10 Lessons From “Psycho Cybernetics”

By Maxwell Maltz

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the author, Maxwell Maltz (1889–1975) was an American cosmetic surgeon and author. By combining his daily work experiences as a surgeon with profound studies of the human psychology, Maltz came to the conclusion that our self-image is the cornerstone of our mental state, and therefore of all the successes and failures that happen in our lives as a result.

His best-seller Psycho Cybernetic, published in 1960, is considered one of the best books in the self-help category, of the psychology masterpieces that paved the way for most of today’s personal empowerment programs. In the following lines, we’ll go over the book’s lessons that I consider worthy of attention.

  1. It’s all about self-image.
    The book starts with the concept that everyone has a specific “mental portrait” that defines who he/she is and what he/she believes in. That mental portrait is the result of our past experiences, successes, failures, feelings and behaviors. As a result, this image represents a foundation on which we build our personality.

    Thing is, most people let past experiences define them in a negative way. Therefore, they end up behaving in a way that’s not coherent with who they really are, but only with who they “think” they are.

    However, this mental distortion can be overcome, and that’s what the book is all about; adopting a new method for better defining ourselves and living life according to the person we were really meant to be.

    We have to construct a new self-image, one which resembles us the closest (no more and no less).

    What we fail to understand is that every one of us was born for success; every human being has that internal greatness that is just waiting to be unleashed; and before you go further, here’s a reminder: YOU are THAT human being.
    Inside of you, regardless of the opinion you have of yourself, lies the ability to be happy and successful in everything you put your mind into. In this exact moment, you have the opportunity to do things you’ve always dreamed of doing, and that opportunity becomes available as soon as you “dehypnotize” yourself from thoughts like “I can’t”, “I’m not skilled enough”, “I don’t deserve it” and the like.
  2. Imagination is key.
    So, how do we actually reach a new way of thinking about ourselves? According to Maltz, the answer lies in imagination: just like at times (or most of the time, or at all times) we think of ourselves as incompetent, lazy, knuckleheads brats, we can create a new, creative mental impression, behaving and acting “as if”.

    The thing to point out is that our brain doesn’t distinguish between imagination and reality; instead, it acts based on the information we send it through our thoughts.
    Thus, we can imagine a new version of ourselves through our attitude and interpretation of various situations, “describing” the new paradigm to our brain which, in turn, will find a way to make that image come to fruition. However, to reach that new level, we must have a clear picture of the person we want to be. By regularly checking in on that mental picture, we make sure that every effort we make will be directed toward that goal, therefore enhancing its power.
  3. Take time to relax.
    Although having a proactive lifestyle is important, taking time to relax yields tremendous benefits when it comes to dehypnotizing ourselves from wrong thoughts and convictions. All it takes is thirty minutes a day: find a comfortable spot and let go of all the tension that piled up in your muscles throughout the day. Meditation has thousands of variables, and by simply looking online you can find everything you need to get started; the important thing is to make it a regular habit in your life, as it will give you more clarity, emotional well-being and less anxiety, all things that will positively influence your self-image.
  4. Let go of past failures.

    “Forget mistakes. Forget failure. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it.” — Will Durant

    While it’s okay to look back to our successes, as they can inspire us to do more of what worked moving forward, we should forget completely our failures. Our errors, trials and tribulations have been learning steps, absolutely necessary for our personal development. But, beside the lessons taught, they can do us no good, and they should therefore be flat-out eliminated from our mind. The continuous dwelling on past failures doesn’t simplify the process of getting better; on the contrary, it tends to perpetuate the behavior that you want to change. In a nutshell, it is self-destructive.

    What you should do is playing the possibility game. “What if it happens?” “What if I can really pull this off?” “What if I’m the one?”. All those questions open up a host of potential opportunities that can hijack our mind from negative and destructive thoughts toward the more ambitious ones instead.
  5. Let your success mechanism do the work.
    Here’s the thing: as humans, we’re all born with an innate creative mechanism in ourselves, and although we often decide do ignore it to the benefit of the conscious part of our brain, it remains there. What the author suggests is that, once you get very very clear about the problem that you intend to solve, you should completely clean up your mind from any worry, expectation and anxiety related to the potential end result. Exactly, you should let your subconscious mind do the work. So the process looks pretty much like this:

    – Think intensively about the problem. Gather all the information you need, consider possible deviations and, last but certainly not least, have a burning desire to solve it;

    – After having defined the problem and what the finish line looks like, drop any thought related to it for a couple of days or even more;
    – More often than not, after coming back to the problem, you’ll find out that the solution presented itself in some way.

    As Maltz explains, the creative mechanism works best when our conscious mind is less involved. Therefore don’t be surprised if your best ideas come up when you’re doing something totally unrelated to the problem you’re facing. It’s just your brain that, once received the proper stimuli, starts to work relentlessly on its solution, regardless of whether you’re conscious about it or not.
  6. Be happy.

    “Well, I guess I’ll be happy when I pay off my mortgage”
    “I’ll be happy when the semester is over”
    “I’ll be happy when I fall in love”

    Does any of these sound familiar to you? Most of us tend to postpone our happiness because of external circumstances. It’s like a deferred payment: we don’t enjoy life today because we take for granted that, in the future, we will.
    Well, guess what? Life is not tomorrow, life has to be lived today (and, by the way, there will never be a better time to be happy than the present moment); happiness is a habit, and if you don’t practice it today you’ll never experience it later on. Life is all about problems; if you want to be happy, you have to learn to smile despite problems, and you shouldn’t do it just because there’s a reward awaiting for you on the other side or because something good already happened to you.

    On the other hand, some of us think that being happy is a sign of selfishness, but actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Being happy is the first step in order to make everyone else around you happy. If you don’t put yourself first, how can you take care of other important people in your life? It’d be like pouring from an empty cup. That’s why taking care of yourself is not egotistical either, being it a necessary factor in living a fulfilling and interdependent life within society.

    Obviously we can’t be happy all the time, but we certainly can be happy most of the time, and that positive mental state, as formerly outlined, can only be reached through practice. Accustom yourself to act in a proactive way against challenges, always maintaining a clear and positive picture of the end result in mind, and watch results follow.
  7. Success mechanism.
    Conceded that everyone has different visions and values when it comes to success, Maltz writes about it as the sum of the following factors:

    Sense of direction → As Albert Einstein once said, “People are like bicycles. They can keep balance only as long as they keep moving”. Indeed, we’re always looking for new accomplishments, always driven by the desire of achieving and becoming something more than what we currently have. That’s why having goals and dreams constitutes a prerequisite for reaching success;
    Comprehension → Being able to communicate. Understanding people’s problems and aspirations, emphasizing with their feelings and emotions, even admitting our mistakes and shortcomings and finding a way to correct them; these are all great social skills to possess;
    Courage → As written in the book, every problems seems smaller if it’s faced promptly. Do not be afraid to take on new and scary challenges, as they will only make you stronger, regardless of whether you achieve them.
    Charity → Successful people always take into consideration the benefit of others, because they know that everyone is a son of God and a unique individuality that deserves dignity and respect. One way to be respectful, in that regard, is to avoid hate and angst toward others, which means being impartial in our judgments and taking time to stop and consider other people’s feelings, emotions and necessities.
    Esteem → Doubting yourself is a poison that jeopardizes your well-being and your relationships with the outside world. Remember that you’re a divine creation, and as such, you deserve to be appreciated as much as anybody else. So do yourself a favor, and stop considering yourself as a loser or a victim; you’re way better than that.
    Self-Confidence → Confidence is built upon success, and if you’re able to remember past successes in your life, you’ll naturally feel surer in your ability to replicate them in the future. It doesn’t even matter how many times you’ve failed in the past; what matters is how many times you tried to be successful at something, and on that you should concentrate all of your thoughts. As Thomas Edison put it:
    “I’ve not failed 10,000 times. I’ve not failed once. I’ve succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways won’t work.”
    Self-Assurance → This all comes back to creating a more accurate image of your own self, which doesn’t mean trying to be somebody else, but simply accepting yourself as you are: an imperfect, always-changing and worthy person. By the way, no one is perfect, and those who pretend to be are just fooling themselves.
  8. Failure mechanism.
    Just like the success mechanism needs to be explained, so as to understand what needs to be in place for us to succeed in life, so does the failure mechanism, represented by different symptoms which have to be avoided altogether if we are to live a fulfilling and positive life. These symptoms are:

    Frustration → Disappointments and humiliations will come; we should learn to embrace them without being too cruel on ourselves. It’s only when we let a temporary failure define our emotional state for too long that we become victims, therefore failing in the quest to become the best version of ourselves possible.
    Aggressiveness → Misdirected aggressiveness follows disappointment. It’s important, however, to point out the difference between positive aggressiveness, which disguised as pure determination allows you to fearlessly tackle your goals and challenges in life, and the negative aggressiveness, which looks just like frustration and will never lead to positive outcomes.
    Insecurity → Insecurity refers to the always-present thought of not being enough for something greater; not being good-looking enough for a girl, not having enough money to quit your day job, or not being healthy enough for starting an exercise routine (I mean, come on!). However you see it, the insecurity is just a mental block that we can both create and break with our own hands (or thoughts); often times, though, it is just enough to stop us from achieving our fullest potential.
    Loneliness → Each one of us gets (or feels) lonely at times, but we shouldn’t be lonely on purpose. A life lived with others is by far one of the greatest pleasures life itself has to offer, and mingling with people can make us more interesting, less anxious and it also provides a great opportunity to understand various types of individuals, giving us a better understanding of human perspectives and attributes as a result.
    Uncertainty → Uncertainty relates to being fearful of making mistakes. Indeed, mistakes can be costly for those who’ve grown up with a perfectionist mindset, and that’s why, for them, making a decision can be a matter of life or death. If you are one of those people, just remember that making mistakes and adjusting course is what life is all about; if you never make mistakes, that means that you’re not even trying to do something worth doing, and while that may sound like a comfortable position to be in through your early years, it’ll all come back as painful regret when you won’t have time to change the situation anymore.
    Resentment → Beside being the worst company for those around them, the individual that constantly harbors bitterness and grief toward others also loves the victim game: she’s used to blame everybody and everything around her when times get tough. In very few cases, though, resentment is the result of such external circumstances. Rather, resentment comes from within, and it is just a result of our reaction to something that happens on the outside. If you feel like the world owes you something, more often than not you’ll be left with empty hands, and that will feed the resentment feeling in what looks like a never-ending cycle. Expecting something from others is never the answer to a satisfying life; finding joy in yourself through personal discovery and development is.
    Emptiness → I think that emptiness is very similar to disillusion, in the sense that it alludes to an individual who, for a number of reasons, is not able to enjoy life anymore. This mental state, however, can be overcome through goal-setting practices. The invidividual that is morally, mentally and physically committed to something is not even concerned about internal emptiness, as he wisely chooses his battles and always strives to give his best to the cause.
  9. Disinhibit yourself.
    Personality is a trait that defines us, and can do so in either a strong or weak way. While a strong personality resembles an individual without inhibitions, one that is able to express her “real self”, a weak one is usually afraid to express herself for a host of reasons, among which shame, anger, shyness and irritability. Now, before we move forward, it’s important to know that negative reactions are useful for correcting our aim; a negative reaction is like that little voice inside our head that tells us “You’re not targeting the goal properly; adjust your focus and try once again”. It focuses on modifying our action, not stopping it. However, if our personality is too sensitive, our action will be stopped altogether, and we’ll come to the conclusion that trying is not worth it at all. It’s like when we’re kids and we’re told not to be arrogant, greedy or harsh with anybody. Basically we’re told not to express our true selves, and from that moment forward we learn that communicating our feelings may be a bad thing to do after all. That’s why a lot of people are scared of public speaking; they’re afraid to tell their opinion to the world because of possible negative consequences. “I’m not good enough, I won’t be liked, so why bother” they say.

    The need for disinhibition is clear, but Maltz doesn’t support total disinhibition (or carelessness) either. Rather, he writes that what the most inhibited of those people need is just a little bit of disinhibition practice, which consists of a number of things they wouldn’t normally do would they behave like their “normal” selves. Things like acting before thinking, talking louder, or expressing your feelings when you feel like doing it. When was the last time you gave an honest and heartfelt compliment to somebody? Take time, for example, to appreciate the important people in your life and let them know that you appreciate who they are and what they do for you. It costs you 0$ after all.
  10. Your mind is the most valuable asset you have.
    A crisis is a situation that can either build you or break you. That’s when the mind, by far the most important gift we possess as humans, can help us the most. An aggressive attitude and the ability to see the finish line despite the obstacles that appear on our path are two things completely powered by our own mind. That’s why, no matter what situation we’re ever going to find ourselves in, we can accept the challenge, show up, and commit to the fight. That’s why, when we fail, we can get up and fight back once again. That’s why, even when all the lights are shut off, we can still make a decision that can turn our life upside down. When we face a challenge that seems bigger than ourselves, we can find courage, strength and resilience at will. We discover powers that we never thought we had, but the secret is all inside our mind: true power lies in accepting the challenge and saying to yourself “No matter what happens, I’m going to make it. I can already see the finish line. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain”.

    If you make it a habit of constantly reminding yourself of the direction you’re going toward, and see it vividly, as an already-reached objective, it is at that point that you’ll fully unleash feelings of self-confidence and conviction in your means that will lead, sooner or later, to a positive outcome.
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