Book Review: Psycho Cybernetics

Cover image borrowed shamelessly from the interwebs
Cover image borrowed shamelessly from the interwebs

I just finished reading “The New Psycho Cybernetics“, an update to a book first published back in the 1950’s. It was so popular that it helped establish the entire “self-help” genre as well and its own “Psycho Cybernetics” foundation. Based on the hokey title and my general aversion to self-help publications (I’d rather be out doing something productive than reading what summarizes as “Hurray Me!”), I was unsure initially. However, the book came with the highest of recommendations, so I knew I had to give it a chance.

The Beginnings

The book was first written by a plastic surgeon.  Through his career, many patients would come in and ask for completely unnecessary surgeries.. simply because they had poor self-image. As a physician, he was well aware of the placebo effect (the effect that 20-30% of a test group who, when are given a convincing sugar pill, improve simply due to THE EXPECTATION that they will heal). But how could he apply something similar to his patients? You can’t convince someone you’ve given them plastic surgery when you have not, because they can just go look into a mirror. No. Instead he studied the psychology of self-image and happiness. He had to learn what caused these patients to have distorted self-images and how he could help these people improve their circumstances themselves.


What Is It

“Mind over matter.”

“Happiness comes from within.”

“In a world of perception, fact is irrelevant.”

Essentially, you have control of your life. I know these quotations appear really open-ended, but the idea is “the only important information about your environment is your interpretation.” People can experience the exact same events and walk away with completely different feelings toward the experience. Here are two great examples from the world of FI:

1. The Job

At work, you have a group of people stuck together, who experience the same stimuli day-in and day-out, yet somehow, there will be people at your office who love the work and people at the office who are frustrated by it. My teammates and I will literally sit through the same meeting and afterward, I will hear jaded people frustrated and stuck on some poor management decision while other people who JUST SAT THROUGH THE SAME MEETING will be excited and energized to go out and find a better solution.

If you are looking to early retire because of job frustration, how often are you the person looking to point out the problems (vs. the solutions)?

2. The Savings

When you’re saving for early retirement, the amount of money you have saved is a very hard, real number and it is very important in determination of FI. You will also likely consider that number to be A LOT OF MONEY. However, talk to other people (both inside and outside the FI community), and the same amount that seems to you like “just the right amount of ‘a lot’, an impressive achievement” might be considered “excessively wasteful” or “laughably small”. Discussing your FI goals and achievements, people may be supportive and impressed or they may be dismissive and derisive.

Everyday you can build up the positive habits and choose to imprint those feelings into your mind. The stronger those patterns, the happier you will respond to future stimuli. And the best part, it will become natural. Just set yourself up mentally for happiness and success, and you will achieve your positive expectations, Easy Does It.

That’s it. That’s Psycho-Cybernetics. Dr. Maltz lays this out early on. So where does the rest of the book come from? Unfortunately, “the how” is not as easy as simply eating sugar pills. Instead, you have to feed your brain the right self-imagery, which can be tricky. That is the rest of the book, and really, making it work, making it practical is the brilliance of the author.

The How

1. Find the good in life.

Search out the good in situations. Practice optimism. The more you practice, the easier it will become. Associate yourself with the positive memories. These happy thoughts will become your new normal and restore the ” Automatic Success Mechanism” you were born with.

Bored or utterly satisfied?
Bored or utterly satisfied?

2. Remove the negative

See the negatives and actively, aggressively crush them. Happiness through subtraction

3. But be aware of the negatives

Crush them but learn from them. Learn where the negatives are and how to steer around them. A homing missile doesn’t fly aimlessly until it eventually hits something, it zooms forward and, when it gets negative feedback, it zig-zags hard to correct. Forget the feelings of failure, learn the feelings of success, and fail early. The quicker and harder you respond, the faster you can correct back toward your…

A gorgeous view but twists & turns ahead...
A gorgeous view but twists & turns ahead…

4. Goals

You must have goals, and they must be worthwhile to you. They will help you move forward and keep you moving forward to a ripe old age. They will make you nostalgic for the future, not the past. Focus and prioritize. Be an efficient unitasker: a calculator can only solve one problem at a time. Life is just waiting for you to supply the goal.

With items 1-4 go from this
With items 1-4 go from this…
... to this. A focused, homing torpedo: always moving forward and cutting hard toward real goals.
… to this. A focused, homing torpedo: always moving forward and cutting hard toward real goals.

5. Work toward your dreams

Work hard and chase your goals. Deferring life is denial of identity; it is inhibition of self. Always move forward.

6. Make decisions, then make them right

Success is never in the decision. Success comes from the ensuing action. Don’t worry about trying to “take a something back”, follow-up and make your choices the right ones. Confidence is built on te experience of success and you define what success means.

7. Build your AQ- adversity quotient

life will always deliver some blows. Don’t blame others or yourself. See problems for what they are and actively manage them. Have a thick skin (but not a hermit crab’s shell). Forgive people because there’s nothing to be offended about, not because they’ve repaid their debt. Forgiving without forgetting is not really forgiving. At the end of the day you have greater goals to focus on. Have bigger fish to fry.

In Conclusion

There’s a lot to digest here, and I left a ton of other great stuff out. I highly recommend borrowing this book multiple times from your local library. You have the control to bring happiness to your life. Whether you are a beginner or long-time practitioner, this book can help master that control!


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