In September 2016 I had the chance to spend 7 days with David Key at Knebworth House, just north of London, studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A course which lead to my certification as a practitioner of NLP. The course was great fun, and all the students and tutors were wonderful people to spend time with.
However, at the end of the course, after we had finally got our head around the foundations of NLP and received our certifications, David said something that you will rarely hear at the end of a course. Least of all one you get a certificate for. He said:
"Of course none of it is true"
A Land Without Truth
We are used to working with true and false, in the physical world in which we live.
If I let go of something in mid air it will fall towards the ground. - True.
If I stay underwater too long without any breathing apparatus I will drown. - True.
If I use sandpaper to clean my car it will damage the paintwork. - True
I can drive to the moon. - False.
The answers to these questions can be found by experimentation, or through the experiences of ourselves or others, and these answers rarely change.
As such this understanding of true or false is undoubtedly a useful tool in helping us make decisions regarding how best to navigate this physical world.
When I get to the end of this street I will be at the shops. - True. Great! I want to go the shops so off down this street I'll go.
However, when we start to talk about more abstract ideas, the traditional true or false approach starts to falter.
Is this the best way to set goals?
Will following this path of action lead to a feeling of fulfilment?
Is there a God?
Will this daily practice lead to a happier life than that daily practice?
Is this the best way to attract a partner?
Is this the way to success?
There is no clear right & wrong, true & false here, and even when we try and devise experiments like we do for testing the physical world, the results are anything between inconclusive and completely contradictory.
To make things worse, the very idea of a singular truth can be quite destructive here. The very idea that one answer is more correct than another can limit us from appreciating the value of any concepts which appear to contradict that answer, in turn preventing us from discovering new understandings of the world, which ultimately could have improved the quality of our lives.
So what's the alternative to truth?
A model of the world is a way of viewing the world, or on a smaller scale, a specific situation or decision.
Models exist because as human beings we simply don't have the capacity to consciously witness the entirety of the world we live in. Our conscious minds simply can't cope with every sound, sight, feeling, taste and smell being received by our senses in any one moment. Similarly we don't have the ability to take it all into account within our understanding of the world.
Instead we operate based on a summary, a map if you like, of the key features, ideas and concepts that we need to take into account.
Much like a road map that summarises the area we live in, these summaries allow us to make the decisions we need to without getting lost in the vast detail around us as we live our lives. A model is much like these summaries. A template, a lens through which to view a situation in order to understand it and respond in the most effective way.
We have models for very basic day to day tasks. We have models for doors. We understand what fits the description of a 'door' defined by the model and then using our understanding of the door model we can invariably operate the door in front of us without having to learn the process independently for that particular door.
We have plenty of other models too. From models for other simple tasks, right up to models that define the way that we live our lives. Sometimes we group similar such lifestyle models in to groups and label them as Christian, Buddhist, Humanist, Geeks, Atheists, etc.
There are also models that aid us in understanding others even though they may not have a lifestyle attached. Psychologists, NLP Practitioners, Samaritans, Therapists.
However, despite these broad categorisations, the fact remains that no two individuals share the same models, regardless of how similar they can seem. This is because no two people share the same experiences, and these experiences are the single biggest factor in defining every adult's underlying models.
This doesn't mean that experience is the only thing that can influence our models. Sometimes they are influenced by our peers or the lessons we received from our parents, teachers and communities. But the most effective way of choosing a model is to find out what works best for us through experimentation, and experience.
We can also discover through conversation, details of models that other people have developed. Whether through structured learning or casual conversation, we can get an idea of the models that those around us use, and if we approach each model that we find in the world with an open mind, then we have the chance to import elements of those models into our own.
We continue to build and develop the best model for us, and that model will be 100% unique. A model that we continue to improve throughout our lives, through further experience or ideas from others.
It's great to build a model that you can operate by on a day to day basis that will really deliver huge results for you and move you rapidly towards your ideal life, but we can go one step further.
Many who consciously understand the idea of models remain limited for one simple reason. Because they have come into the idea of operating based on a model, from the idea of a universal truth, they remain stuck with the idea that they can only operate by a singular model. A singular map based on the best of what they have learnt, but as human beings we are capable of much more.
We are capable of understanding and appreciating multiple models, even if elements of them are contradictory, and switching between them to use whichever is most effective for whatever scenario we are currently facing. This I refer to as Multi-Model Thinking and this will be the subject of another post later on. However, for now just understand that this is possible, and very powerful.
There is no truth, only models.
Understand there is no truth, only models and whilst in some scenarios one model will be more effective, in others a different one will.
Whether you select the one that fits best with you, or whether you learn many and adapt between them as you move through life is entirely up to you.