What is Meaning System Mapping?

Making Sense of ourselves and what Matters to us


The defining characteristic of human beings is our capacity to make meaning. Realizing that we are meaning-makers and that we can exercise discretion about the life experience that we generate from this process, is the very essence of self-liberation.


Every single moment that we are alive, we are engaged in meaning making - the process of filtering data into our mind’s eye, giving some valuation to that data, and taking actions that we believe are right in the moment based on our conclusions. Meaning system mapping is a simple yet effective way to become aware of what is occupying our mind and shaping our day-to-day experience. It helps us notice patterns:

  • Are they internal subjective or external objective?

  • Are they real time, re-processing of old thoughts and feelings?

  • Are they anticipations/permutations of possible future states?

  • Are they pure imagination?

  • Are they uplifting or neutral or depressing?

  • Are they justificatory, inquisitive, free-ranging, critical….?

A healthy balance between love and desire for self and other is life-sustaining. This balance must happen in the inner world to find expression in the outer world. If one aspect is out of balance, this creates “noise” in the Theatre of our Mind. We can expend so much time and energy spinning in the thinking-thoughts-feeling-felts whirlpool that we have little energy for things that truly matter. Emotionally healthy people spend little time trapped in thoughts and emotions, and are therefore capable of making a clean translation between their inner and outer worlds.
— Excerpt from Meaning Making

By helping us to notice this patterning and its impact on our well-being and the level of energy, looseness and ease in our body, meaning system mapping makes it easy for us to evaluate how life-affirming and self-empowering our approach to making-meaning is. As our awareness grows, we can reflect on how our meaning system came into being, the form and content that it has, and how we might want to change it to support greater flourishing.

Using meaning system mapping, we can also help others realize that meaning-making is active in everyone, everywhere, all the time. That individual and collective actions of all kinds are born of this process, and that the degree of awareness they hold about their own meaning-making capacity shapes their sense of power and potential to create a happy life for themselves.

Applied to organizations, meaning system mapping helps groups explore the impacts and potential outcomes of different meaning systems so they can begin to reconcile differences and build a shared meaning system.

Understanding Ourselves

Many of us never stop to think about how our unique meaning-making patterns take root and profoundly influence how we connect with ourselves, others, and our environment. Through step-by-step development of a practical model of meaning systems, this book helps us understand how we operate within ourselves, with others, and with the world at large. It provides a framework we can use on a daily basis to make better decisions in emotionally-charged situations, and progress towards greater awareness of self and others.