Who are you? You might answer this question by stating your name, your age, and your occupation, so let me rephrase my question: How does the image you have of yourself look like?
If you don’t understand the question or you can’t come up with a satisfying answer then this book is perfect for you. You often hear people say “We are the product of our environment” and this is true. But it is only true to a certain degree.
If we dig a little deeper, we will find that we are our self-image. And if we live as most people do, yes, this self-image is mainly influenced by our environment and our experience. Fortunately, we are not limited to these influences. We can learn to create our own self-images. Why is that important?
As you will see, our self-image dictates who we are and who we will become. Knowing about the incredible power of the self-image is nice, but it needs practice and a set of effective techniques to create a self-image that is no longer the sum of our experiences and heavily influenced by our surroundings, but rather a collection of all the characteristics we want our “best self” to portrait.
Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote the original Psycho-Cybernetics several decades ago. While first being laughed at, people quickly started to see the benefits of creating your own self-image. The book summary reviews the updated version by Dan Kennedy, who himself contributes his success to using the techniques we are going to learn about.
About Dr. Maxwell Maltz and Dan Kennedy
Dr. Maxwell Maltz graduated with a doctorate in medicine and worked in the field of cosmetic surgery when people first started to hear and learn about plastic surgery. As he worked with different clients, he began to realize that there is a difference between our appearance and our self-image.
Intrigued by this finding, he started to develop methods to improve one’s self-image. While not getting much attention in the beginning, his methods have proven over time to improve the lives of his clients.
Many of today’s most successful motivational speakers and self-help experts refer to his work and use some form of his strategies to improve the lives of athletes, housewives, and everybody who wants to improve his or her self-image and therefore his or her life.
Dan Kennedy is a business coach, consultant, strategic advisor, and the author of the „No B.S.“ book series. He regularly writes articles on business on websites like entrepreneur.com and often states how the methods of Dr. Maxwell Maltz had helped him and his clients to become more successful by working on their self-image.
Book Summary: The New Psycho-Cybernetics
Our self-image is the foundation of our performance. Some people will argue that what we are going to learn is all about imagination and therefore not applicable in real life, but you have to realize that our imagination beats willpower on any given day!
This might be hard to believe, but if you do some reading on willpower, you realize that we only get so much of it and it runs out fast. On the other hand, we never run out of our power to imagine.
Furthermore, we will learn the difference between real limits and self-imposed limits. For the average person, there is a huge difference between those two, but great athletes and peak performers use techniques to create a self-image where the self-imposed limits match the real limits. The reason for all this is the way our subconscious mind works.
1) Psycho-Cybernetics and the subconscious mind
We are what we decide to be.
It is hard to come up with anything more empowering than this. Read it again. We are what we decide to be! Which sounds like an esoteric phrase is true due to the fact, that our subconscious mind does not know the difference between reality and imagination.
Research shows that it for example doesn’t matter if you go to a golf course and practice your swing or you just sit on your couch and image doing it. Don’t get me wrong, you will not become The Rock by sitting around and imaging yourself lifting weights, but what you can do is strengthen the mind-muscle connection.
And if you go to the gym, you know how important the mind-muscle connection is in order to perform a clean repetition. In the case of the golfer, it is even easier. Here it isn’t about putting on muscle mass, it is only about performing a movement well coordinated.
This is why you hear top-athletes so often explain how they imagined themselves scoring the championship-winning point. As it is already a reality in their mind, it is only a small step to make it happen in reality. If you still think this sounds like something out of a hippie book, the next thing will get you really mad.
Your imagination can be even more powerful than a physical practice. How can this be? Look at it like this. An athlete can train almost everything in his or her practice sessions. The movements, the strategies, the counterattacks. We can simulate almost anything and everything. Everything but one thing: the emotional aspect. Do you believe, you can simulate feeling nervous?
I am talking about championship finals nervousness. I am talking about standing in a stadium filled with 90.000 people and millions on the TV and you have to score the final penalty for your team to win the world cup. You cannot simulate this in practice, but you can imagine it.
When you use imagination, include the emotional aspects. As your subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination, having imagined the above-described situations will help your performance when you find yourself in such a situation in real life.
And this is not only true for athletes. It is true for business meetings, dating, and having difficult discussions with your family. Practice is the key to mastery. How we practice is up to us.
2) Techniques for building a powerful self-image
I hope by now you see that creating a powerful self-image is important. But how exactly does such a practice session look like? There are two main techniques you can use: the theater of the mind and mental rehearsal. Both seem to be the same at first sight, but there is a slight difference between them.
Theater of mind:
Imagine walking into a theater. Image the color of the seats, feel the temperature, smell the aroma of popcorn if you like. Create your own ideal theater. Now sit down and start to watch a movie. The movie you see is about you. You are the protagonist and you do everything you want to do in the manner you want to do it. You paint your future. This can be the business presentation next Tuesday or a date. You SEE what is going to happen the way you like it.
The difference between the theater of the mind and mental rehearsal is simple. In the theater of the mind, you see how you will act like in a movie, and in mental rehearsal, you imagine it from the ego perspective. You no longer watch a movie, you really feel like being in the meeting room and having a difficult negotiation. You feel the nervousness and you feel the heat in your body. But you also stay calm regardless of these feelings.
You imagine every possible scenario. What are you going to say and how does it make you feel? What is he or she going to answer? No matter what feelings the answer provokes, you will feel it and stay calm.
This is one example of mental rehearsal. The power of this mental rehearsal lies in experiencing the feelings you are likely to encounter. When you face those situations in real life, you are less likely to be swept off your feet by your emotions as you already practiced stay calm regardless of how nervous you might be.
There are 10 points you should remember when you use the theater of the mind and mental rehearsal.
1. Vary input by learning about new topics in real life as this gives your imagination more resources to choose from.
2. Take your time to do the exercises.
3. Block out distractions.
4. Make yourself as relaxed as possible before you start.
5. Be very detailed oriented.
6. Always imagine yourself doing perfectly and being successful in the present tense.
7. Resist the interruption of the logical part of the brain.
8. Replay past successes.
9. Use both, mental rehearsal and theater of the mind.
10. Be prepared to capture great ideas in your everyday life and write them down.
3) Gaining self-confidence for a better self-image
We met the enemy, and they are us.
We all know him, and we really hate him. Even worse, sometimes we hate ourselves because of him. I am talking about the inner critic. The inner critic is the voice telling us we are not attractive enough, not smart enough, not fast enough…not good enough. When the inner critic is strong, we feel this lack of self-confidence.
What is important to notice is that most people have situational self-confidence. A professor of science might be confident in the classroom, but maybe not so confident on a basketball court.
Psycho-Cybernetics can help us deal with the inner critic and stabilize our self-confidence. We will become aware of our inner critic and also of other people who criticize us because they envy us. Just know: The more you try to achieve in life, the more you will have to face critic.
When we feel low on self-confidence, we often use pep talks to cheer ourselves up. And this works…temporarily. What we are looking for is unshakable self-confidence.
And this is possible by having a powerful self-image of a person, who is not affected by the critic of envious people or people who mean well but don’t know better. It will be important to build this character in your mind in order to become him or her in real life. Who you become in your imagination is who you will become in reality if you repeat the exercises often enough.
Self-confidence is directly connected to one critical ability. The ability of self-relaxation. We will all face situations that catch us off guard. We have to train ourselves not to lose our cool, but rather to respond with self-relaxation. Our self-image can help us tremendously with that.
Looking at my notes, I wasn’t even able to summarize half of the content of the book. Besides specific techniques for self-relaxation, Dr. Maxwell Maltz and Dan Kennedy teach us about goal setting and the 3 most common mistakes (insincerity, incongruence, imprecision), the 7 keys to happiness (purpose, environment, association, choice, habits, cheering up other people and acting as if), signs of a low self-image (constant frustration, aggressiveness, insecurity, loneliness, uncertainty, resentment, and emptiness) and they explain the importance of taking your time for building a positive self-image.
We will have to make it a part of our daily routine, as only constant repetition will bring lasting change. As they list a lot of inspiring examples, it is easy to understand how our destiny is influenced by our self-image. Creating a positive, powerful, and inspiring self-image might take time, but it is time well invested.
Personal thoughts and putting knowledge into practice
I love self-development and I consider myself to be open-minded, but I dislike esoteric stuff. You know, the stuff that sounds too good to be true. The stuff is written for one reason: To sell more books by making the solution sound easy. To be honest with you, I was very skeptical about the techniques in this book, so I decided to test them on my own. And I want to share a real-life example.
A couple of weeks after I finished the book, I had a very difficult meeting coming up. I had to explain to a person how our department will take a six-figure amount of money from his department and use it for our own investments.
Not the easiest task as you can imagine. So I went to the theater of the mind and I did my mental rehearsal. I saw myself sitting in his office and I imagined every possible way the conversation might go.
I imagined the nervousness and how I would stay calm despite the feelings. I imagined us finding a „solution“ (me taking his money) and still having a good relationship. This was my goal, this was my ideal outcome: staying calm, getting the money, saving the relationship. The day came and I have to say, I felt really well prepared. I was a little nervous but in control. Then something interesting happened.
First of all, we didn’t have the conversation in the room I imagined. Next, a person who wanted to come to support me told me minutes before the meeting that he wouldn’t support me. Not a good start. But worst of all, when we had our conversation, the guy directed the conversation in a direction I did not imagine!
The conversation went completely different from what I expected. How did it all end? I got what I asked for and we still remain a very good relationship. Even though nothing happened the way I prepared for, I was very well prepared. In my mental rehearsal, I “trained” my self-image to respond to unexpected situations.
I imagined myself being caught off guard and reacting calmly. This helped me keep my composer in real life and adapting to the situation. I used it in very different situations, even for sales negotiations, something I am not good at.
It never went the way I expected it to go, but as I was always emotionally prepared, I was relaxed and calm and got what I wanted. I am still at a point where I have to prepare for such situations specifically, but I hope that if I keep up the practice, my subconscious mind will accept my self-image. It will take some time as the practice is very time-consuming, but I find it worth the effort so far.
All the best.
Lenny Hu is a scientist at day and a self-improvement addict at night. He believes presence, gratitude, authenticity and continual personal growth are the four ingredients for living a fulfilled life. He is interested in fitness, meditation, neuroscience, psychology, studying languages and learning from everyone he meets.