Summary of Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Short summary: 2 min

Long summary: 22 min

Book reading time: 8h22

Score: 10/10

Book published in: 1960

Access the Summary Database


  • The mind is made up of two parts: the conscious and the subconscious.
  • The subconscious hosts a “machine” that constantly strives to achieve a goal, whatever goal it is.
  • The purpose of the conscious is to give that machine a (meaningful and positive) goal.
  • The conscious should not try to achieve the goal by itself. It should let the subconscious achieve it.
  • We become what we feed our subconscious. We become what we think.

Table of Contents

What Psycho-Cybernetics Talks About

Psycho-Cybernetics is a book written by Maxwell Maltz. It explains how the mind works and how you can use it to positively impact and change your life. I learned that the life you have is equal to the self-image of the life you allow yourself to have. If you change your self-image, you will change your life.

This book is one of the best books on psychology I have ever read.

It easily shares the podium with Personality Isn’t Permanent.

It’s the foundational self-help book. Everything else you will read in self-help came from Psycho-Cybernetics (and Think and Grow Rich).

I can only recommend it.

If you like the blog, you will love this book.


Get the book here.

NB: Before we start, you should know that Success Mechanism, Creative Mechanism, and Automatic Goal-Striving Mechanism all designate the same thing.

Short Summary of Psycho-Cybernetics

The mind is made up of two parts.

  • The conscious
  • The subconscious.

The conscious is “the driver”. The subconscious is “the car”.

Inside the subconscious, there is an automatic goal-striving mechanism that constantly seeks to achieve a goal. What goal? The goal you (the conscious) give it.

That goal is the overall image you have of yourself and of the world. If your self-image is someone that cares about others and is loved by others, your goal-striving mechanism will make you behave to fit with that image.

Likewise, if your self-image is someone nobody likes, then your goal-striving mechanism will make you act as such.

This explains why we become what we think.

As you expand and change your self-image, you feed your automatic goal-striving mechanism different goals that enable you to grow.

Don’t fret too much about how you can achieve a goal. That’s the subconscious’ work. Your job is to find a goal, and give it to your subconscious.

Do not force it. Let it be, trust it.

When you intervene consciously in a subconscious process, you jam it up and prevent it from working normally.

Summary of Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

Most discoveries in a field come from outside of that field. The Wright brothers were bicycle repairmen yet made significant discoveries in aeronautical engineering. Einstein was a mathematician who made discoveries in physics, etc.

Psycho-cybernetics follows the same principles.

When humans started to build computers, they found theories about how these systems worked. They decided to see if they could apply these theories to humans.

The result is psycho-cybernetics.

Psycho-cybernetics asserts that one’s limits are due to how one sees himself.

image 17
You are how you think you are.

If you improve and expand your self-image, your results will improve and expand as well.

image 19
You expand only as much as you allow yourself to.

If you can’t improve your results, it is because your self-image is too restrictive.

-> Your self-image dictates the boundaries of your achievements.

Self-image is changed by “experiencing”.

You can change your self-image when you change the experience you have of your past.

Children who experience love grow up healthy and happy.

People who experience confidence and success are confident and successful.

So, what is success?

Success is the satisfactory realization of a goal.

-> Success and happiness go hand in hand, and enhance each other.

Chapter 1: The Self-Image: Your Key to a Better Life.

Self-image is the most important discovery of the 20th century.

The self-image is built consciously or unconsciously from your past experiences.

Once a belief about yourself enters your self-image, you enact it, without thinking about whether it was there already, or not.

The self-image is key to changing your life because all of your actions, feelings, behaviors, and abilities are consistent with this self-image.

People that believe they were meant to suffer will invariably suffer. People that believe they are meant to succeed will succeed.

image 20
Psycho-cybernetics, in a nutshell.

Second, your self-image can change.

If you want to live well, you must have an adequate and realistic self-image that you can live with.

You must accept yourself.

The good news is that even if you don’t, you have a life force, an instinct, that makes you strive towards happiness.

It is located in the subconscious, and the best explanation we have for it is an automatic goal-striving mechanism called Creative Mechanism (CM).

While most people think that the subconscious drives the conscious, the truth is actually the opposite.

If you have a poor image of yourself, this automatic goal-striving mechanism will make you do stuff that will make your image of yourself poor. And the other way around.

The Creative Mechanism is constantly at work to realize the picture you have of yourself.

-> your self-image both limit and determine your performances and goals.

The Creative Mechanism (CM) uses whatever information you feed it.

If you feed it garbage thoughts, it will create garbage results.

The first step is to learn how to use the CM as a success mechanism instead of a failure mechanism.

You need to learn, practice, and experience new habits of thinking, imagining, remembering, and acting in order to:

  1. Develop an adequate and realistic self-image.
  2. Use your Creative Mechanism to bring success and happiness in achieving particular goals.

Chapter 2: Discovering the Success Mechanism Within You

Every living thing has a CM to help it achieve a goal.

Animals feed their CM the need to find food, avoid predators, and reproduce.

To fulfill these goals, Nature gave them certain instincts – the bird knows how to build a nest and the squirrel knows that he needs to hide nuts in autumn.

Basically, it’s a success instinct.

Mankind also received one. It’s called imagination.

As we said, your brain and nervous system make up an automatic goal-striving mechanism.

You have two types of situations in which the mechanism acts:

  1. Your target/purpose is known and your goal is to hit it.

Eg: picking up the pen. Your brain takes care of contracting the right muscles to achieve the goal.

2. The target is not known and must be found.

Eg: the room is dark. You don’t know where the pen is. You have to search for it.

When you know the purpose (getting the pen), you have already done 50% of the work because you know what you are searching for.

Your CM goes to work and assembles pieces of information you already know to create your desired result.

But that’s not all.

Most great minds believed that as humans, all of our brains are somehow connected together.

Whatever is inside does not exclusively belong to us. That we could have memories we hadn’t “lived” and access information we hadn’t learned.

Today, science has confirmed that everyone has access to a higher power, a higher source of information that sets them out for success automatically: you. You are more than just you.

Exercise: Get a New Mental Image of Yourself.

Your negative beliefs are false because based on a false self-image.

They are also dangerous. To understand why, you need to understand how your automatic goal-striving mechanism works.

  1. Your Success Mechanism never rests. It is constantly working towards a goal to achieve. If the goal is unknown, it encourages you to find one.
  2. The Success Mechanism does not choose goals. Choosing a goal is your job. What the SM does is achieve the goal. It takes care of the “how”, so don’t worry too much about it. Think first about your goal. If you don’t have a goal, the “how” won’t come to you.
  3. Don’t worry if you fail. Failure is the only way to learn. Everything valuable was built on top of negative feedback.
  4. Learning happens by trial and error. Once the correct answer has been found, the errors are forgotten and that answer stays.
  5. TRUST yourself. Don’t jam your CM by interfering. Let your subconscious work. You need to trust it as it works spontaneously, responding to present needs -> you don’t have any guarantees that it will work in the future because it doesn’t solve future problems! Your CM will work as you are taking action. Act now, your CM will come through.

To reach results, you need a happy, positive, and successful image that your CM can work towards.

This image has to be based on truth, and you need to believe in it, otherwise, you won’t be able to get rid of the precedent image.

image 21
You and your SM.

Chapter 3: Imagination: The First Key to Your Success Mechanism.

Imagination’s role is vastly underrated.

Just like the automatic mechanism, imagination is a tool. You can use it for creationist purposes, or destructive purposes.

Imagination is also responsible for the goal you give your automatic mechanism -> it’s more important than intelligence because imagination can conceive that which does not yet exist.

Furthermore, we act and think in accordance with what we imagine is true.

Tell a hypnotized person that they are at the North Pole and they will shiver. Tell someone fully awake that their finger is burning and the body temperature will rise.

The nervous system makes little difference between what we imagine, and what really happens.

In both cases, it reacts accordingly.

It’s because it has been trained to do it automatically. If you see a bear, you will not think. You will run.

But what we didn’t know is that the brain and the nervous system that react to the environment are the same that tell us what the environment is.

If you meet a bear, it’s not the emotion that gets you to get the hell out.

It’s the idea of the bear that triggers the emotion.

You react according to the image your mind holds for true.

As long as the image in your mind is true, no problem.

The fact that imagination feels like reality to your nervous system is something you can take advantage of with role-playing (we will speak about shadowboxing later on).

Role-playing is imagining a situation or a problem in your mind and solving it. It has the same impact, the same effect, as actual training.

The author gives several examples of sports players, musicians, salespeople, country leaders, scientists, etc that rehearsed solving a problem or practicing in their mind, and got amazing results.

You must have a clear mental picture of something before you can do it successfully.

The idea of the self-image is not to overrepresent yourself. In fact, it wouldn’t be possible.

The majority of people with a superiority complex actually hide an inferiority complex. On top of that, the overwhelming majority of people sell themselves short.

Practical exercise: spend 30 minutes every day closing your eyes and imagining a mental movie of yourself succeeding at something you want to succeed at. Do it every day for 21 days at least, then you will see the results.

Chapter 4: Dehypnotize Yourself from False Beliefs

When people are bad at something, it’s often because they think they’re inherently bad at it.

Eg: the student that believes he is bad at math; the businessman that believes he sucks at public speaking, etc.

All of these people become extremely good once they changed their beliefs.

Change the beliefs -> change the result.

Ideas you believe have the same power over you as a hypnotist. If you want to improve your results, you need to get rid of the bad ideas.

When a hypnotist tells a bodybuilder he is not strong enough to carry a pencil, the bodybuilder can’t carry it. He has the strength to, but he doesn’t believe.

In order to unlock your potential, you are going to have to change your beliefs of inferiority.

These beliefs are not based on facts, but on conclusions, we make about facts. These beliefs are caused by a feeling.

image 22
A self-fulfilling prophecy.

As you see, Nicolas judges himself not against himself but against others. When we do that, we almost always lose.

The following quote is from the book:

The person with an inferiority complex invariably compounds the error by striving for superiority. His
feelings spring from the false premise that he is inferior. From this false premise, a whole structure of
“logical thought” and feeling is built. If he feels bad because he is inferior, the cure is to make himself as
good as everybody else, and the way to feel really good is to make himself superior. This striving for
superiority gets him into more trouble, causes more frustration, and sometimes brings about a neurosis
where none existed before. He becomes more miserable than ever, and “the harder he tries,” the more
miserable he becomes.

Feelings of superiority and inferiority come from the same root. The truth is that you are neither inferior, nor superior. You are just you.

“You” is not in competition with anyone else simply because there is nobody else like you.

So relax and stop comparing yourself to others, as these are the wrong metrics.

Dr. Norton L. Williams, a psychiatrist, addressing a medical convention, said that modern man’s
anxiety and insecurity stemmed from a lack of self-realization, and that inner security can only be found
“in finding in oneself an individuality, uniqueness, and distinctiveness that is akin to the idea of being
created in the image of God.” He also said that self-realization is gained by “a simple belief in one’s own
uniqueness as a human being, a sense of deep and wide awareness of all people and all things, and a
feeling of constructive influencing of others through one’s own personality.”

The first step in getting rid of your false beliefs is to RELAX.

Your beliefs are made in a relaxed and effortless context. Getting rid of them must follow the pattern.

It has been shown how the more efforts you make to change a belief or cure a bad habit, the more difficult it is to change them. In fact, Dr. Dunlap found that making a strong effort to break a bad habit…reinforced the habit.

Emile Coué said that suggestions must be made without effort if they are to be effective.

It’s the use of force and efforts that prevent people from using their inner strength.

When imagination and will are in conflict, imagination always wins.

Dr. Dunlap found that the best way to break a bad habit is to make a mental image of the desired result and practice with no effort to reach that goal.

The goal is critical. If the individual does not have a goal to tend toward by breaking the bad habit or developing it, he will fail.

Overall, breaking a bad habit is a bit like worrying. The more you make efforts not to be worried, the more you will be worried. The key is to relax.

Practical exercise to abandon false beliefs:

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfy chair.
  2. See yourself from a third point of view lying down or in your chair. Your leg becomes concrete, and super heavy. Then your arms, then your head, your neck,r. Mistakes should be memorized until the right course of action is found. After that, they can be forgotten. A friend comes and tries to move one of your limbs, they are too heavy. Repeat for each limb.
  3. Now, you are a marionette doll. Your hand, head, etc are attached to strings. Your body is super loose and all sprawled across the bed or chair.
  4. Now, your body and limbs are latex balloons. Two valves off your feet open and the air is getting out. Your legs are flattening. Repeat for every other limb and body.
  5. Now go back to a memory where you were super chilled and relaxed, and remember as many details as possible.

Chapter 5: How to Utilize the Power of Rational Thinking

The best way to change bad beliefs is to use reason (people are often disappointed to hear that).

The conscious orientates the subconscious. If you don’t change the conscious, the rest won’t change either.

image 23
The way the mind works.

When it comes to mistakes we have made in the past, most of them are best buried in the past.

The notion that they should be dug out is false.

Humans learn through trial and error. Mistakes should be memorized until the right course of action is found. After that, they can be forgotten.

You can’t be happy if you constantly focus on the bad things you did.

People focused on negative experiences constantly relive the past and blame themselves instead of just letting it go. Such a constantly self-criticizing attitude does not help anyone.

So ignore past failures and focus on the future.

Most feelings can be traced to a belief you have about yourself, hence the need to look at it objectively and with reason.

To quote the book directly.

Does “something always happen” that causes you to miss out just when success seems within your grasp? Perhaps you secretly feel “unworthy” of success, or that you do not deserve it.
Are you ill at ease around other people? Perhaps you believe you are inferior to them, or that other people per se are hostile and unfriendly.
Do you become anxious and fearful for no good reason in a situation that is relatively safe? Perhaps you believe that the world you live in is a hostile, unfriendly, dangerous place, or that you “deserve punishment.”

To find the belief behind a feeling or behavior, ask yourself why you feel this way, or do these things. What is behind there?

Once you got the answer, ask whether this belief is based on a true fact or assumption, or on a false premise.

Then ask yourself the following:

  1. Are there any rational reasons for such beliefs?
  2. Could the belief be wrong?
  3. Would you make the same conclusion about someone else in your exact situation?
  4. Why would you keep on acting as if it was true if it’s not?

Rational thoughts, to be effective, must be accompanied by deep feelings and desire. If you want to get rid of the belief that makes you mean to people, you need to desire to be nice to people.

Imagine that you have everything you ever wanted to have. Generate enough desire and the old ideas and thoughts will be canceled.

Doing so, you replace “what if it doesn’t work” thoughts with “what if it does?”

Always focus on the possibilities and gains.

Your automatic mechanisms will naturally strive to realize what you think about, hence the need to think about goals.

It’s important you feed it true, actual facts so that you can deal with your environment appropriately.

To quote Coué, “always think of what you have to do as easy and it will become so“.

Decide what you want – not what you don’t want.

You need to keep your eyes on the prize. That’s the job of the conscious.

It’s not your job though, to do the job of the unconscious.

Eg: if you force creativity, it won’t come. Creativity stems out of the subconscious, so trust it and trust yourself with this.

Leave a Reply