisy and narrow.

If you find yourself assuming that you know what another person thinks, it’s worth wondering how you know. Could you be mistaken? Could they in fact be in that state of mind for some other reason? Have you actually asked them how they feel?

Assumed Universality

Your language and your thinking is littered with words and ideas like “always” and “never”, even though such things in fact come up rarely. Correlation is common, a co-efficient of exactly -1 or 1 is rare. There are always exceptions. Including to the rule that there are always exceptions.

You probably occasionally use words like ‘all’ or ‘none’ in instances when it’s not in fact true for every example. It’s always worth taking note if you find yourself using words like this, to look for any exceptions to your rules. Ask “Is it always true?” or “have you really never had things go right?”

Looking for exceptions will lessen the bias towards assumed universality that your model of the world may tend to have.

Ignored Conditionals

Just as universals like “all” and “none” tend to actually have exceptions in the real universe, so conditionals like “must” and “should” have implicit conditions.

Words like these or “ought” or ‘should” beg the question “What happens if I don’t?” or simply “why does it have to?”.

As earlier, the question begged should really be answered in order to keep your thinking as close as possible to the territory rather than just skimming the map.


The NLP guys had a whole lot more examples and questions which we don’t really have time for here but which we encourage you to investigate, including presuppositions, treating actions as static, and simple omissions.

The Meditation

Our meditation this month will contain meta-model style questions, asking the “who, where, why, what, when,” trying to always encourage you to spend your dream time narrowing down the ambiguity of language, trying to focus your attention on the difference between the dream model you are living in and the actual world which exists.


Particularly when using the meta model to talk to others, there is a danger that these types of questions will be interpreted as hostility. A failure to empathise. Rather than just agreeing and sympathising with a person, it can sound like you’re challenging them, trying to prove them wrong. These kinds of questions can be argumentative by nature. Also remember to ask yourself “Is this person in need of help? or just wanting understanding?”