An excellent book, written by Dr Maxwell Maltz, first published in 1960 went on to sell in excess of 30 million copies. He outlined a way of thinking about the mind that he called Psycho-Cybernetics, which introduced what self-image is about.
Dr Maltz was a cosmetic surgeon and his ideas were based on his own observations of people both considering and having undergone cosmetic surgery. Over the years, his ideas have gained much support through modern science.
In explaining what self-image is, Maxwell Maltz stated:
“It may not be consciously recognisable at all. But it is there, complete, down to the last detail. The self-image is our own conception of the ‘sort of person I am’. It has been built up from our own beliefs about ourselves”
What Self-Image Is About
Dr Maltz uses the analogy of a (personal) blueprint to describe what he means by self-image. When you look at a blueprint (or a plan) of a house, you can see how the house is structured. An expert builder can make decisions about how to go about building that house. E.G. you can see how big a house will be, how many levels it will have, how many rooms, and all the precise measurements, before actually building it.
Personally, I think this analogy is close but perhaps falls a little short. Certainly, a self-image is a little like a blueprint of a person’s personality and behaviours. I.E. if a person’s self-image can be revealed, their personality and behaviours can be predicted. However, a blueprint of a house is created and then agreed to, before the house is built, whereas a person’s self-image develops as that person experiences life so it dynamically changes over time.
The importance of your self-image, should not be underestimated; it plays an enormous role in life and drives everything you do, whether you are aware of it or not.
The Importance Of Self Image
Dr Maltz highlights two main points in respect to what self-image is about:
- Everything that you do and feel (how you behave) is always consistent with your self-image.
- The self-image can be changed; you can program it if you choose.
On the first point, people who hold certain beliefs about themselves such as ‘I am ugly’, act in alignment with that thought. They tend to wear clothes and style their hair in ways that make them feel even less attractive. Their self-image of ‘I am ugly’ leads them to act as if they are ugly.
Dr Maltz’s second point, that the self-image can be changed, is the primary purpose of his book.
Psycho-Cybernetics provides the tools for making changes to self-image. When you make changes, everything about you, inside and out, will change in alignment with your new self-image.
The Difference Between Positive Thinking And Changing Your Self Image
Changing the self-image is very different from just thinking positively or using will power. Dr Maltz suggests that thinking positively or will power is similar to putting on new clothes. New clothes feel good when first worn but the effect is temporary. More recent research indicates that will power is essentially a conscious mind activity that disappears when we sleep. Therefore will power has to be regenerated each day.
In order to make a permanent change, you must change your self-image within your subconscious mind.
The Subconscious Mind and the Servo-Mechanism
So far so good. Now at the risk of creating some confusion (if you read to the end it will become clear) …
Dr Maltz came to believe that the subconscious mind, in combination with the nervous system, acts as a ‘servo-mechanism’. A servo-mechanism is a control mechanism that serves a defined outcome, and to function correctly it is dependent on and reacts, to feedback.
A thermostat is an example of a servo-mechanism in your home. Thermostats are servo-mechanisms that control air and hot water temperatures.
A thermostat first needs to be set correctly to achieve a temperature of choice. When set correctly temperatures are comfortable. When set incorrectly, temperatures will be too hot or too cold for comfort. Once it is given a specific target temperature to achieve, the thermostat turns the heating up if the actual temperature is too low, or down if the actual temperature is too high.
Dr Maltz came to the conclusion that the function of the human subconscious servo-mechanism is what he called an ‘automatic goal-striving machine’. It is directed (or programmed) by the will of the conscious (creative thinking) mind.
The Subconscious and Conscious Mind Working Together
So, simplistically perhaps, it is useful to think of our achievements (whether successful or not) as the result of cooperation between two major parts of our mind. A collaboration between our conscious ‘creative thinking’ mind with the sub-consciously driven ‘goal-striving machine’.
A goal-striving machine needs clear goals and objectives. Dr Maltz surmises that our subconscious goal-striving machine operates automatically, and what it achieves in anything is a reflection of the clarity of the goals and objectives that it holds.
So what we achieve in anything reflects the clarity of the goals and objectives that our conscious mind communicates to our subconscious mind over time.
Our challenge then is to make sure that the goals and objectives followed by our goal-striving machine (subconscious mind) consistently reflect what we truly want to achieve.
The problem is that our goal-striving machine has been programmed over time (by ourselves from our own experiences and with much input from others) with a multitude of values, beliefs and goals. Not all of them serve us well, and many conflicts with others. Subconscious ‘programming’ deserves more of an explanation and will be the subject of a future post.
The sum total of your values, beliefs and goals, held by the subconscious ‘goal striving machine’ is what Dr Maltz calls ‘self-image’. I believe that when we talk about mindset, we are referring to the same set of values and beliefs.
Such pre-formed guidance, if not congruent with our current consciously created goals, creates interference. It drives our subconscious actions and conscious thinking. This in turn leads to outcomes that are often not what we consciously intend.
Update Your Self-Image With Conscious Imagination
A quick diversion here … the ‘cute’ image of the cat, seeing itself in the mirror as a lion, may at first be perceived as desirable and makes a useful point about the power of self-image. However, the cat cannot physically develop the power of a lion. If the cat tried to live like a lion in the wild, it would probably not survive for long. If the cat is not aware enough to know that it is not a lion it could get itself into a lot of trouble.
So this is an example of incongruence; for a cat, the ‘goal’ of becoming a lion is physically impossible. However, there is a lot to be said for ‘stretch goals’ (goals that are stretched in the imagination). Many human achievements have arisen from a big stretch of the imagination.
If as a human you want to achieve something that other humans have achieved or that is a reasonable stretch, it is possible, to improve your chance of achieving what you want, by learning how to first change (improve) your self-image. Achieving such a change needs active use of your conscious imagination to influence and reprogram aspects of your subconscious mind.
Dr Maltz calls your powers of conscious imagination the ‘Creative Mechanism’.
The ultimate goal of the Creative Mechanism is to create and maintain your self-image. This is achieved by creating mental images through imagining the details (pictures, sounds and feelings), of what you want to achieve.
You can consciously use the Creative Mechanism to combine internally stored memories with new external stimuli in order to improve the image. In other words, the Creative Mechanism is a servo-mechanism that is directly under your control, if you choose, and that you can use to program your goal striving machine.
Summary of what self-image is
Your self-image is the sum total of your sub-conscious values and beliefs, which collectively control everything that you do.
Understanding what self-image is about is key to being able to control your own behaviours and outcomes.
If you choose, you can learn to deliberately and creatively use your conscious imagination to update your subconscious self-image, leading to the formation of new automatic reaction patterns (habits) designed by you, to serve you.
The imagination skills involved are no different (according to Dr Maltz) than being able to recall past memories, such as tying shoelaces. If you can remember and act out in your mind, doing something as simple as tying shoelaces, you can creatively act out a new action pattern in your mind until it becomes second nature.
The Psycho-Cybernetics book outlines 12 core lessons for defining and achieving goals.
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