Summary of Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, MD, Simon and Schuster, 1960

Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, MD, Simon and Schuster, 1960

Doctor Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, noticed that most of his patients who underwent surgery to correct a major defect experienced an accompanying rise in self-esteem. However, in some cases the patient continued to have feelings of inferiority. This phenomenon led Maltz to conclude that changed physical image was not the only key to the changes he saw in personality. He felt the need to treat the whole patient rather than just the defective part that required his surgical skills.

While struggling with these ideas, Dr Maltz became interested in cybernetics. Cybernetics is based on “teleology” – the study of purpose or design – and deals with the goal-striving behavior of mechanical systems. Cybernetics attempts to explain the necessary steps of mechanical processes; to find mechanical analogies that can also be applied to humans. Scientific evidence shows that the brain and nervous system operate harmoniously in a purposeful manner, much like the components of a complex machine. Of course, man is not a machine – but he has and uses the ultimate machine: his brain.

Self-Image and Imagining
Dr Maltz, ascribing the principles of cybernetics to the brain, created the term (and the success mechanism) “psycho-cybernetics.” PC, as it is sometimes called, is based on “self-imaging” – imagining successful outcomes. Self-image is the key to human personality and human behavior; change the self-image and you change the personality and the behavior. But more than this, self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment. It defines what you can and cannot do. Expand the self-image and you expand your “area of the possible.”

The development of an adequate, realistic self-image actually does seem to imbue the individual with new capabilities, new talents, and the gifts to literally turn failure into success.

Self-image is altered by experience. It is remarkable, but experiences don’t have to involve actual events – they may be synthesized, proxy experiences created by the mind. Since the nervous system and brain do not distinguish between real and imagined experience, you can exercise your imagination to discover a “success mechanism” within yourself.

We inevitably act in accordance with our self-image. For example, if a student feels he is “dumb” in math, he will live up to that image by avoiding math homework and freezing up on tests. He will be frustrated, feeling there is nothing he can do to improve his ability, when what he really needs is to change the way he thinks about himself. Our self-image prescribes the limits for the accomplishment of our goals.

A Success Mechanism
A sense of success is a key ingredient of a positive self-image. We know that animals possess instincts that help them survive as “successful” predators, swimmers or nest-makers. In addition to our intellectual, emotional and spiritual endowments, humans also have instincts. We too are survival-oriented, but unlike other animals, whose “goals” are predetermined, we are left to select our own goals. Luckily, we are not left alone; our creative imagination allows us to consider many possibilities and goal paths.

In this creative process, the brain and nervous system act as a “servo-mechanism,” which “learns” or programs itself as it makes mistakes and receives negative feedback. This can be compared to a guided missile, making its way to a prescribed target; it uses trial and error (mistakes) as guides to correct its course.

The process of arriving at a new mental picture of yourself involves six steps:

 (1) Relax.

(2) Imagine success.

(3) “Dehypothesize” yourself from false beliefs

(4) Visualize goals (targets) as if they were already in existence.

(5) Resolve to be unafraid of making mistakes.

(6) Trust your creative mechanism to do the work.

Hypnotism is an example of the power of imagination. A hypnotized person who is told she is at the North Pole will often start to shiver. If she imagines meeting a bear on her path, she will respond with a typical “fight or flight” syndrome – rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, etc.

Imagination (really another form of hypnotism) allows us to practice new actions and attitudes. Visualizing a successful action – from a masterful golf swing to a favorable job interview – can dramatically improve performance in real life. Role-playing and rehearsal have also been employed for years to bolster confidence and competence among salespeople and actors. To make your imagination work for you, you must actually see yourself in your new role. Maltz suggests imagining yourself acting and reacting appropriately and consistently for thirty minutes each day, until your whole self-image is modified.

We all suffer from certain feelings of inferiority, and each of us is in fact inferior to others in some areas. It is not the knowledge that we are inferior, however, but the feeling of being somehow “inherently” inferior that increases our negative self-image. To counteract this feeling, remember that there is no one else exactly like you. You are not competing to be better than others; you are striving to develop – and become – yourself.

Physical and mental relaxation also may help you counteract the need to compete and conform. Imagine a beautiful and gentle scene in all its detail. Concentrate on it for a short while every day, letting your worries fade and each part of your body loosen up.

But imagination is not all there is to changing a negative complex. Actually, most learning comes about through trial and error. And we must also learn to forget our errors once they have taught us their lessons. Don’t dwell on failure; remember instead the attempts that finally worked.

Solving Problems and Being Happy
When you doubt your ability to accomplish a task, simply ask yourself why you believe you can’t do it. Then examine this belief to see if it is based on actual fact or on a false premise. Ask:

  • Is there any rationale for such a belief?
  • Could it be that I am mistaken in this belief?
  • Would I come to the same conclusion about someone else in a similar situation?

Sometimes it is best to relax your mind in problem-solving; solutions often come more freely when you are not concentrating on them. Rational thought must be accompanied by deep feeling and desire – again engendered through imagining. Picture the outcome you would like to see, and go over it again and again in your mind. (We do this very thing the other way around when we worry.) Focus on a positive image. Decide what you want to happen, not what you don’t want. Keep yourself focused on the goal.

Most of us are too hesitant; even after a decision has been made, we often sit and wonder whether we are doing the right thing. But the only way to know this for sure is to act – and find out.

We can be happy (most of the time) only if we decide to be happy. The basis of happiness is refusing to allow other people or outside events to control our responses, and dwelling instead on pleasant, joy-producing incidents. Develop the habit of being happy.

Success-oriented personalities embrace the following qualities in their thought mechanisms:

S-ense of direction







Most people, however, have formed emotional scars. They have reacted to harmful or embarrassing events in their lives by developing a thick, tough “skin,” resolving to never let anything or anyone hurt them that way again. To rid yourself of emotional scars, cultivate and balance self-reliance and forgiveness of self and others. Become your real self (a frequently hidden entity); trust your true personality. Stop worrying about what others think of you. Shake inhibitions, worry, and self-criticism by ignoring feedback that is not instructive and realizing that in most situations there is no simple right or wrong way of acting.

More and more people are turning to artificial tranquilizers to help them cope with life. However, your mind can manufacture its own “tranquilizers”; it can be trained to ignore “bells” or “signals” that previously brought on an automatic alarm reflex. A ringing telephone, for example, is a signal that someone wishes to speak with you, but you can choose whether to respond (answer it) or to ignore it (let it ring). In the same way, you should consciously understand that you are in control of deciding whether to react to an event immediately, to ignore it completely, or to utilize your natural tranquilizer (your mind) to delay response until you have rationally, creatively, and peacefully analyzed the situation.

To control your mind, relaxation (again) is crucial. If your days are hectic, a quiet room in which to “escape” may be just what you need. Another healthy method for dealing with difficult circumstances is to practice responses during times when there is no pressure – like going through a fire drill. Visualize and rehearse confident behavior in order to overcome fear in social situations, business meetings, sports, or any other area. “Non-crisis conditioning” injects you with a winning feeling and assures that you will be well prepared when it comes to doing the real thing.

Our minds are like a stereo playing a record. We each have the power to choose what kind of music is played. Psycho-cybernetics urges you to “mechanize” your responses in life by setting goals, letting your unconscious and conscious mind cultivate them, conquering negative beliefs and feelings of failure, visualizing your targets through positive experiencing, and, finally, achieving the ultimate life-goal – happiness.

This summary is from Passing Time in the Loo – highly recommended collection of summaries

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