Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon. He said when someone's disfigured face is corrected with cosmetic surgery, their personality usually changes dramatically. They may have avoided people out of embarrassment, but he says in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, after the surgery their social life begins to bloom. They are willing to meet new people and they're more open and communicative. They're more confident. They feel better about themselves.
In other words, when their face changes, their self-image changes with it. But it doesn't always happen. Sometimes people look dramatically different after surgery but they don't feel any different. Maltz was intrigued by these unexpected responses he saw in his patients. Psycho-Cybernetics was born from this original, curious observation.
Maxwell Maltz's interests began to turn more and more to psychology. He wanted to help these people. But how? Ultimately, his solutions were: 1) self-image psychology and 2) cybernetics (which is how he arrived at the strange name for his book, Psycho-Cybernetics).
Cybernetics is the study of self-correcting, goal-seeking mechanisms such as heat-seeking missiles or self-guided torpedoes. When you aim a missile at a target, it starts moving toward the target, but it almost immediately begins to drift off course. The purpose of cybernetic machinery is to detect this drift and make adjustments — correcting the course — aiming the missile back to the target, where it begins to drift off course again, etc.
Maltz realized human beings are like that. He said we have what amounts to a "cybernetic mechanism" in our brain. It only needs a goal and the motivation to take action, and it will help you continually correct your course until you achieve the goal.
But sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes you set a goal and take action but nothing ever comes of it. Something is blocking your achievement. That's where Maltz's self-image psychology comes in — the "psycho" part of Psycho-Cybernetics.
Let's say you have a goal of becoming a supervisor for your company. If you attain your goal, you'll have better hours, more respect, and more pay. You want the job. But you believe you're not "the kind of person" who can boss people around.
Now you've got a problem. You have a goal, but your self-image prevents you from achieving it. You may try very hard, but your self-image — your belief about what you are capable of — will prevent it from happening. All the willpower in the world can't make it happen. The only way to reach your goal is to correct your self-image.
As Maltz wrote in Psycho-Cybernetics: "Our self-image and our habits go together [because we formed our habits to fit our image of ourselves]. Change one and you will automatically change the other."
One of the most important principles in Psycho-Cybernetics is that self-image is more powerful than willpower. If your self-image conflicts with your conscious will, your self-image will always win.
A woman wrote to me recently in response to my article on sociopaths to tell me she keeps choosing sociopaths over and over again for boyfriends. She wants to change but keeps making the same mistake. This is an example of the self-image being more powerful than goals, effort, or willpower.
How can you change your self-image? Maltz had two answers: Rationality and hypnosis. Don't be put off by the word "hypnosis." It's not magical or mysterious; it simply uses relaxation and imagination to change beliefs (learn more about that here).
Rationality is the other way of changing your self-image and limiting beliefs. Click here to learn more about it.
I have recently re-discovered Psycho-Cybernetics. I read the book when I was younger, and it made an impression on me. But I re-read it because of a story in the book, You've GOT to Read This Book!. The story was written by Rudy Ruettiger, the one they made the movie Rudy about. If you haven't seen the movie, you really should. It's an inspiring true story of determination and persistence in the face of tremendous obstacles.
According to Rudy, his goal started becoming a reality after he read the book, Psycho-Cybernetics.
You may wonder why Maltz wrote about goal-setting, self-image, rationality, and hypnosis all in the same book. It's because you can't achieve a goal if your self-image conflicts with it, and the two most reliable ways to change your self-image are hypnosis and rationality (reality-checking your own limiting beliefs).
Psycho-Cybernetics is an easy read, full of interesting examples. The main message of the book is this: Set a goal, imagine it clearly and in detail — what you want, not what you don't want — and if your self-image blocks your goal, use hypnosis and rationality to change your self-image. That's Psycho-Cybernetics in a nutshell.
I have read the original Psycho-Cybernetics and also the New Psycho-Cybernetics. The new version is better.
Learn more about setting goals: The Impact of Purpose on Your Mood.
Learn more about imagining it clearly: The Only Technique You Need to Live the Life You've Always Wanted.
Learn more about using self-hypnosis: How to Relax Your Mind.
Learn more about using rationality: The Antivirus for Your Mind.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.