Maxwell Maltz: How Self-Image Predicts 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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What does your self-image have to do with your goal-achieving potential? Do you think your self-image (the way you see yourself) helps or hinders your success potential?

According to Maxwell Maltz, your self-image plays a key role in your ability to align your behavior with your goals. You need to examine what type of self-image you have so you can figure out if it’s working with you or against you. To this end, Maltz argues, you need to examine how your self-image is expressed through your personality (is it positive or negative?).

In this article, we’ll take a look at the personality traits Maltz attributes to positive and negative personality types so you can figure out what type of self-image you have.

Positive Self-Image Versus Negative Self-Image

According to Maxwell Maltz, your self-image—and the way it directs your subconscious to act—is expressed through your personality. Further, he claims that your habitual personality traits tend to fall into one of two personality types that define how you approach your life experiences: positive personality and negative personality. 

What Personality Type Are You?

Here are the personality traits Maltz attributes to positive and negative personality types:

Positive Personality (Good Self-Image)Negative Personality (Bad Self-Image)
You’re goal-oriented: You have a clear idea of what makes you happy and focus on what you want. You keep moving forward and are driven by a desire to become more and achieve more.You’re overly sensitive to setbacks: You let errors and minor failures define your emotional state. You act like a victim of life.
You’re open: You communicate well with others because you’re willing to think about their perspectives and why they think and feel the way that they do. You’re willing to admit your mistakes and errors.You’re accusatory: Your frustration leads to aggression that you misdirect towards yourself or others. You lash out because you’re not resolving your problems.
You’re willing to take risks: You’re willing to take risks and face new challenges. You confront your problems.You’re insecure: You never feel good enough. You compare yourself to others or hold an ideal version of yourself that you fail to live up to. You always feel like you should be better than you are.
You’re empathetic: You treat others with kindness and respect because you recognize that every individual is valuable and important. You understand and appreciate that everyone has unique needs and abilities.You’re guarded: You feel alienated from yourself and others. You’ve lost touch with what makes you happy and you’re afraid of exposing your real self to others.
You value yourself: You have a healthy sense of self-worth and self-respect. This is reflected in the way you interact with others.You’re afraid: You’re fearful of making mistakes and hold yourself back from making decisions or taking responsible steps to move forward.
You’re confident: You remember and focus on your past successes and happy moments. This positive focus allows you to approach life with confidence.You’re resentful: You blame others for treating you unfairly. You expect others to make you feel happy and you feel like a victim when they don’t. You perceive injustice and allow this to control your emotional state—self-pity.
You’re happy with yourself: You accept yourself as you are and express yourself authentically. You’re aware of your strengths and weaknesses and you know that you can decide to change if you choose to.You’re apathetic: You’re unable to enjoy life no matter how much you achieve. Your achievements don’t feel worthwhile because you can’t see the value in them.

Why People Are Prone to Failure

People don’t choose to develop negative personality traits—they’ve simply developed the habit of dwelling more on the bad experiences in their lives. Psychologists refer to this tendency as the Negativity Bias.

Research shows that you’re hardwired to notice and dwell on negative events. Further, negative events have a greater impact on you than positive ones—your emotional responses are stronger for negative events than they are for positive ones. In other words, negative events feel more important to you than positive ones. Subsequently, negative events create a strong and vivid impression in your long-term memory, and they influence the decisions you make.

Consequently, you’re more likely to notice, react to, and remember:

  • Criticism more than praise: This leads you to focus only on feedback that reinforces your feelings of insecurity. As a result, you may feel like a victim (you blame others for criticizing you) and withdraw into self-pity, or you may end up lashing out at others in an attempt to release your feelings of resentment.
  • Sad memories more than happy memories: The habitual focus on sad events from the past makes it difficult to find reasons to be happy in the present moment. This can lead to apathy and depression.
  • Bad news more than good news: This tendency trains your mind to perceive situations as unjust or unfair, and often leaves you feeling fearful of taking action and moving forward in your life.
  • Your mistakes more than your successes: The more you focus on your mistakes, the more difficult you find it to accept yourself as you are—you reinforce the false belief that you should be better than you are.
  • Negative traits in others more than their positive traits: The tendency to focus on flaws in others makes it difficult for you to trust others and show them who you really are—if you can’t accept them as they are, how can they accept you? The more you restrict your self-expression, the more isolated you feel.

It’s possible that evolution hard-wired this bias into us to keep us safe from danger: In order to ensure survival, our ancestors had to pay more attention to the dangers and risks in their environment. However, even if it is a case of hardwiring, you can make the conscious decision to bypass this tendency, evolve your thinking, and adopt a more positive approach to life.

How to Predict Success

While Maltz believes that personality traits like being confident and empathetic determine your success, some experts believe that the following characteristics and habits are better indicators of whether you’re more likely to achieve success in life:

  • You choose to be proactive instead of lazy.
  • You seek long-term satisfaction instead of instant gratification.
  • You focus on interests that create value instead of indulging in meaningless activities and distractions.
  • You keep learning and growing instead of allowing your knowledge and skills to stagnate.
  • You embrace challenges and expect to succeed instead of feeling inadequate and expecting to fail.
Maxwell Maltz: How Self-Image Predicts Success

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Maxwell Maltz's "Psycho-Cybernetics" at Shortform .

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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