Psycho-Cybernetics: Summarized For Action (What You Need)

“Your self-image determines your self-worth.” — Maxwell Maltz, “Psycho-Cybernetics” Click To Tweet

The book Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living out of Life continues to live and breathe through more than six decades of readers. In it, the surgeon-turned-author Maxwell Maltz presents his revolutionary ideas on how we can leave our past failures behind and achieve incredible goals.

Maltz wrote Psycho-Cybernetics for “steering your mind to a productive, useful goal, so you can reach the greatest port in the world: peace of mind.”

Psycho-Cybernetics presents many actionable insights on how to get over our low self-esteem and setbacks, and find happiness and success. It is based on anecdotal evidence and scientific observations.

Here’s a 2-sentence summary of the book:

Psycho-Cybernetics is a system of self-improvement and success-achievement based on changing one’s self-image. It offers advice on how to build a positive self-image, set and achieve major goals, practice positive thinking and self-discipline, overcome complacency and negativity, and live a richer, happier life.

1: What Is The Book “Psycho-Cybernetics” About?

Psycho-Cybernetics is a classic self-help book first published in 1960. It gives a framework for understanding how the human mind functions as a goal-striving mechanism. Maxwell Maltz, the author, was a cosmetic surgeon who found that self-image, or an individual’s mental representation of oneself, is the key to personality transformation.

Maxwell Maltz coined the phrase “psycho-cybernetics” to describe a system of principles that defines a pathway to overcome your limitations and achieve success. He shows how one may master their destiny by changing their self-image.

The book draws on machine principles and self-image psychology. Maltz helps you grasp and absorb this system so you may achieve your goals, even if you’ve mostly been a failure. He shows you how to use your mind to steer yourself toward positive outcomes and successes.

Look at the picture below: An elephant sits sadly because he is unable to free himself. Note that the rope is tied to a tiny peg, and the elephant can simply pull it out. But he makes no attempt!

learned helplessness
Big elephant — Small peg. (Source: Psychology Spot)

When the elephant was being trained many years back, that rope used to be tied to a big tree trunk. The jumbo could never uproot the tree and free itself, no matter how much force he applied.

Over the years, this self-limiting belief built a permanent room in his mind. Now, even when the rope is tied merely to a small peg, he believes he cannot pull it out to release himself.

The jumbo doesn’t even try because he has learned that no matter what efforts he puts in, the results are not under his control.

Positive psychologist Martin Seligman labeled this tendency as Learned Helplessness” after extensive research on dogs in the late1960s. He saw that after repeated failures, even when it has a chance to escape, learned helplessness stops the dog from acting to protect itself.

This was an idea conceived by Maltz years before Seligman when he told us that our self-limiting negative beliefs are at the root of our failures and disappointments.

Here are some things you can learn from Psycho-Cybernetics:

  • How your self-image and thought patterns influence your successes and failures.
  • How changing your beliefs, outlook, behavior, and habits can improve your life.
  • How you can turn setbacks and frustrations into accomplishments and happiness.

2: How The Cybernetics Can Help You Succeed?

Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon. He redesigned people’s faces to enhance their looks.

He observed that a few people totally discarded their old persona and lifestyles after plastic surgeries on their faces. It was as if they have transformed into completely different people.

Maltz suspected these people had changed for reasons other than their more attractive looks. He set out to find the answer. The result was Psycho-Cybernetics.

My-Copy-Psycho-Cybernetics
Psycho-Cybernetics: Maxwell Maltz (Audible Audiobook)

Maltz found the human mind operates like a “servo-mechanism” or “cybernetics.” Once we set up a servo-mechanism with instructions, it works on its own to reach the end-point goal.

His greatest finding was this: We can purposefully apply this cybernetic system to the human brain to achieve anything we want. The mind can be made to act as an automatic goal-striving machine to manifest and establish success or failure, happiness or unhappiness.

He wrote: “Servo-mechanisms are so constructed that they automatically “steer” their way to a goal, target, or “answer.” When we conceive of the human brain and nervous system as a form of servo-mechanism, operating with Cybernetic principles, we gain new insight into the why and wherefore of human behavior. I choose to call this new concept “Psycho-Cybernetics”: the principles of Cybernetics as applied to the human brain.”

First, we feed the mind with certain beliefs and images. Then our mind, as a cybernetics system, intuitively instructs our body to carry out all the actions required to produce the exact result. Whether our beliefs are positive or negative, wanted or unwanted, the system will assume responsibility, act on these, and take us to our goals.

He claimed the human mind operates like an automated machine. The whole sequence works as follows:

Self-image ⇒ Psycho-Cybernetics ⇒ Success/Failure

So it all starts with the image we have in our minds. To change our body’s automatic actions and achieve our goals, we must feed it correct instructions.

3: How To Create A Brand New Self-Image?

We each glean our self-image from our experiences. We created these mental snapshots of ourselves from our past experiences, mainly our childhoods. We may not even remember many of those situations.

But now, as grown-ups, these self-images steer us the way we live our lives. We repeatedly get successes or failures because our past guides our future behaviors — without our conscious realization.

  • What are you?
  • What type of person are you to yourself?
  • What stories do you narrate when asked who you are?

Psycho-Cybernetics asks, “Who do you see in the mental mirror?

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Then it talks about how you create your self-image and how it affects your happiness and success.

Those answers tell you who you see in the mirror — your self-image. Your self-image is a picture of the person you are to yourself. This image holds all your beliefs based on your experiences, successes, and failures. We always carry around this mental picture of ourselves.

Maltz was one of the first authors to bring to public attention how our self-image has immense control over our ability to achieve our desired goals. Self-image is the mental picture we create of ourselves that we base on our strengths, weaknesses, performances, and successes.

To quote Maltz, “The “self-image”, the individual’s mental and spiritual concept or “picture” of himself, was the real key to personality and behavior. Change the self-image and you change the personality and the behavior.”

Now, this explained what Maltz’s patients went through after reconstruction surgeries. Those who took care to change their self-image changed their personalities. And the ones who did not stay the same.

A self-image can be mostly positive, overtly negative, or anything in between; that is insignificant. More importantly, we must understand that we keep acting according to the image we create of ourselves.

To really live, that is to find life reasonably satisfying, you must have an adequate and realistic self-image that you can live with. You must find your self acceptable to you.

– Maxwell Maltz

Maltz explains it with an example from one of his friend’s life. Dr. Alfred Adler, a time-honored psychiatrist, neurologist, and founder of the School of Individual Psychology, was poor at maths in his school. Adler’s teacher believed he had no talent for the subject. Adler accepted his teacher’s judgment of him as his self-image. And he kept getting low grades in the subject. Over time, it filled his mind with a sense of inferiority complex.

Then one day, his teacher put up a complex equation on the board. Suddenly, Adler understood how he could solve it. And he solved it. This incident ushered in a new self-confidence in him. It led him to break his cage and finally change his mental image of himself.

Adler later worked on his most famous concept — inferiority complex — and argued how it plays a crucial role in shaping one’s personality.

Your self-image is a picture of the person you are to yourself. It holds all your beliefs based on your experiences, successes, and failures. Click To Tweet

4: How To Let Your Self-Image Attract Success?

Our self-image is the main target of our goal-striving machine. Whatever it is, the psycho-cybernetics system goes out of its way to shape our lives as accurately as that image. So, our actions, feelings, behavior, and even our limitations are always consistent with our self-image.

No matter how good or bad you made your self-image into, your cybernetics or the subconscious mind system always acts upon it automatically.

The “self-image” sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment. It defines what you can and cannot do.

Now, if you have a negative self-image, it comes from the negative beliefs you hold about yourself. But notice this: your negative beliefs are not a result of your experiences. Your experiences are just events — they come with neither negativity nor positivity attached to them.

What makes them positive or negative is how you interpret them. It is the self-interpretation and the self-talk that lead to the conclusions you draw from them. See below how it happens:

Experiences ⇒ Conclusions ⇒ Beliefs ⇒ Self-image

Now, often, we falsely remember things that are not facts and did not happen at all. Researchers found the brain frequently confabulates. It fabricates imaginary experiences as compensation for gaps in memory. These false memories then become our beliefs.

Now, the opposite is also true. By interpreting your experience in a positive light, you can have positive self-beliefs. This can lead you to have an overall positive attitude and ultimately build a positive mindset that stands strong even in hard times. You can do this by re-thinking the entire experience rationally and logically.

So, we can change our self-image if we want to. Maltz assures us, “The self-image can be changed. Numerous case histories have shown that one is never too young nor too old to change his self-image and thereby start to live a new life.”

And once you change your beliefs, you change your self-image. So, if you replace your negative self-talk and negative thoughts with optimistic and positive thinking, you can improve your self-image and be happier. Maltz confirms, “Once the concept of self has changed, other things consistent with the new concept of self, are accomplished easily and without strain.”

Any of us can bring about this change. There is no exception to this. To do this, however, the first step is to stop comparing ourselves to others. And create a better self-image that is so unique to us. Maltz writes, “You as a personality are simply not in competition with any other personality because there is not another person on the face of the earth like you.”

The truth about you is this:
You are not inferior.
You are not superior.
You are simply “You”.

Maltz presents Psycho-Cybernetics as a concept of how our brains work. He said the human brain works like a machine. And like a machine, when there is positive feedback, the brain keeps doing what it has been doing. But when there is negative feedback, the brain stops doing what it has always done, changes its behavior, and ‘corrects its course’ – all automatically.

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Once you accomplish a correct or “successful response,” the brain stores it in memory for future use. After that, whenever you face a similar task again, your brain pulls out the memory and makes you go through the learned behavior.

Learned behavior is a way of working that a person develops because of experience. Learned behaviors contrast with inherited behaviors, which are genetically hard-wired, and we can perform them with no previous experience.


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Sometimes, drug and alcohol abuse in persons appears to be learned behaviors. Research suggests children whose parents used marijuana have an increased likelihood of abusing alcohol and substance as teens or young adults.

Think a little about it this time because your nervous system now acts as an automatic response mechanism that already has a set of instructions to carry out. By applying psycho-cybernetics, we can better understand why and how humans behave the way they do.

Humans have a built-in mechanism for success.

Maltz advises us to start with our brilliant capability of imagination to activate this mechanism. Your brain cannot distinguish between an imagined and a real event. As a result, it reacts based on what you believe to be real.

Research by Dr. Theodore X. Barber at the American University in Washington during the 1950s found hypnotized patients could easily undergo surgery without anesthesia. This phenomenon of hypnosurgery takes a person to imagine they have received anesthesia, and therefore, will not feel any pain during the surgery.

Once a patient believes they have received an anesthetic, their brain stops processing the pain signals from the nerves.

Humans may not be machines, but we can think of our mental processes as mechanized. By using cybernetic principles to understand this machine thinking, we can overcome negative ideas about ourselves, enhance our self-image, and live a fulfilling, successful life.

So, once you train your brain to believe you can succeed and be happy, you see more successes and joys coming your way.

how to learn the happiness habit - Psycho-Cybernetics

5: How To Achieve Your Goals of Success And Happiness?

Most of us think of happiness in terms of future goals, and that is the wrong approach.

We think we’ll be happy once we get a new partner, or a better job, or a bigger home. By doing that, we are tying up our happiness to a future goal. But being happy is something we must practice in the present moment.

If we lose our happiness when the driver behind us honks like a maniac, it’s because we choose to react to it with annoyance and frustration. We can, instead, notice that his honking is just honking — and we may respond in a better way to it without losing our cool.

He could squish the car-horn buttons as hard as he wants, but he can never push your buttons unless you allow him to. No matter how hard anyone tries to stress you out, if you know the coping mechanism that Maltz suggests, you can reduce your stress and choose peace even in such times of negativity and toxicity.

An incident in America’s greatest inventor Edison’s life provides a splendid example in Maltz’s book.

Edison’s laboratory was once destroyed by fire. Unfortunately, he had no fire insurance on his multi-million dollar lab. As he stood there watching the fire consume all of his work, he resolved to begin reconstructing his lab the next day. Edition thus avoided the unhappiness of mulling over an irretrievable loss.

Happiness is, after all, an internal feeling. It is a product of your thoughts and the attitudes you hold about your world and the people in it. Happy people are happy because they genuinely source their happiness from within themselves. They do not look towards outside events to fix their well-being.

Maltz says a few things about happiness that may find the positive psychologists of our day nod in agreement. For starters, he suggests when we are happy, we can think, perform, feel, and fare better.

Scientific experiments have shown that it is absolutely impossible to feel fear, anger, anxiety, or negative emotions of any kind while the muscles of the body are kept perfectly relaxed.

– Maxwell Maltz

6: Research and Anecdotes In Psycho-Cybernetics

▪ Maltz mentions the Russian psychologist Kekcheyev’s finding when thinking pleasant thoughts, people could see better, taste, smell, and hear better, and detect finer differences in touch.

▪ He writes Dr. William Bates’ experiments found that eyesight improves as soon as a person is thinking pleasant thoughts or watching pleasant scenes.

▪ He writes about research by Margaret Corbett, who found when the subjects were thinking pleasant thoughts, their memory improves in significant amounts.

▪ He talks about the Harvard psychologists who found there is a correlation between unhappiness and criminality. They found a majority of criminals came from unhappy homes and had a history of unhappy relationships.

▪ As Maltz writes, a ten-year-long Yale study on frustration found that much of our immorality and hostility to others is due to our own unhappiness.

▪ He quotes Dr. John A. Schindler, who said, “unhappiness is the sole cause of all psychosomatic illnesses, and the only cure is happiness.”

▪ Maltz quotes William James, “The attitude of unhappiness is not only painful, it is mean and ugly. What can be more base and unworthy than the pining, pulling, mumping mood, no matter what outward ills it may have been engendered?”

▪ He also brings in Blaise Pascal, “We are never living, but only hoping to live; and, looking forward always to being happy, it is inevitable that we are never so.”

7: Actionable Advice For Success From Psycho-Cybernetics

  1. Create believable and achievable goals and targets. Success begins with effective goal-setting.
  2. Keep your goals focused on the end rather than the means. Once you have fixed the end goal, the cybernetics system will find ways to take you towards it. It is automatic.
  3. Mistakes will happen on the way to your success, and they are feedbacks to fine-tune and autocorrect. Errors handled this way are positive reactions that propel you towards your goal.
  4. Let your past mistakes stay in the past, and do not let them direct your future. Instead, focus on the present choices that push you towards your goal.
  5. Trust your journey. Psycho-Cybernetics is a process that works. So, trust it before starting on the journey to your goals. Let it work automatically rather than try hard to make it work.
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8: Principles To Live By According To Maxwell Maltz

  1. Free yourself from the fears of past failures. Our past mistakes were our learning modules. We learned from them and became better. We do not remember them for the results they produced, or the fears the shudders they give us remembering those consequences. Furthermore, we must keep these lessons in mind and discard the fears of our failures.
  2. Believe in your ability to change yourself for the better. People who think they can bring about a positive change in themselves, are the ones who manage to do so. It is almost impossible for others to change us if we, ourselves, do not believe we can change.
  3. Trust the mind’s cybernetic system. Once we finalize the issue we need to focus on, we need to think about it deeply, exploring it from all angles. After that, we should clear out our minds of all doubts and worries about the results. We might even choose to forget the issue for a while. And then come back to it in some time. We will find our mind has automatically zeroed in on a solution.
  4. Imagine a positive version of yourself. Maltz says our imaginations are stronger than we estimate them to be. Maltz points out our brain cannot differentiate between imagination and reality. Whatever blueprint we supply it with (via our thoughts and beliefs), it creates a reality exactly as that blueprint. When we imagine ourselves as incapable of being successful or as persons who are always going to be unhappy, we become that. Instead, if we create a strong positive image of ourselves in our mind (positive self-image), we become that flourishing winner.
  5. Do not defer your happiness; be happy today. Never postpone your happiness. Don’t think you can’t allow yourself to be happy until you hit a certain goal, or bag a certain deal, or own a certain thing. Do not link your happiness to success. Success does not bring you happiness (find out why). If you are not a happy person, then success will not cheer up your unhappy self. Be happy today while going through your struggles.
  6. Accomplish these 7 wellbeing needs. Maltz enumerates the seven needs we should aim at fulfilling to improve our wellbeing: 1. Love, 2. Security, 3. Creative Expression, 4. Recognition, 5. New Experiences, 6. Self-esteem, 7. Positivity about the future.

Final Words

Raising your self-worth and improving your self-image will eventually make you feel good overall, have a more empathetic and altruistic attitude towards others, and build up your inventory of positive emotions.

The most delightful surprise in life is to suddenly recognise your own worth.

– Maxwell Maltz

Epilogue

Fiction lives longer than nonfiction. Let us prove it. A few books from the sixties that are much in demand even today are:

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller; One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey; To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee; The Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe; A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt; The Rise And Fall of The Third Reich by William Shirer; Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.

Notice, of those seven books above, the first five are fiction. The books people keep buying for over 50 years are mostly fiction. So, you see, fiction lives longer than nonfiction.

Now, a generation is the average time period during which children who are born become adults, and begin to have children. If we were to take each generation of 25 years, then fifty years means two generations.

Just look around — you will find some of the best nonfiction books of the Silent Generation did not cross over to Generation X. In that list above, only the last two are nonfiction. Psycho-Cybernetics is one of them and that is quite a marvel!

  • Is Psycho-Cybernetics a good book?

    Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics (1960) is a brilliant book to help anyone learn how to extract themselves from a negative rut and achieve new peaks of success and happiness. It is a cornerstone of the self-improvement genre and shares highly effective strategies to help one understand the cause of their fears and failures. And then show them how to act with courage, self-confidence, and self-acceptance to build a more fulfilling life.

    Maxwell Maltz was a well-known American cosmetic surgeon of his era. But rather than his surgical feats, the world remembers him now for writing a self-help book that Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy borrow from. It is a book that gets counted among the 50 Best Self-Help classics of all time.

    Maltz wrote Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960 while he still practiced as a plastic surgeon. The book became a bestseller. And since then, it has never gone OUP (out of print). Even today, walk into any bookstore and you will find it stacked on their shelves.

  • What is cybernetics?

    Cybernetics is the system of instructions, actions, and feedback of automated machines that get them to fulfill their tasks effectively. Translated from Greek, cybernetics means “a helmsman who steers his ship to port.”

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder and chief editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.


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