Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz is the first book I read after graduating college and it was one of the best investments I ever made.
The book helped me shift the way I think about life and what’s possible.
Don’t get freaked out by the strange title either. Psycho-Cybernetics is worth investing in if you’re serious about optimizing your life.
Self-image plays a pivotal role in your life. The way you perceive yourself will dictate how well you navigate the labyrinth of life. If you’re interested in self-help and development or in changing any aspects of your personality or behavior, you will have to first change the deeply ingrained idea of who you believe you are.
After graduating from college, the world seems like yours for the taking, but the possibility is a double-edged sword. As thrilling as the world of opportunity is, it can also be crippling. Too many options and very little direction can easily stray a young adult off their path. After I graduated from college, I stumbled upon a book that would guide me and continues to guide me still, through life.
One of the self-help classics, Psycho-cybernetics was written by Maxwell Maltz in 1960. Maltz, who was both a plastic surgeon and a psychologist wanted to answer a question he kept stumbling upon during his practice. After performing countless plastic surgeries, (typically ones to fix deformities) he realized that even though he changed a person’s physical appearance, their life didn’t fundamentally change.
Dr Maxwell Maltz came to realize that the patients who did change their lives were able to do so because of the idea of who they were also changed. Luckily, the book helped me find a sense of direction to the personal development of my self-esteem without having to go under the knife.
Here are the key takeaways and most actionable insights from Psycho-Cybernetics book review:
10 Actionable Insights from Psycho-Cybernetics
- Work on how you perceive yourself
- See and experience your goals before they happen
- Take the first step (even if it’s small)
- Remember that you compete against yourself
- Set YOUR standards
- Make mistakes
- Reframe how you think about projects
- Live and act at the moment
- Be happy now
- Set goals for yourself, not other people
1. Work on how you perceive yourself
The person you believe yourself to be is reflected in every action, decision, and eventually, the outcome of your life. For example, if you believe you are great at math, chances are you ARE really good at math. That belief compounds every time you get the correct answer or easily solve a problem in your head. The same applies to the opposite belief. If you think you are terrible at math, you will either avoid it at all costs, never developing your ill-perceived math abilities, or convince yourself you are every time you aren’t able to solve the problem.
It all comes down to positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk is the first obstacle in developing the quality of life you want.
Don’t confuse positive thinking with positive self-talk. Positive thinking doesn’t work beyond the superficialities. Self-image improvement begins with the way you speak to yourself.
I learned about “self-talk” when I was trying to improve as a baseball pitcher in college. After reading a few books, I discovered that my pitching struggles had nothing to do with my physical ability. It had everything to do with my internal self-talk. When things didn’t go well, I was devastatingly brutal on myself, not only after the game was over but while I was playing. The negative self-talk would cause my pitching to get progressively worse throughout the game and by the end, I didn’t believe I had any pitching abilities at all. For a while, my self-image was “someone who can’t throw strikes”.
In my efforts to improve, I picked up a few baseball pitching books. I was shocked to discover that most of these books focused very little on technique or the physical aspects of pitching. Instead, they focused on the mental game of the sport. This epiphany changed everything for me.
I realized that in order for me to improve at pitching, I had to change the internal dialogue I was having with myself. After a while, I started to pitch better, and that convinced me that I was a better pitcher and eventually my self-image changed to some who can and does throw strikes.
This leads us to the next insight of Psycho-Cybernetics…
2. See and experience your goals before they happen
Your mind doesn’t know the difference between an imagined and a “real” experience. If you’ve seen the movie Inception, you know what I mean.
So, here’s a little existential question for you:
Most people answer with a confident “No” (while silently asking themselves if you’re mentally all there) but let’s think about this for a moment. How many times have you been “dreaming” (what we define as dreaming anyway) and felt it was real? That’s the power of our mind and imagination. Dr Maltz in Psycho-Cybernetics argues that a human being can tap into our subjective reality for the better.
The most actionable way to leverage this principle is through visualization.
Spend a few minutes each day visualizing your goals. I know you’ve heard this advice hundreds of times, but that’s for a reason – it works. Do not underestimate how powerful this practice is. You need to see and feel your goals before you can achieve them.
“If we picture ourselves performing in a certain manner, it is nearly the same as the actual performance. Mental practice helps to make perfect.” – Psycho-Cybernetics, Page 35
When I am visualizing my goals, it helps me to think about what it looks like when I’ve actually achieved whatever goal I was chasing. How do I feel? What does this achievement mean for me? How do I utilize this success towards the pursuit of the next goal? The clearer you can see the goal, the better your subconscious mind can work towards achieving it.
3. Take the first step (even if it’s small)
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“Do the thing and you will have the power.” – Psycho-Cybernetics, Page 29
Most quality goals seem impossible when you’re looking at them on the surface.
Let’s say one of your goals for 2021 is to write 12, 3,000-word blog posts. Immediately, you are overwhelmed by the thought of all the work that would entail. And in most instances, that is enough reason to abandon the seemingly impossible task.
That’s why it’s critical to set the high-level goal first. Then break down that goal into smaller, easier goals. It’s much easier to write 100 words per day as opposed to 36,000.
4. Remember that you compete against yourself
You are not inferior or superior to any other human. As Maxwell Maltz says:
“You are simply You.” – Psycho-Cybernetics, Page 57
Focus on how the “you” of tomorrow is going to be better than the “you” of today. If you aren’t beating what you were yesterday then you’re not moving in the right direction to find your best self.
Growth is happiness.
5. Set YOUR standards
We are conditioned to believe that other people’s standards are our own. Social norms and pressures have ingrained these ideas well into our psyche and when we fail to meet them, we feel like failures. The only standard that matters is your own. We all have different ideals, different perspectives on what makes a good life.
Trusting yourself and the vision you have for yourself and your life will make the standards of others seem unrelated.
“Stop measuring yourself against “their” standards. You are not “Them” and can never measure up. Neither can “they” measure up to yours – nor should they. Once you see this simple, rather self-evident truth, accept it and believe it, your inferior feelings will vanish.” – Psycho-Cybernetics, Page 58
6. Make mistakes. The more, the better.
Maxwell Maltz writes that our mistakes are building blocks for success. You’ve heard this a million times before, but it’s true. The more mistakes you make, the more experiences you attain, which means more knowledge. Those experiences transcend through a multitude of areas in your life and the knowledge from a seemingly unrelated “mistake” becomes incredibly useful, and give you unlimited power Maltz states.
The mistakes you make don’t make you less of a person because you’ve made them. No one who has ever tried to accomplish something great did it on their first try. I wouldn’t take back a single mistake or “failure” because they were all necessary (however painful they were at the time) steps for getting me to where I am today.
I also know that I’m not done making mistakes. I will most likely make a few up until the very end and I welcome them all. I know I’ll feel as if I “lost” or “failed” on the surface. But those are signals that I’ll need to break through plateaus and reach new goals.
Embrace failure, even if may seem scary at first. The end result will be worth it.
7. Reframe how you think about projects
Persuade yourself to believe that what you have to do today is easy and you will be more likely to accomplish it. Putting things into perspective takes away the anxiety and dread you feel for the day.
When I have a big project to do, I always ask myself “Is it really that hard to verbalize my thoughts into this document?” The answer is not really. But the more important question is, is it easy for me to do so because I’ve conditioned myself to believe that. I believe so.
Think back to when you were given a really big project to do, maybe a shared one. And you expressed your anxiety and the pressure you felt to them. If that person told you it will be a piece of cake, you’ve done a ton of these before –you would feel more at ease and start to think the same.
Become that person for yourself. There’s no need to psych yourself out, everything that you have to do today can easily be done. You’ve done it before.
8. Live and act at the moment
You can’t change yesterday’s emotional scars and you can’t control what tomorrow brings. The only thing you have any power over is the present moment. I can choose to continue writing this article or I can choose to clean my desk. I’m choosing to continue writing because I know it’s a higher impact action.
I know it can make a positive impact on other people’s lives. Cleaning my desk will only impact my wife’s life. Plus, the mess isn’t going anywhere. It will be there for me to clean after I’ve completed the higher impact task.
This flows into the next insight…
9. Be happy now
I’ve struggled many times throughout my life to “be happy” despite having everything I would ever want.
It wasn’t until I realized that “to be happy” is a terrible goal.
You will never “be happy”. You just have to be happy now.
Happiness is a habit. You must practice it at every moment.
The cliché “smell the roses’ comes to mind. It’s the little things that bring simple joys and happiness.
There isn’t a person, or accolade, or material object that will bring me any more happiness in the future than you or I have right now. Be happy right now, at this precise moment. But don’t listen to Psycho-Cybernetics, and don’t listen to me, listen to a man much wiser than me.
Abraham Lincoln said:
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Psycho-Cybernetics, Page 99
10. Set goals for yourself, not other people
Some “goals” are nothing more than an attempt to impress others. People believe that by setting and achieving goals, they’ll impress others.
This is a terrible motive and will not bring you happiness.
The only reason to set and work towards any goal is to impress yourself. Knowing that you put all your heart and soul and made your dreams a reality will bring you a deep sense of purpose that will give meaning to your life. You flexed your creative muscle and took control of your life. And steered it towards something tangible and quantifiable.
Setting goals and accomplishing goals is for YOU.
“Success” isn’t defined by other people. Create your definition of success. And then go attain it.
I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of Psycho-Cybernetics. I really believe it’s a book worth investing in and really incorporating into your life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without reading Psycho-Cybernetics. Yes, it’s that serious.
Thank you so much for reading and let me know what you think about the book!