What Self-Image Is About
The first edition of an excellent book called Psycho-Cybernetics was written by the surgeon Dr Maxwell Maltz in 1960. It developed the concept of the self-image. The book was written based on his own observations of people both considering and having undergone cosmetic surgery. Since then, his ideas have gained much supportthrough modern science.
So what is self-image about? In the words of Maxwell Maltz:
“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”
This post is a short introduction to Dr Maltz’s ideas.
He uses the analogy of a (personal) blueprint to describe what he means by self-image. When you look at a blueprint (plan) of a house, you can see how the house is ‘made up’. E.G. you can see 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 only half agree with this analogy. Self-image is a little like a blueprint of a person, in that if you can study it, a persons personality and behaviours (I.E. the make-up of a person) can be predicted. However, a blueprint of a house is created before a house is built, whereas a person’s self-image develops as that person experiences life.
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 control 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 is that self-image can be changed and 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
In his book, Dr Maltz points out that changing the self-image is very different from just thinking positively. He believes that thinking positively is similar to putting on new clothes. New clothes feel good when first worn but that effect is temporary.
In order to make a permanent change, you must change your self-image within your subconscious mind.
Conscious and Sub-Conscious Minds
So far so good. Now at the risk of creating some confusion (if you read to the end all will become clear) …
According to Dr Maltz, the subconscious mind, in combination with the nervous system, acts as a ‘servo-mechanism’. A servo-mechanism is a control mechanism for a function and reacts to feedback. It is a mechanism that serves a defined purpose. For example, in your home, thermostats are the servo-mechanisms that control air and hot water temperatures. When set correctly temperatures are comfortable. When set incorrectly, temperatures will be either too hot or too cold for comfort. The servo-mechanism has a specific purpose, which is fulfilled only when the right inputs get through to a mechanism that is working correctly.
Dr Maltz came to the conclusion that the function of the human subconscious servo-mechanism is that of an ‘automatic goal-striving machine’ that is directed (or programmed) by the will of the conscious (creative thinking) mind.
So, simplistically perhaps, it is useful to think of the human mind as consisting of two major parts; the conscious ‘creative thinking’ mind combined with the sub-consciously driven ‘goal-striving machine’.
A goal-striving machine needs clear goals and objectives. Dr Maltz surmises that the 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.
Our challenge then is to make sure that the goals and objectives followed by our goal-striving machine (subconscious mind) truly reflect what we really 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 which serve us well. This ‘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 sub-conscious ‘goal striving machine’ is what Dr Maltz calls ‘self-image’. Such pre-formed guidance, if not congruent with our current consciously created goals, creates interference by driving subconscious actions as well as conscious thinking, thus leading to outcomes that are often not what we actually intend.
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 … however, it is not physically possible for the cat to 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.
So, if as a human you want to achieve something that other humans have achieved, or that is a reasonable stretch, it is possible, if necessary, to improve your chance of achieving what you want, by learning how to first change (improve) your self-image. Achieving such a change needs the 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 another servo-mechanism; which is directly under your control, if you choose, and that you can use to program your goal striving machine.
So … understanding what self-image is about is a key to being able to control your own behaviours and outcomes.
If you choose, you can learn to deliberately and creatively use your imagination and update your 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 new action patterns in your mind until they become second-nature.
The Psycho-Cybernetics book outlines 12 core lessons for defining and achieving goals.
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