Psycho-Cybernetics Summary: Learn how to tap into the power of your subconscious mind

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psycho-cybernetics book summary
Psycho Cybernetics Summary

Psycho-Cybernetics is not about a particularly malevolent terminator. Cybernetics comes from the Greek for ‘steersman’. The book’s thesis is that the brain and nervous system are a cybernetic system (i.e. goal oriented) and that you must be aware of, and direct this system to gain control over your outcomes. After all, the top athlete and the homeless drug addict both have goals; very different goals, but goals nonetheless.

Psycho-Cybernetics is a must read; a potential life changer! This is most likely one of the top 5 personal development books ever written.

The author of Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz, discovered something fascinating about human nature in his work as a plastic surgeon. For the majority of his patients, fixing what they felt was wrong with their face or body also fixed their self image. However, this was not the case for all his patients. Dr Maltz noticed that, for some patients, their old self image remained and so too did their lack of self confidence.

Dr Maltz became interested in finding out why plastic surgery helped some people overcome their negative self image, while for others it did not. He answers this question in Psycho-Cybernetics.

The man who conceives himself to be a ‘failure‐type person’ will find some way to fail, in spite of all his good intentions, or his willpower,
even if opportunity is literally dumped in his lap.

Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics

In this Psycho-Cybernetics summary, we’re going to look at the main ideas put forward by Maxwell Maltz.

The Big Ideas in Psycho-Cybernetics

The main breakthroughs that Dr Maltz discovered during his research were that:

  • The brain and nervous system are a cybernetic system i.e. goal oriented.  Man is a goal striving being.
  • Positive thinking does not work; you must change your self image.  Self image is the key to your behaviour – you cannot achieve anything inconsistent with your self image. 
  • Self image is changed by experience (i.e. emotional experience) not by intellectual knowledge.
  • The nervous system cannot tell the difference between actual and (vividly) imagined experience. 
  • You cannot develop a new self image by willpower. You cannot merely imagine a new self image unless it is based on truth (i.e. past successes which are a justification for your new self image). 

Everyone has created a mental blueprint for who they think they are

Whether we know it or not, everyday we carry a “mental blueprint” of ourselves. This mental blueprint essentially informs how we view ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. Our mental blueprint is the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Or who we are not.

For instance, every time we tell ourselves we are “good” or “not good” at something, this is our self image or mental blueprint coming into play.

For instance, if you tell yourself that you are a messy person, this will likely manifest itself in your daily life. If you believe you are not very good at interacting with people, this belief will manifest itself in a feeling of social awkwardness or social anxiety.

Beliefs about yourself may be conscious or subconscious

We are fully aware of some of the beliefs that make up our self image. Others may lurk in the subconscious of our minds.

These beliefs are ones that may have been formed unbeknownst to us, perhaps because of something that was said to us early in our childhood, that our conscious mind cannot even remember, but that has nonetheless been embedded deep inside the subconscious.

In order to experience real change, you first have to change your self image

The reason why some of Maltz’s patients didn’t feel different after their physical defects were fixed was because they didn’t update their self image to align with their new appearance. In one example, even though a scar had been removed from a man’s face, he still acted as though the scar was present. He continued to lack self-confidence as he had before.

In his research, Maltz found that it is impossible for people to act in a way that is inconsistent with their self image. Positive thinking is not enough – if you have a negative self image, this will stop you achieving your goals.

For example, if you think of yourself as “not a morning” person, you will find it almost impossible to get up early in the morning. Sure, you might be able to do it once or twice, or even for a week, but eventually your self image will pull you back.

In order to truly experience change and achieve your goals, you have to update your self image. Redraw your mental blueprint.

The success mechanism

All animals are equipped with a “goal striving” mechanism. For example, it is a squirrel’s “goal” to find and store nuts in time for the winter.

 A squirrel is never taught how to gather nuts, nor is it taught that it needs to store them for winter. A squirrel that is born in spring has never experienced winter. However, during fall, the squirrel can be observed storing nuts to be eaten during the winter.

Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics

Humans also have a built in goal striving mechanism. Unlike the rest of the animal world, humans have the ability to imagine. Therefore, a human’s goal striving mechanism is not limited by biological or chemical factors. 

Instead of using our goal striving mechanism to survive, we can use it to create, to imagine and to move toward success.  This is what Maltz calls the “success or creative mechanism”.

The failure mechanism

We have a success mechanism, but we also have a failure mechanism. Failure is manifested when our energy is spent on negative emotions, such as worry, insecurity and resentment.

For example, when you worry, you imagine negative consequences. These negative emotions use up a lot of energy, both mental and emotional.

Instead of using all of your energy up on negative self talk, resentment, fear, insecurities, worries (worrying yourself sick sometimes), and things you don’t like, focus your energy on having positive thoughts and striving for success.

The nervous system cannot tell the difference between actual and (vividly) imagined experience

The nervous system doesn’t distinguish between real and imagined experience. There are some experiments that provide evidence for this idea. 

For example, basketball players were divided into three groups.

  • Group one practiced free throwing the basketball each day for twenty minutes
  • Group two did not practice at all 
  • Group three imagined free throwing the ball for twenty minutes each day.

Now here’s the crazy part. Group one improved by 24 percent. Group two, who didn’t engage in any practice, did not improve. But group three, who only imagined practicing and visualised successfully throwing the ball and landing the hoop, improved by 23 percent. So the group who engaged their imagination improved almost as much as the group that actually practiced throwing the ball! Now imagine what the results from both practice and imagination would be.

How the Success/Creative Mechanism works

  1. The book claims that it is not necessary to dredge up unconscious material from the past in the Freudian way in order to ‘deal with it’; you probably do not need therapy.  Instead you need to overwrite your failures (after you’ve learnt their lesson) with your successes.
  2. Think of your success mechanism as being like a guided missile system. A missile will be locked onto a target and it then guides itself towards that target. It does so by using both positive and negative feedback. The human brain and nervous system work in a similar way to the missile system.
  3. First you must imagine your target. In order to do this, you’ll have to create a very vivid and detailed image of what a successful version of you looks like. Imagine, in an incredible amount of detail, what achieving your goal will actually feel and look like.
  4. Details of feelings and emotions are important or else your nervous system won’t respond properly.  See yourself as you want to be RIGHT NOW – NOT how you are now, how you were yesterday, or want to be tomorrow.
  5. Don’t be afraid of failure or making mistakes. Just as the guided missile system responds to negative feedback, so does the creative mechanism. Your creative mechanism will detect mistakes, pivot, and keep going in a different direction.
  6. Consistency is key. You cannot have a proper goal some of the time and allow yourself to think about what you don’t want the rest of the time. You must choose to have a proper goal all of the time. Pull up the roots of the improper goals and reject them.

This Psycho-Cybernetics summary just covers the essence of the book. Psycho-Cybernetics is a must read; a potential life changer! This is most likely one of the top 5 personal development books ever written. We’d recommend that you read or listen to the book in full at least once in order to get the benefit of Maltz’s wisdom.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you liked this summary of Psycho-Cybernetics, check out some other summaries of our favourite personal development, inspirational, motivational, practical psychology and business books here.