Generalizations, Distortions, and Deletions

We do not experience the world directly (even all the stuff in our classrooms!).

Instead, everything that we see, hear, or feel comes into our neurology and our experience through our senses.
Our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and other parts of our body convey the information from the outside worlds to our brains.

And of course, taking in all of this information is impossible.
There is simply too much of it for us to absorb.
So our neurology naturally has some mechanisms to figure out which information to take in, depending on what seems to be important at any moment in time.

In NLP, we call these mechanisms: generalization, deletion, and distortion, and we use them whenever we experience any external event.
In other words, we are always using these three processes in an attempt to make sense of all the stuff that the world and our students throw at us!

Let’s look at a few practical classroom examples of each of these processes and begin to consider how they can sometimes limit us.

Let’s say that you are teaching young kids and that you have learned that all young kids like to learn through singing songs. This is a pretty good generalization and will be useful for teaching most kids. Suppose, however, there is a kid who really hates singing and refuses to sing. Now, in your map of the world, your generalization of “all kids like to sing” is quite likely to make you view this kid as resistant. You are applying your generalization (which is useful in most cases) to a situation where it is not actually true (and thus not so useful). For this kid at least, your generalization is actually limiting his or her ability to learn.

Deletion occurs when we fail to notice something happening, in other words we ‘delete’ it from our experience even though it is happening in the real world. For example, have you ever had a ‘problem student’ who talks ‘all the time’. Chances are that the student is actually doing some good things, too, yet you fail to notice them (delete them) because you are not expecting to see them. In the classroom described above, we probably ‘delete’, i.e. Fil to notice, the non-singer’s ability to learn in other ways besides singing.

Distortion occurs when we notice something and change its meaning based on our previous experiences and map of the world. For example, we distort the meaning of the kid who doesn’t want to sing. He doesn’t sing because he doesn’t like singing. However, the teacher distorts it to mean ‘he is a resistant student’.

When we start looking at our classrooms and noticing things more carefully, we find that so much of the actual experience is being generalized, deleted, and distorted in order to match our current maps of the world. In many cases, this may be limiting our students’ learning.

As you begin to notice your classes more closely, what examples of generalization, deletion, and distortion can you share?

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