How to Program Your Mind for Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is it possible to condition yourself for success? How can you make yourself act in ways that are conducive to your goals?

According to Maxwell Maltz, the author of Psycho-Cybernetics, your mind works similar to a machine. Therefore, he argues, you can program yourself to act in a goal-oriented way—the key is to learn to use your imagination constructively.

In this article, we’ll explore how to program your mind for success, according to Maltz.

Use Your Imagination to Create Success

In his book Psycho-Cybernetics, author Maxwell Maltz explains how to program your mind for success using cybernetic principles. At the crux of this idea is his concept of self-image (what you believe is true about yourself). Maltz argues that your self-image is not a real thing. It’s simply a construct of thoughts you chose to think about past experiences: thoughts that often don’t reflect reality because they’re fuelled by your imagination.

Since your self-image is a result of imagination, you can use your imagination to “dehypnotize” yourself and program yourself to act in a goal-oriented way.

Maltz argues that the first step to reprogramming your self-image is becoming conscious of whether you’re using your imagination constructively (to create positive thoughts and feelings) or deconstructively (to create negative thoughts and feelings).

If you’re using your imagination deconstructively, Maltz argues that you need to make a conscious effort to instead use it to form a clear mental picture of yourself as successful—this will allow you to practice feeling successful, and will ultimately improve your approach to life. To replace existing negative beliefs with new successful beliefs, you need to create equally strong impressions in your mind—that is, you need to create positive feelings of excitement and desire. These positive feelings must outweigh your negative feelings so that your self-image can take notice of them and begin to accept them.

  • For example, you have a job interview coming up. You start to worry about all of the bad things that could happen. The more you think about these bad things, the more anxious you feel. You create such a strong impression in your mind associating your anxious feelings with the job interview. The result is that as soon as you think of your job interview, your mind immediately imagines a negative outcome—your subconscious expects you to feel anxious and uncomfortable at this job interview. To reverse this, you need to create a strong positive impression in your mind so that your subconscious expects you to feel confident and successful at this job interview.

The Process to Change Your Self-Image Using Your Imagination

Maltz explains that changing your self-image uses the same machine-like process you follow to successfully achieve any goal:

  1. Focus on the end result (feeling successful) and let your subconscious mind find the way.
  2. Understand that your subconscious mind is impersonal (like a machine). It will work to achieve the goals that your self-image sets for it. If your self-image presents it with positive goals, it will move you towards success. However, if your self-image presents it with negative goals, it will move you towards failure. You must visualize and feel what you want internally before you can experience it in reality—your subconscious will produce results that are consistent with your self-image.
  3. Remember that your mistakes are necessary steps in the learning process— they help direct you towards your goal by providing necessary feedback. Analyze your mistakes so that they help you to understand how to move towards your goal (like a machine processes negative feedback). Then forget your mistakes (don’t focus on them) and focus on where you intend to go. If you don’t forget them, your subconscious might interpret your mistakes as goals to move towards.
  4. Relax as much as possible throughout this process and trust it to work for you. The more relaxed you are, the more likely your subconscious accepts the positive goals you set it to work on.
The Success Process According to the Law of Attraction

Maltz’s ideas and techniques continue to inform and inspire self-help practitioners, motivational gurus, and sports psychologists. Some self-help practitioners use his techniques to present an entirely different premise to Psycho-Cybernetics. For example, Law of Attraction practitioners claim that the universe creates your reality according to your thoughts, and amend Maltz’s process as follows:

Focus on the end result (what you want) and let the universe find its way.

Understand that the universe is impersonal. It will deliver things that match your frequency. You must visualize and feel what you want internally before you can experience it in reality—the universe can’t produce results that are inconsistent with your frequency.

Remember that you get what you focus on—if you focus on what you don’t want (your mistakes and limitations), the universe will interpret this as an instruction to deliver more disappointing experiences. Knowing what you don’t want is only useful for providing signals about what you do want—only ever focus on what you do want.

Relax as much as possible and trust that the universe is on your side. The more relaxed you are, the more likely the universe is to respond to your positive suggestions.
While both Maltz and Law of Attraction practitioners assert that how you perceive yourself impacts your reality, there’s an important distinction between the two theories: Maltz encourages you to take action, whereas the Law of Attraction encourages you to be passive.

Active: Maltz encourages you to change your inner life so that you can feel motivated and take actions that lead you to success. You’re instructed to visualize and practice being the person you want to be. Your goal is to align your thoughts, emotions, and desires, so that you can become a better version of yourself and “act” successfully.
Passive: The Law of Attraction encourages you to change your inner life so that you can trust that success will come to you. Your goal is to align your thoughts, emotions, and desires, with what you want so that you can “attract” objects and experiences into your reality. 

While both Maltz and the Law of Attraction promote psychological well-being (positive thinking does make you feel better and reduce stress), it’s ultimately up to readers to interpret and act on the information—they decide if and how to take action to improve their lives.
How to Program Your Mind for Success

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Here's what you'll find in our full Psycho-Cybernetics summary :

  • How to program your mind in the same way you’d program a machine
  • How your self-image and patterns of thinking impact everything you do
  • Five methods you can use to improve self-image and create success

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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