The book Psycho-Cybernetics was written by Maxwell Maltz and Dan S. Kennedy in 1960—but people are still turning to it for self-help today. It explains the importance of goal setting for human life. This goal setting goes hand-in-hand with the self-image. As self-image impacts all areas of life, especially our desires and beliefs in what we can do, the idea is that shaping your self-image is critical to overall success.
Principles of Psycho-Cybernetics
There are several ‘principles’ associated with the idea of psycho-cybernetics, many of which have gained a great following. Some of the ideas covered in the book include:
Self-Image is Critical- The way that you see yourself is the way that you live your life. If you constantly feel like you do not work hard enough, then it will be impossible to achieve any version of success. Fortunately, regardless of how old you are and how long you have been allowing negative thoughts about yourself to run through your mind, there is a chance to change the way you think and feel about yourself. By shaping the way that you think of yourself, you shape the reality of the world that you live in. You can do this by learning to overcome negative or belittling thoughts that run through your mind. This takes conscious effort at first, but eventually it will become a mental habit to feel good about yourself—just like it was habit to feel bad about yourself.
The Ingrained Mechanism for Success- According to psycho-cybernetics, the mind is trained to go after whatever it believes it will make it successful. This means that regardless of what your goal is, as long as it is productive, the mind will keep reaching for success. An example of this is learning to ride a bike—even though most kids fall quite a few times before they learn to ride, they keep trying to do more. The problem is that this success is not always as simple as just trying to consciously work toward it. Sometimes, trying the same thing time and time again is going to produce nothing and change needs to happen.
The Power of Imagination- People practicing psycho-cybernetics are told that they have the power to imagine the person they want to be. This could be considered true to an extent. After all, knowing who you want to be or that you want to be someone else is the first step to change.
Thinking and Acting Creatively- When you think and act in a creative way, it helps overcome problems and lets you succeed in different areas of your life. The principles of psycho-cybernetics encourage people to think about their most pertinent problems they are trying to overcome just before bed. This will help them come up with ideas about what they need to do to overcome the struggle. There is actually some science behind this idea, as the mind has its best ideas when it is not under pressure. Have you ever tried to remember the name of something, whether it was a song or a person? Odds are, the harder you thought about the name, the farther it was from your grasp. This is because the mind works best to retrieve information when it is at rest. There also may be some evidence for this idea behind this, as the mind is most creative at night, when the creative right side of the brain is more active. However, as with all the principles we have seen so far, it is not enough to think of these solutions—you must actually apply them to your life.
Relaxation is Essential to Success- Psycho-cybernetics credits relaxation as an important part of releasing negativity and allowing good things to come into your life. It states that when the mind is relaxed, it becomes receptive to the messages you are sending. This means that it is a lot easier to consciously alter your thinking when you are relaxed than when you are stressed about something. Relaxing the mind does have several applications that can contribute to personal growth. It lets you silence the nagging thought that you are not good enough and leaves you more receptive to positivity—but it is not enough just to be relaxed. You also must consciously decide not to compare yourself to other people and to release negative feelings or grudges that you have held. Instead, relax your mind and realize that the only person you can compare yourself to is your past self. This is a major step in change.
Beliefs Control Actions- This book, like many others in the self-help genre, puts a lot of credit on belief. The belief that it addresses, however, has some validity. The book states that the beliefs that we have about ourselves control how we act. This is true to an extent. Someone who doesn’t feel confident in their position at work is not going to seek challenging projects and they may be overlooked by the boss. However, if they are confident in their abilities, they are going to strive to earn a promotion or a better position.
Happiness is a Habit- According to the laws of psycho-cybernetics, it is just as easy to be happy all the time as it is to be unhappy. It describes the science behind thought cycles, where one thing leads to another. You experience a feeling, which triggers a thought, which triggers an action or behavior. The key to changing behaviors in some cases, then, is overcoming the feelings that trigger them. Unfortunately, the book places too much emphasis on only focusing on the good. While this can be useful when you are trying to build your self-confidence and self-acceptance, it also sends the message that happiness is a superior emotion. This is not necessarily true, as it is important that people experience a full range of emotions. In fact, some studies even show that a higher rate of depression is linked to people who try to experience nothing but happiness, when compared to those who experience a wide range of emotions.
Phase of Success- The word ‘success’ is used to describe eight stages that a person must go through on their quest to becoming a confident version of themselves with a positive self-image. Becoming this person is necessary for achieving any version of success. Success stands for (S)ense of direction, as in your goals, (U)nderstanding the needs of yourself and others, (C)ourage, (C)ompassion, (E)steem and self-respect, (S)elf-acceptance, or learning to love yourself regardless of mistakes, and finally, (S)elf-confidence. The idea is that by following these steps that will ultimately improve your self-image, you can create a mental environment that motivates you and encourages success.
Failure of Self-Image- Before you have a thought about something, you have a feeling about it. This happens almost instantaneously, so quickly that people often do not realize that their thoughts are triggered by feelings, and not the other way around. However, feelings can also be detrimental when it comes to your self-image. The first step to avoiding these feelings about yourself is being aware of the feelings that are harmful to your perception of yourself. These include (F)rustration, (A)ggressiveness, (I)nsecurity, (L)oneliness, (U)ncertainty, (R)esentment, and (E)mptiness.
Releasing Thoughts of the Past- One of the biggest problems that people who struggle with their self-image is what is known as ‘emotional scarring’. Basically, the emotional scarring is the harm that we cause to ourselves by carrying around our pain and baggage from the past. To become the best version of yourself, you have to let go of the insecurities and other issues that you have with the past. While this idea might be true, the book states that you can do this by making a conscious effort to let go of the old feelings that you held to be true. This might be effective to an extent, but this is something easier said than done. Even relaxing your physical body and mind, to the point where it is receptive to new ideas, might not give the results that people are expecting. This is especially true when there is a deeper, underlying reasons for the negative feelings.
Turn Crisis into Opportunity- According to psycho-cybernetics, the most successful people take stress and make it work for them. The idea is that instead of looking at a situation and seeing it as obstacle that must be overcome, it can be looked at as an opportunity for success. The best thing to grow into a better version of yourself is stepping outside of your comfort zone. However, you should not set the bar too high unless you have smaller milestones to guide you toward a large goal. By setting realistic goals and using stress to grow instead of letting it defeat you, you can start living a better, more fulfilling life.
Why Psycho-Cybernetics Doesn’t Work
The first mistake in the ideas behind psycho-cybernetics is that they rely on ‘laws’. In the world of pseudoscience, or any science for that matter, laws are definite. They describe things that can be repeated every time that a situation arises. However, psycho-cybernetics are far from being definitive laws. They are a collection of ideas that can improve self-image and thus contribute to success, but follow the same steps will not help people every single time.
Though psycho-cybernetics is held in high regard in the pseudoscience field, it is actually a type of pop psychology. Pop psychology, or popular psychology, simply describes strategies that have become popular among the masses. It is almost a trend—though this is a trend that has been around for 70-80 years.
Another reason that the ‘principles’ of psycho-cybernetics fall flat as a self-help technique is because it shares some of the same ideas as the law of attraction regarding thinking about something and making it happen. Simple thought is not enough to change anything—a willingness and desire to change has to exist as well. Then, only actionable steps are going to improve your life.
Think of it this way. Even having the most persistent thoughts and an innate desire to succeed cannot change the reality of repetitive human behaviors. It is easy to get stuck in a loop, performing the same action over and over again until we see results. However, sometimes the persistence and a willingness to try is not enough.
Do you remember trying to learn a bike as a child? To stop yourself from falling over, you had to constantly adjust your balance. The reason that you went from not knowing how to ride a bike to succeeding was because you had a desire to succeed. It was in your nature to keep trying. However, adjustments were made each time that you fell down and got up. You positioned your body differently and learned which muscles you needed to use to balance. Eventually, you were able to ride forward without falling over.
When you fail to do something or want to do something, you have to make adjustments and changes to get it right. If you continue to do the same thing repeatedly, you are going to get the same results. If you climb on your bike and lean to the left, fall down, and then climb on the bike and lean to the left again, you are going to fall again. Progress requires change—you cannot do the same thing on repeat and expect anything to be different. By refusing to change or adjust, you are holding yourself back from success.
Finally, psycho-cybernetics is not effective because even though it can be helpful to adjust your self-image and use your thoughts to imagine the person that you want to be, it still is not enough to encourage change on a deep level. It is natural to want to take the shortcut. One of the reasons self-help books are so popular is because they don’t require the same amount of time as therapy to get results (supposedly). However, this makes it nearly impossible for psycho-cybernetics to have the intended effect on self-image if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
Oftentimes, people cannot improve their self-image if there is a problem they are avoiding. It is not enough to ignore or avoid the negative thoughts that go through your head—you must deal with what is causing these thoughts. Often, it is a certain feeling that causes the thoughts. Only by identifying these emotional triggers can the thoughts be completely stopped.
For example, an adult who has anxiety may have panic attacks when their house is messy, because their parents raised them that it was unacceptable. This might cause them to be irritable or snappy, or they may lose out on a social life because they spend so much time making sure their house is spotless. Ignoring the idea that the house needs cleaned is not going to help—learning to accept that everything in life is not perfect all the time is. However, because that person was raised in that way, they have to alter the subconscious thought at the core of their being.
While have a clear goal of the self-image that you want to have of yourself helps keep you focused, you have to seek change to make it happen. The person with anxiety may tell themselves that the house does not need cleaned and go out with friends—only to have an anxiety attack again while they are out or when they come back home. They can imagine that they are a person who does not struggle with anxiety, but the reality is that they do. It is going to take a lot of digging and re-evaluating their thoughts to stop their persistent anxiety.
The laws of psycho-cybernetics also leave out another critical element of the process when becoming new—being willing to accept criticism. The desire to change comes from a deep, burning desire to make things different in your life. Before you can have this desire, you have to know what your biggest flaws and errors are. Goal-setting and visualization can be very helpful, but it is not enough unless you are taking actions to become this person that you want to be.
The emphasis on the quest for happiness is another problem in Psycho-cybernetics, as few people know what will truly make them happy. Happiness is a state of being. It describes the wellness and general satisfaction that a person has from their life. However, the quest for what the world defines as ‘happiness’ is detrimental to self-help—especially when you consider the facts that experiencing a wide range of emotions creates a lower likelihood of depression. Living through a wide range of emotions is also important for rising to the different circumstances that you may encounter in life. It prepares you for the inevitable ups and downs in life—because no matter how positive you are, there will be downs. Knowing how to deal with these down periods are what sets apart those who fake positivity and happiness and those who truly live in it.