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The New Psycho-Cybernetics and the 21-day Myth

Almost all the self-help books which pertain to ‘success mechanisms’ have to deal with the mind. And whenever any mental exercise relates to ‘thought conditioning’ in some form or the other, it always takes me back to Hypnosis. As a certified hypnotherapist (and do not confuse this with the fake stage hypnosis shows for entertainment), I can only say that the techniques one familiarizes oneself with whilst pursuing the extensive course (visualization, dramatization, affirmation, anchors, etc.) are often seen taking on different nomenclatures and being presented to the people.

Some books such as ‘The Secret’ sell hundreds of millions of copies, but it is unclear how many actually benefited. Riding the popularity wave, several books follow on virtually the same topic which clearly means two things, viz., the first book was incomplete or the subsequent books have little substance and are often repetitive and boring. I am not sure how I came across “The New Psycho-Cybernetics” written by Dr. Maxwell Maltz but am glad I did. It is one of those books that stands the test of time, did not have any ‘sequels’ and applies to personal development and psychological theory even today. This is irrespective of whether or not you are a hypnotherapist or an advance NLP practitioner.

It is a psychological masterpiece and I can now understand why trainers and facilitators picked up parts of this book for their personal empowerment programs for over two decades. This book was also responsible for the ’21-day myth’ that has become so popular amongst trainers and facilitators as well as those in the HR fraternity, many of whom may not even have read the book but merely heard about it or read about it someplace. The popular story that goes around that it takes ’21 days to form a habit’ is a myth, that has its origins in this book. Even today, most people believe that habits are formed by repeating a task for 21 days in a row. This, unfortunately is NOT true, although people desperately want it to be true, so it continues to gain popularity. Dr. Maltz did not say that 21 days of repetitiveness would result in the formation of a new habit. What he did infer was that it took approximately three weeks for the self-image of a person to change and that for various reasons, it did not necessarily result in a change of personality or behaviour in everyone.

Maxwell says Personal Empowerment is all about self-image. Self-image is the ‘mental picture’ that every person has of himself or herself. This mental picture is the sum total of past experiences, emotions and behaviours, and thus it represents the foundation on which we build our personality. Borrowing from Hypnosis, the book goes on to say that the brain cannot differentiate between ‘imagination and reality’. And this in turn has been picked up by thousands of books and authors subsequently. Hypnosis established this fact centuries ago, when clients are led through ‘hypnodramas’ to resolve present-life situations.

Maxwell then goes on to say that by changing the mental picture, we can change our reality – both in terms of our personality as well as our behaviour. Effectively we are replacing the old paradigm in our brain with a new paradigm using Maxwell’s techniques of relaxation and visualization – again no different from Hypnosis or the more modern NLP. Yet, unlike other books which leave you in the lurch, this one takes step-by-step through various techniques described through the book, viz., how to condition yourself for success, how to de-hypnotize yourself from limiting beliefs, how to live more courageously, how to sell or negotiate with confidence, etc.

The ‘Success Mechanism’ according to Maxwell – one of the more important aspects of this book – is based on a strong sense of direction, the willingness to keep moving, the ability to comprehend and communicate, the courage to face challenges, being kind and charitable, and having the self-confidence to execute one’s plans.

By all means, go ahead and read this book. It is not one of those that you read like a novel and place it back on the shelf, but perhaps one that you go back to from time to time and re-read once a year.

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