I recently read a book called Psycho Cybernetics, which is probably familiar to a lot of people. Some call it the ‘original self-help book’. I have read dozens of self-help or personal development books, so I was surprised to find an idea in this book which was new to me.
It’s the idea of the ‘self-image’. Most of us who are into personal development are probably familiar with terms like ‘you become what you think about’, and with the Law of Attraction. However I found the idea of the self image ever-so-subtly different. It actually feels like a missing piece of the puzzle has just slotted into place.
I think it helps that Psycho Cybernetics is written by Maxwell Maltz, who was a plastic surgeon, and witnessed first hand the transformative effect that plastic surgery could have on the personalities of his patients.
What Maltz realised, and started to study in greater depth, was that when an aspect of someone’s appearance changed, sometimes their personality would drastically alter too. He concluded that this was because the change in appearance eliminated some negative character association – allowing the person to become comfortable with who they were. For example if a facial scar caused a person to lack social confidence, the removal of said scar would allow them to be socially ‘normal’.
The key was in the ones that didn’t work
What really interested Maltz was that the plastic surgery did not have this positive effect on everyone. Some patients would have their surgery, their appearance would change, yet they would continue to exhibit the negative characteristic that was displayed before the surgery. Some patients even refused to see that their appearance had changed – despite friends and family enthusiastically commenting on the change.
What Maltz discovered was that the plastic surgery could only change the character or personality traits of the person if the person’s self-image had been altered. Sometimes the plastic surgery would alter the individual’s self-image, but sometimes not. The problem with many people was not actually a physical defect, the problem was always the self-image which the patient’s belief system had associated with the defect.
The Power of the Self Image
Reading about the self-image really gave me an ah-ha moment in my personal development journey. Previously I have set goals, read them everyday and so forth – and this does produce some results. However what Psycho Cybernetics has taught me is that it is all about how we ‘see’ ourselves. It is all about the person we perceive ourselves to be. Not just theoretically, but vividly, imagined in the mind’s eye, day after day, after day.
In short, if we try to set goals which are not aligned with how we really see or imagine ourselves (according to our memories and beliefs), we will not achieve those goals. Those goals are not in alignment with how we believe ourselves to be.
Therefore the real work is not in setting goals, but in altering our self-image so that we see and believe ourselves as the kind of person who could achieve the goals we wish to set. Our subconscious minds work without conscious effort to achieve or ‘live up to’ the vivid images which are provided to it. Therefore if we build, over time and with practice, an image in our mind of a successful person and of the outcome we desire (in image form); our subconscious mind will automatically start to bring that image to life. It can’t do anything else – that image is what it is being given.
What doesn’t work
What many of us do is set goals for ourselves (perhaps to achieve a promotion or earn a certain amount of money), but then we worry and fret and stress and strain. In fact, all we need to do is provide a consistent picture or self-image to the subconscious and then quit worrying – for the subconscious will automatically make us act like the person we imagine ourselves to be. Trying to consciously ‘intellectualise it’ doesn’t work.
One aspect that really hit home to me from reading Psycho Cybernetics, is that we are always setting a goal of some kind. Whether we are aware of it or not we are always telling our subconscious mind something. And our subconscious mind, in turn, is always striving to create our lives in alignment with our beliefs.
Therefore our job is to take the time to consider the person that we want to be. We have to take the time to consider what we’d like to be doing, what we’d like to create, how we would like to ‘see’ ourselves. Once we know the answers to these questions (basically what do you want), then it’s up to us to think in a way that creates this self image, which the subconscious can then act upon.
See past the fears
This is why it is very important to think about what you would like to be, without constraining your thoughts with fear. If you think of something you’d like to be or do, but immediately start thinking ‘oh but I’m not that kind of person’ or ‘I’m not intelligent enough’ etc, then those fears are the reality you will receive. We must build a self image that lives into the dream we’d like to make come true. That includes personality traits and not just ‘things’ we’d like to have. It’s important to imagine ourselves as the person who is capable of accomplishing our goals, not just thinking of the goals themselves.
Include the little details
A final very important point is that details matter. A key point about the self-image is that it is built around memories (which make our beliefs). Therefore what we are doing when visualising a new self-image is effectively creating new memories to replace the old non-supportive beliefs.
So when creating your image in your mind, really notice the little details. Sights, sounds, smells, colours, even people. Doing this makes a more realistic ‘memory’ in your mind which the subconscious will act upon and bring about. And never focus on the ‘how’- the ‘how’ will come to you over time as your personality gradually changes into the one you want to build – this will happen automatically almost without you noticing.
For me the idea of the self-image is a revelation because it is very subtly different from everything else I have read about personal development. It shows me that setting goals is not enough – we also have to believe deep down that we are the person who can achieve those goals.
And this only comes through building our self-image – through daily practice, practice and more practice!