Subconscious Self-Sabotaging: Why You Keep Failing

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 exactly is the subconscious mind? How is the subconscious mind implicated in self-sabotaging behavior?

Your subconscious mind is a reservoir of thoughts, feelings, and memories that are beneath your conscious awareness. It records and stores your every experience. In fact, your subconscious mind is always directing you towards a goal, even if you’re not aware of it. If you are consistently failing to achieve the goals you set for yourself, your subconscious is at fault.

In this article, we’ll explain why subconscious self-sabotaging occurs—the answer lies with your self-image.

Your Subconscious Mind Is Always Awake

There is still much to be learned about how the subconscious mind works. However, neuroscientists have confirmed that 95% of your brain activity takes place beyond your conscious awareness, in your subconscious mind. Further, research reveals that your subconscious mind makes decisions about how you choose to feel or act before your conscious mind even perceives the need to make a decision

In addition, your subconscious mind is always alert—one of its jobs is to control your bodily functions and processes so it stays awake even while you’re asleep. Even if you’re not consciously aware of something happening in your environment, your subconscious mind is paying attention to every little detail, and recording the entire experience.

How the Subconscious Mind Influences Goal-Orinted Behavior

In his book Psycho-Cybernetics, Maltz argues that subconscious self-sabotaging is the reason why people act in ways that are in opposition to their goals.

But how does your subconscious mind decide whether or not to pursue a goal? Your self-image programs your subconscious mind to achieve goals. If you have a positive self-image, your subconscious works to help you achieve your goals. If you have a negative self-image, your subconscious works to sabotage your goals.

  • For example, if your self-image tells your subconscious mind that you’re good at and enjoy cooking, you’ll approach your time in the kitchen with confidence. However, if your self-image tells your subconscious mind that you hate cooking and always make the most awful meals, you’ll approach the task with a feeling of trepidation. In both cases, the way you think and feel impacts how competently you prepare your meal, and the results that you get (enjoyable meal or terrible meal).

Like a machine, your subconscious mind works automatically and impersonally to achieve the goals that your self-image sets for it, and your behaviors depend on how your self-image has programmed your subconscious to act. Your subconscious mind believes your self-image to be true and doesn’t question what your self-image programs it to do (like a calculator doesn’t care about the numbers you input). Therefore, your self-image dictates the limits of your accomplishments

Your Subconscious Follows Your Real Self-Image, No Matter What

If the goals you consciously set for yourself are inconsistent with the subconscious goals your self-image sets for you, your subconscious will reject them. Maltz argues that no amount of willpower or positive thinking will change your results unless you make a conscious attempt to change your self-image and your beliefs. The person who believes she’s a terrible cook will never enjoy cooking no matter how many times she superficially affirms to herself “I’m an excellent cook” (she says it but doesn’t believe it) since her subconscious mind isn’t taking instructions from her, but from her self-image (where her real beliefs are stored).

So, if you’ve identified with being a failure so often that it’s now a part of your self-image, then no matter how hard you work towards achieving something, your subconscious will always find a way for you to fail. If you’ve identified yourself as a victim of circumstances, then your subconscious will always lead you to situations that make you feel powerless. The feedback loop (your behavior plus your interpretation of your experience) will continue to reinforce this pattern.

Maltz, therefore, concludes that, if you want to achieve success and happiness—according to the goals you’ve consciously set out for yourself—you need to ensure that you have a positive self-image. This is the only way to ensure that your subconscious works with you to achieve your idea of success, rather than leading you down a path that works against what you want.

Subconscious Self-Sabotaging: Why You Keep Failing

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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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