Book Review: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

I’ve been a personal trainer in London for over 10 years now, and over these years of training clients I’ve become more and more convinced that the best way to achieve any fitness goal is to exploit the power of your mind. And the best book by far, when it comes to unleashing the power of the mind, is Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.

Psycho-Cybernetics was written back in 1960, but it was way ahead of its time. Maxwell Maltz was a successful plastic surgeon in the States, and he was puzzled by the attitudes of some of his patients whose plastic surgery was successful, but they still felt ugly inside.

Then he had an insight so profound that it inspired him to write this book, in the belief that it would help millions of people round the world to lead more fulfilling lives, and indeed over 30 million copies have been sold to date. His book is the forerunner of many self-improvement books, and probably remains the best ever.

What was this insight? After surgery, his patients looked better on the outside, but they still felt unhappy, unfulfilled, ugly. The root of the problem, Maltz realized in a eurika moment,  lay in their self image. And the solution: anyone can change their self image.

Change the self image, and you change the personality and the behaviour. The self image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment. Expand the self image and you expand the area of the possible. (Maxwell Maltz)

This book explores the psychology of self-image, and its profound effects on all our lives. But Maxwell Maltz goes further, and sets out an action plan to change your self image from a disempowering one to an empowering one. This really resonated with me when I looked back at some of my fitness clients who were having real challenges losing weight. Often the root cause of obesity is in the mind, and in particular in the self-image.

All your actions, feelings, behaviour, even your abilities, are always consistent with your self-image. In short, you’ll ‘act like’ the sort of person you conceive yourself to be. (Maxwell Maltz)

Obese clients often come to me with a range of self-limiting beliefs and emotions. The strongest belief is often that they can’t lose the weight, that they’re powerless to shift it. They’ve tried everything, and nothing works. Their parents were obese, and it’s in the genes. It’s too hard to lose the weight. They’ll be miserable if they stop eating the foods they enjoy. The health warnings about obesity are exaggerated . I’ve heard all these excuses and more. They’re all rooted in a distorted self-image and false beliefs, both of which are deeply embedded in the subconscious mind.

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What does Maxwell Maltz prescribe to break free of this mental cage? Visualisation, or ‘creative imagination’ as he calls it. You literally use your power of imagination to re-programme your subconscious mind, improve your self-image, and achieve your goals.

Maltz describes the subconscious mind as an automatic creative mechanism. Your conscious mind sets a goal or target, and your subconscious mind sets to work to achieve it. The mental images and emotions you feed into your subconscious determine the outcome.

This automatic creative mechanism within you can operate in only one way. It must have a target to shoot at. Instead of trying hard by conscious effort to do the thing  by iron-jawed willpower… you simply picture to yourself the target you want to hit, and let your creative success mechanism take over. (Maxwell Maltz)

When you visualise with emotional intensity your ideal body shape, your ideal weight, see it in your mind’s eye, and really feel the feelings of having already achieved it, you are starting to re-programme your subconscious mind, to set the co-ordinates of success. Maltz uses the analogy of a guided missile. You set the target, and the guided missile seeks out the target.

Think of visualisation as a kind of meditation, but with a very specific purpose. Maltz outlines the most effective techniques for visualisation, such as getting into a relaxed state with no distractions, and enhancing the emotional intensity of what you visualise.

I play a lot of tennis, and the same principles apply to improving my tennis game. When I go into a match with negative thoughts about my chances of winning, or negative thoughts about my own abilities, I’m sabotaging myself right from the outset. But if I enter the match in a confident and relaxed state, and focus 100% on what I can control, my performance is so much better.  Your dominant thoughts truly determine the direction of your life.

The irony is that most people reject this self-image psychology as nonsense, but that’s your  current self-image talking! But give it a chance, and you’ll see yourself and the world in a whole new light. Your current self-image will try to sabotage your attempts to change your self-image for the better. It’s like the obese person who blames other people and outside influences for their condition.  Recognise this catch-22 and understand that you can break out of its trap. 

Ever wondered how some people seem effortlessly successful, wealthy, fit and healthy, while others struggle and seem to get nowhere? The answers lie in the concepts set out in this book: the self-image, the subconscious mind, the power of visualisation, relaxed concentration, goalsetting.

Maltz makes clear that all this visualisation and positive thinking is not a substitute for action, but it is the most effective foundation for action. Don’t think you’ll achieve things with no effort on your part, or without any sacrifice, or without any obstacles to overcome. It’s a springboard for action, not a substitute for action. But with psycho-cybernetics you’ll achieve more than you would without it.

For me, the main message is that there is so much you can do to change your circumstances and yourself for the better. You have far more power over your destiny than most people realise. But you’ve got to take the initiative, because if you wait for other people to improve your life (or luck, or fate, or outside circumstances) you might be waiting for ever.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below. Have you heard of this book already, maybe you’ve even read it? Do you already make use of these concepts? Please leave a comment!



1 Comment

  • Paulo says:

    There is a book called Think and Grow Rich that has similar advices. I like the idea of you being the master of your destiny, through your beliefs and attitudes and actions. It seems to make sense. Most people are too ready to blame everyone else and everything but themself for whats gone wrong in their life. I think it is the British national sport!