When I’ve shown my current book, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, to a few friends and colleagues, I’ve got lots of concerned looks and questions about Scientology.
But fear not, I have not gone to the dark side… the book is actually about psychology of our assumptions, habits, and beliefs and how these form the image that we have of ourselves.
Many of us have grown up in the belief that our thoughts and the way we think of ourselves are somehow programmed in us by nature and we behave the way we do because that is who we are.
The book on Psycho-Cybernetics however offers insights into the way we develop these habits and beliefs and challenges us to consider whether some of the assumptions we hold about ourselves are in fact true and helpful.
Self image is what we make of it
The key message and take away from the book is that we can change our self image if we choose to.
And no, it’s not about doing magic or citing mantras in weird positions.
The way we think is based on habits and we know from neuroscience that the more we think in a particular way, the more ingrained those thoughts and beliefs become.
If we keep thinking that we are not good at what we do, that we are not beautiful or handsome enough, that our work is never as good as that of X, then these thoughts become our view of the world.
In that kind of a world, it is very difficult to succeed or do well, or feel like we are living life to the full.
Changing our thoughts and thinking patterns is like exercise: choosing new thoughts, new ideas, and new beliefs is not an instant change but something that we have to choose over time.
And why is this important?
Because “Our self-image prescribes the limits for the accomplishments of any particular goals. It prescribes the “area of the possible” “ (p. 13).
If we constantly have a negative view of ourselves, we also limit what we can accomplish, which in the end in many ways becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The role of imagination driving us backwards or forward
Many people think these kinds of books are on the borderline against science, yet in most of the books I’ve read on how to achieve success in different fields, imagination and its use for positive inspiring images remains a key.
If we cannot imagine ourselves in the goals we are trying to achieve or would like to achieve, we are much less likely able to engage ourselves and others in getting there.
It is therefore imagination and the way we envision ourselves that plays a big part in what we really think we can accomplish and what we don’t.
This is because much of our thoughts and associated actions are clearly linked:
“We act, or fail to act, not because of “will”, as is commonly believed, but because of imagination. A human being always acts and feels and performs in accordance with what he imagines to be true about himself and his environment” (p. 36).
But why is this that our mind would have such an influence over what we cannot yet master?
Partly it is because our mind and body are intertwined in ways that we don’t often understand, yet are starting to grasp:
“Your nervous system cannot tell the difference between an imagined experience and a real experience. In either case, it reacts automatically to information that you give it from your forebrain” (p. 37).
There are now numerous studies where we can see this in action: where psychologists have compared groups that have done an activity in person (shooting hoops in basketball) and another group who only imagined that they were shooting hoops.
And the results are always the same: mental exercise and rehearsal makes our bodies to believe that we have already performed the action, and enables as such better performance.
This is what many top level athletes use in practicing for the big competitions: going through each move in their mind, getting to know the track/field, and imagining themselves completing the journey.
Now, this does not mean you don’t have to do a thing but just imagine nice positive things and voila you have just outcompeted everyone else.
Learning to excel in something requires full on commitment, but it is both about doing the thing in practice as well as imagining doing it in a way that leads to excellence.
Changing the way you think
We form our self-image over time through our interactions with the world.
We observe how others react to us, make judgments on the outcomes of our actions and behaviours, and start forming a personality of what kind of a person we are.
This is all good and well as long as your self-image is “true” but many of us make wrong assumptions about ourselves based on others’ reactions to what we say and do.
We are often quick to judge other people’s intentions and assumptions, our experiences in trying something, and process these unspoken interpretations fairly quickly.
So we judge then ourselves to be “too talkative”, “never good at sports”, “my brain is not made to solve math problems”, and the list goes on.
Many of these beliefs are not facts but our interpretations over time as to what kind of a person we are; yet, we hang onto these beliefs like they are facts about us and the world.
These beliefs then become “us” and start delimiting what we are capable of because we cannot do this or that because we are just not that kind of a person and do not have the ability to develop a particular skill.
But what many of us don’t realise is that we can change these thoughts and beliefs.
Yet, this requires commitment to a new way of thinking, forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, choosing new daily thought practices that can help us in believing ourselves capable, and using imagination as a tool to envision the future us that we can be.
Again, am sure this sounds like blah-blah to some but we often underestimate the power of our minds because we are so accustomed to think in a particular way that we by now accept it as the truth.
So, change the truth.
Choose to think differently, and choose to do it daily.
This applies as much to leadership, the leader we think we are, and the person that we want to be.
The truths in climate adaptation?
Of course, for me this has direct relationship to how we think about climate change adaptation.
We have all over time developed particular ideas and assumptions about what climate change adaptation is and is not.
These are often not challenged as especially when the scientific community has come to accept these beliefs or assumptions as the core what adaptation is about, it is inherently difficult to change these.
Mind you, some of these are in fact true and helpful but we still keep many assumptions around as well that limit our imagination to think broader and in different terms what for example “effective” adaptation to climate change can and should look like.
But if we play closer attention into particular beliefs and commonly accepted factors that constrain or enable climate adaptation to take place, we could discover that not all of these are necessarily correct.
That again requires more critical reflection in order to define what a self-image of climate adaptation would, could, and should look like.