Psycho-Cybernetics Summary (Timeless Wisdom, Improved)

This updated and more actionable summary of Psycho-Cybernetics now includes a PDF (link at the end).

Dive in to activate your success-achievement cybernetic mechanism as your subconscious mental habit.

This synopsis of psycho-cybernetics will help you start your success journey as soon as you finish reading it.

Psycho-Cybernetics was first published in 1960 and became one of the best-selling self-help books of all time. Translated into 25+ languages, it has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

Buy the book: Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living out of Life by Maxwell Maltz.

A Summary of Psycho-Cybernetics

Quick Summary: Maxwell Maltz’s “Psycho-Cybernetics” is a self-help book that delivers evidence-based insights on achieving success and happiness. It outlines a set of principles for overcoming limitations and changing one’s self-image to master one’s fate. By seeing oneself as a success, one can find new ways to succeed.

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

Some people dream but somehow cannot achieve their goals. Psycho-Cybernetics can help such people realize their dreams and reach their full potential.

Maxwell Maltz, a surgeon-turned-author, writes how anyone can overcome past failures and achieve seemingly impossible goals. He introduces us to “cybernetics,” an automated success mechanism that allows anyone to reprogram their mind into a spectacular success machine.

Maltz’s observations were not based on the nonsensical bluster of toxic positivity.

He wrote the book to steer “your mind to a productive, useful goal, so you can reach the greatest port in the world: peace of mind.”

What Is The Book “Psycho-Cybernetics” About?

Many regard Psycho-Cybernetics as the mother of all self-help books.

“Psycho-Cybernetics” was the result of Maxwell Maltz’s years of observing patients as a cosmetic surgeon.

Maltz teaches how to train the mind to achieve goals by changing our self-image. His concept of psycho-cybernetics helps reshape our self-image and achieve happiness and success.

What Is The Basis of Psycho-Cybernetics?

Maltz’s cosmetic surgery clients wanted to fix their personalities, and that request by became the basis of “Psycho-Cybernetics.”

Maltz’s book intelligently blends machine principles with self-image psychology to help readers achieve goals and success, despite past failures.

His system can also help make life more prosperous and meaningful.

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

Learned Helplessness: Self-Image of A Failure

Positive psychologist Martin Seligman discovered Learned Helplessness” behavior in dogs in his experiments in the1960s.

  • In Seligman’s experiments, dogs were given electric shocks and allowed to escape over a low partition.
  • Then, they were given shocks and not allowed to escape. These dogs started whimpering and simply lay down in the box.
  • Later, when these dogs were put into boxes with a low partition that they could jump over, and given shocks, they did not try to escape and instead lay whimpering. These dogs had learned helplessness.

Seligman said this may be similar in humans too where people experiencing uncontrollable negative events become passive and give up trying to improve their situation.

Seligman’s idea was similar to Maltz’s.

Maltz had earlier suggested that our self-limiting beliefs are at the root of our failures.

How Psycho-Cybernetics Can Help You Succeed

People came to Maltz to improve their looks, as he was a cosmetic surgeon.

He noticed that, after his procedures, his clients had changed their entire personas and lifestyles to match their enhanced beauty.

He found that when they saw their new image in the mirror, they started new behaviors, attitudes, and habits.

Maltz concluded that the human mind works like a “servo-mechanism” or “cybernetics.” “Psycho-Cybernetics” was born from this concept.

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

  • You’ll understand how your self-image and thinking patterns influence your success and failure.
  • You’ll learn how to improve your life by changing your beliefs, mindset, behavior, and habits.
  • You’ll find out how you may turn your losses and frustrations into successes and fulfillment.

His greatest finding was this:

We can apply the machinic cybernetic system to our brains and achieve anything we want.

We can make the mind 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.”

How Psycho-Cybernetics Works

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.

Maltz realized that the human mind works like an automated machine, and we can apply the cybernetics principles to turn it into a goal-achieving powerhouse.

The whole sequence works as follows:

Self-image ⇒ Psycho-Cybernetics ⇒ Success/Failure

  • Step 1: First, you have to realize what’s wrong. Start with the self-image you already have in your mind. Notice if your self-image is that of a failure who thinks like “I have failed so many times; how can I ever achieve anything?”
  • Step 2: Then, create a brand new, positive self-image. Feed your brain instructions that support this new image. Within weeks, it will start changing your body’s automatic actions and lead you on a path to your goals.

How To Create A Brand New Self-Image

Our experiences shape our self-images. Like that helpless jumbo elephant above.

We draw mental pictures of ourselves based on our experiences, particularly those from our childhoods. We may have forgotten many of those events, yet they all shaped our self-image.

So now, as grown-ups, those self-images unconsciously steer us to live the way we live our lives.

Our past guides our future behaviors, without our conscious realization. Those self-images push us towards success if we had many successes in the past, or failure if we have a long history of failures.

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.

Psycho-Cybernetics asks,

“Who do you see in the mental mirror?

Your self-image is a picture of the person you are to yourself, not how others see you or how you present yourself to others. Only when you see your true self in your mind’s mirror can you understand what needs to be redrawn for a self-image of happiness and success.

To see your self-image clearly, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who am I, really?
  • What type of person am I to myself?
  • What stories do I tell when asked who I am?

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

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 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 adjust their self-image following the procedures had changed their personalities. And those who did not, they stayed the same.

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 his friend’s life. Dr. Alfred Adler, a time-honored psychiatrist, neurologist, and founder of the School of Individual Psychology, was poor at math 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. He kept getting low grades in the subject. Over time, it filled him with a sense of inferiority complex and a belief that he can never be good at math.

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 gave him newfound self-assurance. It helped him break free from his cage and, eventually, modify his mental image of himself.

You may have made a mistake, but this does not mean you are a mistake. — Maxwell Maltz

Psycho-Cybernetics: Maxwell Maltz (Audible Audiobook)

Adler later worked on his most famous concept — the 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.

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

How Do You Practice Psycho-Cybernetics?

How can you make your new self-image start attracting success?

Our self-image comes from how we interpret our experiences. Since our brain often confabulates and creates imaginary experiences, we form false memories and irrational beliefs.

Experiences ⇒ Interpretations and Conclusions ⇒ Beliefs ⇒ Self-image

Now, our self-image is the target of our goal-striving machine, the psycho-cybernetics.

If we have a negative self-image, it would lead to negative self-talk and expectations of failure.

But if we tune our self-image positively, the cybernetics system will remodel the actions that would drive us to success.

So, interpreting experiences positively can lead to positive self-beliefs, attitudes, and ultimately, a positive mindset. We can do this by rethinking our experiences rationally.

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.”

You make mistakes, mistakes don't make you - Maxwell Maltz

And once you change your beliefs, you change your self-image.

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. To achieve this, however, the first step is to stop comparing ourselves to others and create a unique self-image.

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 says the human brain works like a machine.

  • When there is positive feedback, the brain keeps doing what it has been doing.
  • When there is negative feedback, the brain stops doing what it has always done, changes its behavior, and ‘corrects its course’—all automatically.

Once it reaches a correct or “successful response,” the brain stores it in memory for future use.

After that, whenever you face a similar task, your brain pulls out the memory and takes you through that learned behavior.

Drug and alcohol abuse can be learned behaviors. Research suggests children whose parents used marijuana are more likely to abuse alcohol and substance as young adults.

Learned behaviors differ from inherited behaviors in that we can perform them without prior experience.

Now, Maltz says we can use our imagination to activate the cybernetics process. We can imagine positive events and a bright future, and it will start to make us act accordingly.

Dr. Theodore X. Barber at the American University in Washington found that hypnotized patients could easily undergo surgery without anesthesia.

Called hypnosurgery, it first makes a person imagine that they have received anesthesia, and 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.

We can use similar mental processes to activate our cybernetics, overcome negative self-beliefs, enhance our self-image, and live fulfilling lives.

how to learn the happiness habit - Psycho-Cybernetics
Author’s copy of Psycho-Cybernetics

Humans have a built-in mechanism for success.

Achieving Your Goals of Success And Happiness

Being happy is something we must practice in the present moment.

Happiness tied to future goals is a mistake.

External factors can make us unhappy. We often choose to react with annoyance and frustration to an annoying driver ahead of us, when we can respond better without losing our cool.

Maltz says our cybernetics mechanisms can reduce our perceived stress in negative situations.

He talks of Edison’s response when his lab caught fire. Edison had no fire insurance. As he stood there watching the fire consume all his work, he resolved to restart the very next day.

This shows us how we may avoid dwelling on losses.

Happy people find happiness within themselves. And happiness improves thinking, performance, feelings, and well-being.

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

Research & 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 by significant amounts.

▪ He mentions the Harvard psychologists who found there is a correlation between unhappiness and criminality. They found that most 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.”

Psycho Cybernetics Exercises For Success

  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 toward 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 toward 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 toward 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.

Maxwell Maltz’s Principles To Live By

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 you can 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 your 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. Thereafter, 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 said our imaginations are powerful and indistinguishable from reality to the brain.

Our thoughts and beliefs create a reality consistent with our blueprint. A positive self-image leads to success, while negative images lead to failure.

5. Do not defer your happiness; be happy today.

Do not link happiness to success or goals. It’s a mistake to postpone your happiness until you achieve your goals.

Be happy today while going through your struggles.

Success cannot make an unhappy person happy.

6. Aim to achieve the seven well-being needs.

Maltz enumerates the seven needs we should aim at fulfilling to improve our well-being: 1. Love, 2. Security, 3. Creative Expression, 4. Recognition, 5. New experiences, 6. Self-esteem, 7. Positivity about the future.

Your new self-image must be positive in each of those seven areas.

How Psycho-Cybernetics Has Survived Decades

Psycho-Cybernetics has the rare honor of being a timeless nonfiction book. It matters because usually, fiction outlives nonfiction. Let’s break this down.

Some books from the sixties that are still in demand today are:

The first five of those seven works are fiction. People have mostly bought fiction books throughout the last five decades. So, as you can see, fiction outlives nonfiction.

Now, a generation is an average period during which children who are born become adults, and begin to have their own children. If we were to take each generation comprising about 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!


1. What does Psycho-Cybernetics talk about?

Maxwell Maltz coined the term “psycho-cybernetics” to describe our minds’ automatic success mechanism, and how we might harness it to achieve our goals. He was the first popular author to show how a person’s self-image has immense power over their ability to realize any goal.

2. Is Psycho-Cybernetics worth reading?

Psycho-Cybernetics is worth reading as it shows how we eaches how to break out of ruts and reach peaks of success using our inbuilt success mechanism (“cybernetics”), and achieve happiness and success in life. Its principles can be applied to many life domains, like personal development, relationships, and business. Its techniques help in fulfilling our seven needs, like love and security.

3. Is Psycho-Cybernetics a good book?

Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics is an excellent self-help book that shows how re-imagining one’s self-image positively can help one accomplish desired success in real life. The book principles and tactics to create success, even if one has been a failure. Maltz assures us that the human mind can be reprogrammed to help us get better at anything we do, whether it is our career, sports, or personal relationships.

4. Who was Maxwell Maltz?

Maxwell Maltz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1909. He graduated at the age of 15 and studied at Columbia University to receive his medical degree in 1934. Maltz became a cosmetic surgeon using hypnosis for his surgeries. He published Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960. The book was a bestseller and later named one of the 50 Best Self-Help classics of all time.

5. 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.”

6. How can psycho-cybernetics change your life?

Psycho-cybernetics is a mechanism of self-improvement and success-achievement based on changing one’s self-image. It teaches how to create a positive mindset and self-image, set major life goals, use self-discipline to defeat complacency and procrastination, and help people live a richer and happier life.

Final Words

Download the PDF version: Psycho Cybernetics Summary – PDF by THB.

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

— Maxwell Maltz

Remember, the book continues to live and breathe through more than six decades of readers. How many can compare to that?

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

• • •

How To Be Successful In Life: 50 Efficient Tips

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

Our Happiness Story!

If you liked it, please spread the word.


* Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links.