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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 Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics worth reading? How can applying Maxwell’s cybernetic principles help you realign your behavior for success?

Psycho-Cybernetics is based on the theory that your mind functions according to cybernetic principles—you can program your mind to achieve success and happiness in the same way that you’d program a machine to achieve the results that you want. Maltz suggests a number of methods to help you to consciously: raise awareness of your current self-image, release your limitations, build your self-confidence, and increase your ability to achieve success.

This Psycho-Cybernetics review covers the book’s context, background, and critical reception by the readers.

The Book’s Context

Psycho-Cybernetics was first published in 1960. At the time, behaviorism was the dominant school of thought in psychology. Behavioral psychology is based on the idea that all behaviors develop through a process of conditioning (Pavlov’s Dogs is a classic example of conditioning), and that anyone can be trained to perform any task, or behave in a particular way, as long as they’ve been conditioned correctly. 

According to this theory, your mind is a simple stimulus-response machine, and your behavior is a result of how you’ve been conditioned to act—you act like this because of that. Behaviorism only attributes responses to the way you’ve been conditioned to act and doesn’t factor your internal state or the concept of free will into the analysis of your behavior. For example, if your phone rings (stimulus) and you answer it (response), behaviorists will say you’re answering it because you’ve been conditioned to respond to the sound of your phone ringing. But you might have other reasons to check your phone, such as being anxious to hear from someone in particular, or you may decide to ignore your phone because you want to avoid distractions. 

Maltz challenged behaviorism with a combination of Cybernetic theory and psychologist Prescott Lecky’s Self-Consistency theory.

  • Cybernetic theory explores how self-guided machines incorporate feedback to self-correct and stay on target. Machines have an objective and an in-built guidance system to ensure that they successfully achieve their goal.
  • Self-Consistency Theory states that you don’t simply act in response to the environment. Instead, your actions are motivated by the need to align your behaviors with your beliefs and ideas about yourself—in other words, your behavior always reflects what you believe about yourself. 

Maltz analyzed the process your mind goes through to achieve goals and realized that there’s a parallel between Cybernetic theory and Self-Consistency Theory: In the same way that machines can’t operate beyond how they’ve been programmed to operate, your mind can’t move beyond the limitations of its programming. For example, if your mind believes that you are bad at math, it imposes limits that prevent you from approaching math problems confidently. Maltz identified self-image—which is malleable—as the essential factor that determines your mind’s programming. Consequently, Maltz created methods to raise awareness of your current limitations, and to reprogram your mind to achieve success.

The theories that Maltz drew on to develop Psycho-Cybernetics eventually led to the development of cognitive science—the scientific study of the mind and its processes—and continue to play a major role in psychological research and therapy.

The Book’s Impact

Psycho-Cybernetics is a recognized classic in the field of self-help books. The book rapidly became a bestseller and has since sold more than 35 million copies worldwide. It also revolutionized the self-help industry and paved the way for the majority of personal empowerment programs in existence today. Many influential writers, such as Wayne Dyer and Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within), have drawn on Maltz’s ideas about visualization and mental imagery—both Dyer and Robbins rely heavily on Maltz’s argument that you need to align your feelings with the success you want to achieve before you approach your goals.

Critical Reception

The original edition of Psycho-Cybernetics enjoys excellent feedback—many reviewers have labeled this book as “life-changing” and “highly recommended,” and find it a useful aid to clarify complex concepts touched on in more recent self-help books, such as why people experience their lives the way that they do and how changing their feelings and expectations can improve their lives. As a result, the book continues to remain highly relevant and useful despite being in print since 1960.

However, some Psycho-Cybernetics reviewers do find it difficult to move past the repetitive style of the book—they dislike how difficult it is to follow Maltz’s argument and locate the actionable material that complements his ideas. In particular, some reviewers have commented that the book could’ve been greatly condensed if Maltz had presented the concepts and actionable material in a more consecutive sequence.

Commentary on the Book’s Approach

Psycho-Cybernetics explains cybernetic theory and how your mind works like a machine, how your self-image impacts your experiences, and how you can improve your self-image to create more success and happiness in your life. Maltz supports his arguments with a wealth of examples and scientific theories (from that time).

Commentary on the Book’s Organization

Psycho-Cybernetics attempts to explain and provide examples and supporting arguments for a number of complicated theoretical concepts: cybernetic theory, the self-image, and the subconscious mind. However, Maltz doesn’t approach the concepts in consecutive order—each of the 15 chapters includes fragments of each concept. As a result, the book suffers from repetition and a general lack of focus. 

In addition, the methods that Maltz prescribes for a better self-image are interwoven throughout the chapters—many reviewers report that this makes it difficult to locate and effectively implement the actionable material.

Psycho-Cybernetics: Review, Context, Critical Reception

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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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