Internal Representations Part 01

Internal Representations –How Much You Are Missing Out Of Reality Part 1

Internal Representations –How Much You Are Missing Out Of Reality Part 1


All NLP people are familiar (or they should be if they really understand NLP) with the terms Internal representation (IR). But actually

What on Earth Is This?

For the untrained person not familiar with the NLP jargon it may sound bizarre –internal representations sounds almost like “internal hallucinations”.Well folks, this may not be as far from the truth as you think.

Technically, there are only six things you can do inside your head: see pictures, hear sounds, feel feelings, smell smells, taste tastes and talk to yourself. Five senses plus our internal self-talk. That’s all.

Check it out now!

What are you doing right now inside your head? Stop and check! That’s your internal representation.

But, your personal IRs are a form of internal hallucination and …

Here Is Why

It has been estimated that we receive millions of bits of information from the environment every second through our five senses.

In fact in Encyclopedia Britannica,from the page on Information Theory we find that

“…our five senses gather as much as 11 million bits of information every second from the environment….”

Did you get that?

11 million bits of information every second!!!!

“…out of which we’re left with a maximum capability of less than 50 bits per second. We have an approximate number because it depends on various assumptions and could vary depending on the individual and the task being performed.”

I reproduce below a table of information form the same source which shows how much information is processed by each of the five senses.

Sensory System bits per second
Eyes 10,000,000
Skin 1,000,000
Ears 100,000
Smell 100,000
Taste 1,000

It appears that we’re missing out a tremendous amount of information. We’re left with just about 50 bits in our peak performance time out of 11 million…..

That’s right!

That leaves out just about 10 million nine hundred and nighty nine bits of information…..(10,999,950 to be precise).

Do you realize how much we’re not aware of consciously? How much we’re missing out?

Now, there is something we do even with those about 50 bits that we do process consciously.

From the same information theory we find out that

“The brain also seems to have separate mechanisms for short-term and long-term memory. Based on psychologist George Miller’s paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” (1956), it appears that short-term memory can only store between five and nine pieces of information to which it has been exposed only briefly. Note that this does not mean between five and nine bits, but rather five to nine chunks of information.”


MihalyCsikszentmihalyiin the book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, Copyright © 1990 byMihalyCsikszentmihalyi, on page 29we find that we filter the millions of bits of information per second down to seven plus or minus two chunks of information (or about 126 bits of information per second).

Note: The information about seven plus or minus two chunks of from “Miller, G.A. 1956, The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity to process information. Psychological Review 63:81-97”as quoted in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, by MihalyCsikszentmihalyi

Hmmm.…Csikszentmihalyi is more generous than Britannica!

However, even with the dissimilarity between 50 and 126, the amount left out is so enormous that the difference has little significance for our purposes here.

But let’s say that he is right. We process consciously 126 bits which we group in 7 plus or minus 2 chunks of information.

So What?


Now we know. We leave out a good deal of information of which we are not consciously aware. So what?


1.) What happens to the rest of information (from 11 million to 126)? Our bodies receive it – we just don’t process it!
2.) How do we even manage to find our way around with so little processed information compared to the enormous number of 11 million?

To have a visual idea of how this works here is a diagram from our NLP Coaching Practitioner training.

Notice that on the right hand side of the person’s head, thre is an arrow on which is written External Event. This is something that NLP MoChappens ouside of the body.

As the information comes in via the five senses, in order to stay sane and not get in massive overload, first we filter it by deleting information, then distorting and generalizing other information. The we filter it again through other filters which are our personal experience of time, space, matter, energy, language, our memories, our personal decisions, values, beliefs, attitudes and meta-programs. For an explanation of what metaprograms are see our NLP Glossary.

After all that filtering, what we’re left withis a – greatly reduced in size of the information –  internal representation (IR) of the outside event.

And you wonder why two stories of the same event never match?

If you have a brother or a sister, ask them to tell you their version of a childhood event where both of you were present…. See if it matches yours. But don’t tell them what to say! Let them talk first. You will be surprised!

So when you assume that everyone thinks like you about the same event….

You’re Wrong!

We’re going to see in Part Two of this article why this is the case.

Until then, be well.

Adriana James

About the Author: Adriana James

Trainer, Hypnosis Trainer and NLPCoaching Trainer. She is the author of the book Values And the Evolution of Consciousness - a book about how to take advantage of the massive changes which the world is going through and  Time Line Therapy® Made Easy - an introduction to Time Line Therapy® techniques easy to master by everyone. To read more about Adriana go here.


  1. Brett Ellis
    Brett Ellis

    That’s very interesting isn’t it when we’re thinking in terms of our memories NOT being the events themselves but simply an Internal Representation OF the events.

    So, with this thinking it tells me that – I cannot change an event unless I am in it’s time of occurrence because anything after the events themselves is going to be stored in memory as Internal Representations of the events. Therefore my memories are stored perceptions of some kind of a flow of life events to which I may change those perceptions but not the events themselves.

    So, if I wanted to change my past, well that just won’t happen because the events themselves have gone but, I can change my perception of my past, my Internal Representation and therefore how I feel about my past and it can then serve me best in future life events.

    It is very exciting when we find we’ve been able to change all this time, isn’t it?

  2. Mel Pursell

    The biggest thing I take from this article is that one shouldn’t believe everything they think!

    • Brett

      The biggest thing I take away from this article is that it’s okay to change our thinking and that our thoughts can serve us well or not 🙂

  3. liza lillicrap

    As I have been preparing for the course, this wasn’t really anything new other than once again realizing the enormity of all the stuff that I am missing! I wonder whether we miss it because we just couldn’t manage to take more information in than we currently do. It made me also think of my experience yesterday which was that, after I had finished singing in a church service I became aware that I was glad that I hadn’t been operating machinery, ie I felt as though I had actually been asleep during the service, even though I thought I had been paying attention. I wonder how much our level of consciousness is related to our conscious or unconscious inner commands to pay attention or not. I wonder how much we can learn to control how much we absorb. This could open doors to many new options.

    • Brett

      May be if people paid attention to how they pay attention, then that may be just enough for some people to see and think differently. I wonder Liza if you were paying attention inside of you or outside of you and more over I wonder if you were paying attention to a Meme?

  4. Christian Lillicrap

    What I took from this article is that because we mostly think of ourselves in terms of our past, if our past is really made up through our distortions etc then we don’t really have a ‘true’ picture of who we are which means possibilities can open up. This is good news!

    • Brett

      Totally agree Christian – people may not be who they think they are and moreover people can choose who or what they’d like to be.

  5. Damian

    I think it is important to filter out the negatives and bring the positive outcomes to the surface. This can be difficult for some, particularly those suffering PTSD issues.

  6. Scott

    What I take from this article is that it has confirmed, in more specific and understandable terms, what I have known all along. It is one of the main causes of our individuality due to numerous filters we have built up over our lifetime, filters which can be swayed by so many internal and external factors its no wonder we are all unique. Unfortunately I also believe this is one of the main causes of conflict in the world due to the inability to understand each other and I don’t just mean what makes sense but there is a deeper level of understanding that comes from experience. I’ve never really been able to grasp why it’s different but in a sense it is total clarity and if we can learn about the information above to achieve that level of understanding of people then I think this could be one of the paths that needs to be taken to make this world a better place.

    • Brett

      Interesting Scott – I believe the uniqueness of all individuals is the awareness behind the filters.

      What do you reckon? If we changed ourselves in light of the world we all might be in a better place but, here’s the thing – how unique can an individual be if the person is unconsciously influenced to be one of the sheep?

      That which causes a person pain and pleasure discloses the persons true nature! Notice what causes a person pain and what causes a person pleasure and there we may get a brief glimpse of the person themselves and not our own unresolved or limited projections 🙂

      • Scott

        I do believe that the other main cause of the uniqueness of all individuals is in the awareness behind the filters. My belief is these filters are part of what shape your awareness as I believe that what causes a person pain and pleasure can change.
        This leads me to believe that our true nature is forever evolving thus if we had the tools to help us communicate with each other in a more honest manner it would lead us to see a suitable outcome much sooner or at least know where we stand with each other. Peoples values also cause conflict which is another issue entirely.
        In terms of changing ourselves in light of the world possibly turning us into sheep, in a lot of ways I believe we already are sheep, so I think if people were given the tools to understand what everyone’s true motive is we would as individuals be much better equipped to take on the problems we each feel we need to deal with.

        • Brett

          Yup! Certainly people change – so it’s current version of self that’s really in constant change isn’t it?

          The later about true motive – well I think here we’re speaking in terms of separating a person behavior from their intention in order to see the person aren’t we?

          • Scott

            I believe that is accurate though the rate of that change is an important factor also.

            When I said true motive that in my internal representation it was to encompass separating a persons behavior from their intention along with a few other concepts that I am having trouble defining.

            It’s a good thing that we are also here to learn the linguistic tools to better portray our internal representation.

          • Brett

            I agree Scott learning the linguistic tools!!! A big Key! Spot on!

      • Adriana

        RE Brett’s post – “Notice what causes a person pain and what causes a person pleasure and there we may get a brief glimpse of the person themselves and not our own unresolved or limited projections”

        Stay tuned for a new article about pain VS pleasure coming up in the blog. It is called B.F.Skinner meets C.G.Jung.

    • Adriana

      RE Scott’s comment. I love the way you think. You said something so vitally important in your comment it is worth reposting here: ” It is one of the main causes of our individuality due to numerous filters we have built up over our lifetime, filters which can be swayed by so many internal and external factors its no wonder we are all unique.” This is the beauty of all of us – our unique individuality. The challenges we all experience in getting along with each other in relationships, business, and if you go more big picture between institutions, factions, countries etc., is what produces growth. If we were all the same there wouldn’t be any conflict is true, but then we would be biological androids – sort of artificial intelligences programmed to do a certain job for the duration of our life expectancy and …that’s it! Many of the differences you mention are not real and when I say real in this context I mean they are not part of our nature. They are installed in our minds from early life. Each generation has been mind-manipulated into the “trends” fashionable at that time. Compare the mind of the young people today with what they learn in school and the memes present when you were in school. And then it is more than just school, it is family, it is society in general, you name it. So what each of us can do is to begin to deconstruct all that system of beliefs we acquired and begin to figure out who we really are – not what we’re supposed to do; what we really believe not what we’re supposed to believe, etc. I hope this makes sense.

  7. Maree Tranter

    I love that my Internal Representation of my neighbourhood is quiet. So I am unaware of my neighbour yelling on her phone in the back yard until a friend comes around and brings it to my awareness.

  8. Nikki Simos

    Currently, undertaking the NLP Practitioner in Melbourne with Brad and the experience that I have had to date and in particular to today clearly outlined for me on a personal level that where we think that we have dealt with trauma, violations and the like in the past, I realised only by going in trance state that my thinking behind my thinking, my unconscious mind had stored memories deep, deep down. well below the under belling that came up in the forefront today. The physiology out burst, the mind sense after wards and to continue with the lesson certainly was the hardest thing my brain had to do today. Thank you for this wonderful journey that I am part of and thank you for the wonderful team in Melbourne that also supported me with the thinking behind my thinking.

    • Brett

      I love the way you describe the experience Nikki – Lol I know the feeling 🙂

      As I look back on my journey through your post I realize that back then I was experiencing the beginning of a very special rapport with my unconscious mind. Don’t you feel closer to yourself Nikki?

  9. YR

    My takeaway is, in order to understand and to learn the tools to communicate in the true sense of NLP; to make a significant difference not only in our own lives, but those around us, we need to allow ourselves permission to know ourselves. Not to fear what we “think” our short comings are, or how we perceive that we have “failed” in the past nor how we feel that others measure us by. Taking the first steps to create a better life for the inside and outside of me can be a little daunting….. But incredibly fascinating and so rewarding already!….I’m looking forward to learning “The art of communication”. My journey starts on Tuesday…..bring it on!(smiling here).

  10. Craig

    I would like to know, or understand and evaluate more.

  11. Heather Morgan

    So, really, what we think we saw heard felt is just what we THINK we felt saw heard… This means that all can be re shuzed in our mind to represent something better, a better way of living, a better way of being, a better state to be in. Life is what you make it… Literally

  12. Dirk Vermooten

    My key take away from the article is that we have absolute, unadulterated control of what our IR’s end up being. With great power comes great responsibility….

  13. Dirk Vermooten

    My key take away is that we have ultimate, unadulterated control over the IR’s we create. With great power comes great responsibility and limitless possibility.

  14. Emily Jaksch

    After reading this article, I feel it has helped me to really start to integrate the learnings of NLP in my mind. I have looked at that diagram so many times during my pre-study but only now does it all start to make sense. The more I learn, the more I realise that our brains are so complex and intelligent. The way we filter information and create experiences is a process that happens so unconsciously and now I realise that if we can tap into this process and access and delete certain information we can truly create the experiences that we want. It is funny I have always believed that every single thing that happens to us in our lives can be used to teach us something. We can either hold onto the event and believe it is a negative experience and say “why me” or we can use that experience to expand and grow. This philosophy has served me well to help me deal with and process experiences and learn and grow from them rather than holding onto negative emotions that limit me personally. To think that I can use NLP to help me create amazing outcomes and help others in the same way is pretty exciting! I cannot wait to learn more and become more experienced in using all the techniques!

  15. I guess we are each a world onto ourselves and we are creators as much as we are created.

    To me, this article shows how we are our reality, and the way that we perceive our world is but the image of who we have become in response to our experiences. Our experiences shaped our individual mechanisms and selective processes, pathways, mechanisms and therefore our internal representations (IR).

    I guess we came here very clear and very ‘spherical’ , possibly ‘pure’, and ‘clear’, ’empty vessels’ – call it what you will….

    That which knocked us around while we were ‘clear’ and unsuspecting in a sense shaped those mechanisms and IR very early on. That base formed our individual house of cards in which we find shelter at this time.

    Both that which we absorb and that which we utter represent the shape that we have become.

    Just a thought, a reflexion. Nothing more than my extrapolation to what I think you said

  16. The biggest think I take from this article is that perception is reality and no one same perception can be achieved. Therefore, we have a number of different realities. There is no one blanket or definitive reality.

    It is also important not to assume or expect another person to have the same thinking as you. We all see things in a different light.

    Through understanding this, relationships and experiences will become more positive. You will arrive at a higher level of consciousness and be able to accept people and situatuions for what they are rather than wanting them to be as you see or as you want. This then eliminates expectations and our stories that we attach to thoughts to become reality.

    It is best we understand differences and that our view is not necessarily the same view of another.

    I think this is an empowering knowledge to know in that we can cease expectation and demand and just be at peace with what is.

  17. Tim

    The biggest take away for me is the realisation that there is so much that I miss in every moment & every interaction. Does that mean I’m not always ‘right’? : )

  18. Ronan O' Sullivan

    For me this reinforces the idea that the map is not the territory. Basically each and everyone of us is going around with our idea of the world and depending on how we deleted, distort and generalize, we may actually be close or far for actually reality. I read recently that we are all the product of our experiences but if these experiences are not serving us now, then our inner reality could well be like a cage with our method of delete, distort and generalize the bars.

  19. Ainsley Travers

    I Had Just Completed The Hypnosis/Time Line Therapy And NLP Course.
    I Found All Very Important In My Life .I Used To Carry In Me A Lot Of Anger And Guilt From The Past,Using The Hypnosis/Time Line Therapy And
    NLP Techniques I Have Removed Completely All Of My Anger And Guilt From My Past.I Feel Lighter In Myself And I Can Now Concentration More.
    I Wish To Thank All Those People Who Have Been Involved In The Hypnosis/Time Line Therapy And NLP Course At MANTRA ON RUSSEL In Melbourne From The 17 Nov To 23 Nov 2015.
    Brad Greentree Has Done An Excellent Job In Transfering My Life For The Better.
    Thank You,

    Transform The Planet.

  20. I like this because it explains why my sister and I have such different takes on childhood memories!

  21. Rhett Haverly

    My understanding is that our attention resources are drawn to the most familiar, novel and salient information that we perceive around us. I guess there exist opportunity then to reframe what is familiar, novel and salient.

  22. Tessa Henville

    …and yet: the scientific boffins are finding more and more evidence that a large degree of how we emote/feel subjectively in response to a stimulus can be predicted by objective parameters. Eg the “golden mean ratio” in facial attractiveness, human ears respond preferentially to the pentatonic scale, the pleasantness of an odour is highly related to the compactness of its molecular structure….Makes me wonder if it’s all this clever consciousness that’s getting us into trouble in the first place.

  23. That’s a very interesting read, One thing I’ve taken from this is we can do a great deal of re-working with the information we have and also if one, changes their filters the information being allowed or processed will be different and will bring about a whole new reality.

  24. Adam Cunningham

    What I take from this is, how we remember something happening is completely different to how it precisely happened, which is also true for anyone else who was also a part of that experience.
    I noticed that objectives or goals are not part of the model, but I’m speculating that we subconsciously take from the experience what we believe is relevant to help us achieve our objectives.

  25. My biggest take away from this is that, every ones take on a experience may be different even when the inputs are the same.

  26. Ann Wessing

    It seems to me that after we have processed, distorted, filtered, interpreted, and stored a memory of a event, whenever we re-visit that memory, we actually re-visit that interpretation. In doing so, we reinforce the emotion surrounding it, then we react to the emotion. If we could instead, recall the clear factual detail of the event itself (since Tad says we do have perfect recall), we’d have much greater flexibility and resourcefulness to process the event in hindsight. Wouldn’t that be great?!

  27. Jordan Moncrieff

    It’s really good to understand what influences our consciousness to take in 7 +/- 2 chunks of information per second. Our filters are our personal experience of time, space, matter, energy, language, our memories, our personal decisions, values, beliefs, attitudes and meta-programs. It makes sense.

  28. Bek Sumner

    My biggest take away from this article is how we all perceive the same situations differently. I’ve always wondered since I was a little girl, is “Red” really “Red”? Is the “Red” that I see the same as the “Red” you see? Now knowing that we each delete, distort and generalise all of the information that comes in, put our own spin on it and end up with our very own IR- My question is now answered!

  29. Neville Bentley

    Very interesting Brad! I can’t believe how much we are bombarded with every single second.

  30. Carolyn Hamlyn

    I feel as though those 11 million bits are overwhelming me preparing for this training :). You know I think I’ll only take 50 so I don’t feel so bombarded!
    On a more serious note a recent situation came up within my family when we were moving house with a major downsize taking place. I decided to give each of my four children their childhood gifts for their own keeping. One daughter said, ‘that’s mine’ and another corrected and said ‘no it belongs to me’. That sure generated a lot of conversation and self reflection around how each of us recalls something a bit different.

  31. Rachel Dhanjal

    Wow 11 million bits of information per second, no wonder my brain deletes, distorts and generalises mostly all of it! This article really helps me to appreciate the power of our conscious and subconscious mind. Now I know why my husband and often can’t see eye to eye on the same things ;o). Perception truly creates the reality you experience! Thanks brad.

  32. Thanks Brad for the heads up for the next time my wife Angela tells me about her day.I will simply remind her that It’s impossible for me to process everything she tells me at once.

    After reading that article…It’s no wonder miscommunication is the key area where relationship breakdowns can occur.

  33. Anna King

    Very interesting article. What I take from this article is that there is probably a great deal that we don’t understand floating around our subconscious that makes us behave in a certain way. Also, how we behave and react to others and how many misunderstandings occur, possibly in the work place. Why there must be an understanding and compassion towards others as you yourself may be misinterpreting actions, behaviours etc. I sometimes think this is how workplace bullying occurs…

  34. Wayne Harney

    One of the things I have taken from this is that as stated, we “consciously”process 126 bits/7 + or – 2 chunks of information per second. The rest is “received by the body but not processed consciously processed”, so is the rest absorbed subconsciously?

  35. Pip

    I love how detailed the description is, in regards to how we process information. I really describes clearly how each person can end up with different views of the same event. With all the information coming to us, it’s important to ensure we are as closely aligned with our goals and purpose as possible. That way we can utilise as much as possible. And even though ewe cannot see it, the information in the environment will still influence the whole of us.


  1. Internal Representations Part 02 - [...] For Part One of this NLP article go here [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *