Throughout the course of my nearly 48 years, there are many books that have made a HUGE difference in the way I think and act. I wanted to share them with you one at a time. The most important book I have EVER read is PsychoCybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz. Without being melodramatic, this book truly saved my life. This is a hard story for me to tell, because it’s painful for me to return to that time in my life, but here we go…
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When I was in my early 20s, I was in a serious blue funk. It was probably a clinical depression, but since I didn’t tell anyone about it, it went undiagnosed. My parents had moved to Hawaii shortly after my college graduation, and I found myself alone with no one to sit and talk with. There were all these questions about Life, about how to move forward, about what to do with this seemingly useless education. I was lonely and afraid, didn’t want to leave my apartment, and my biggest fear was that I would die all alone. I felt completely unloved. I was so desperate for the familiar that I booked a short-notice, $1500 first class ticket to Hawaii and spent a little time with my parents. It didn’t help in the long term, but it certainly kept me off the ledge for a few more months.
At the YMCA in White Plains, where I was the front desk membership clerk, there was a masseur named Kevin Grady. He would come to my apartment to give me massages, and we would talk for hours. When Kevin discovered my depression, he told me about a book that had made a difference to him. It was called PsychoCybernetics and was written by a doctor named Maxwell Maltz in 1960. Billed as “a new technique for using your subconscious power”, he said this book was worth a study. So I borrowed his copy, read it, then ran right out to buy it for myself. It changed my life. That sounds corny, but it really, truly did.
Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon. He discovered throughout the course of his practice that a large number of the people who came to him for “improvement” really just needed to feel better about themselves. There was no physical defect that needed correcting, no “real” reason for surgery. So he would counsel them on their self-image prior to their surgeries and many of his patients decided NOT to have the surgery after talking with him – they realized they were just fine as they were.
This is one of the earliest books I know of that explores the mind/body connection. In simple, straightforward manner it describes the fact that your body doesn’t know the difference between a real stimulus or an imagined one. If you can imagine yourself in some terrible, horrible, painful situation, your body will respond as if it were actually happening. Imagine that you are trapped in a car that is filling with water and you will get short of breath, your pulse will race, you will get lightheaded. Now imagine that you were on a beach somewhere, feeling the heat of the sun beating down on you, pushing your body into the sand. Your pulse will slow, you will get sleepy and your pupils will dilate.
The key to this book is that it uses this mind/body connection to say “imagine that you are happy” and “imagine that you are a success”. He said that the pursuit of happiness is not a selfish thing. We all DESERVE to be happy. We all DESERVE to feel like a success. Dr. Maltz then goes on to describe a definition of success that he used, using the word “success” as an acronym. It was posted for years on the side of my fridge, and I still refer back to it when I am feeling wonky. This is a radically abridged version.
- S = Sense of Direction – We have goal-seeking brains. When we don’t have a goal, we tend to wander around in circles, feel lost, and find life aimless. Get interested in something because you WANT to and you will have that sense of direction.
- U = Understanding – We expect other people to have the same response to situations that we do, based on the same set of facts. We forget that fact and opinion are two different things and that different people see situations through different glasses. Try to understand problems from another person’s point of view and you’ll ultimately help resolve it.
- C = Courage – Nothing in this world is guaranteed. You should assess a situation, plan different strategies to resolve it, pick the course of action that seems most promising and then MOVE FORWARD. Bet on yourself – you’ll never know what you can accomplish unless you try. Be willing to fail – you can always correct your course, but only if you’re moving forward.
- C = Charity – Successful people have a regard for other people and a respect for their problems. Try to develop a genuine appreciation for people by realizing that they are unique, creative personalities. Stop and think about things from the other person’s point of view. Act as if other people are important, because, in truth, everyone is.
- E = Esteem – Get it through your head that a low opinion of yourself is not a virtue, but a vice. Stop dramatizing yourself as an object of pity and injustice. If a person can esteem the stars or all of nature, then that person can also esteem himself or herself because of their inherent worth and beauty.
- S = Self-Confidence – Work on forgetting your past failures and remember your past successes. Reprogram your CPU (your brain) to “see” success. Everyone has succeeded at SOMETHING. Focus on that and build from there. (A personal note – I remember vividly meditating on this while playing the harp at a restaurant one night. I was convinced I was a total loser, but I looked around the restaurant and knew that nobody else in the place could play the harp like I could, and that was the thread of sanity I held onto that night. It got me through.)
- S = Self-Acceptance – “Most of us are better, wiser, stronger, more competent – now – than we realize. Creating a better self-image does not create new abilities, talents, powers – it releases and utilizes them… You are NOT your mistakes. You are Somebody – right now!… Accept yourself… Be yourself.”
The book then goes into the “Failure Mechanism” that uses the same acronym format. I present these with minimal explanation, because I don’t want to dwell on them. I prefer to focus on Success, keeping these in the back of my mind as a rudder.
- F = Frustration, Hopelessness, Futility
- A = Aggressiveness
- I = Insecurity
- L = Loneliness (lack of Oneness) – Remember that Loneliness is different than being alone.
- U = Uncertainty
- R = Resentment
- E = Emptiness
The book then goes on to talk about forgiveness, how to remove emotional scars and unlock your real personality, and offers some do-it-yourself tranquilizers. There are chapters on rational thinking, turning crisis into creative opportunity and dehypnotizing yourself. I could go on for days expounding on the importance of Dr. Maltz’s book, but I will instead suggest that you get a copy and read it. Don’t get it at the library – buy it. You’ll want to keep it around.
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To everyone who reads this post, please remember the Truth about yourself is this:
- You are not Superior
- You are not Inferior
- You are simply You.
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