The only way to get rid of your complexes and really be yourself is to imagine yourself as you could be if you exploited your full potential, free from the limitations that are undermining your self image. Of course the aim here is not to create some kind of inflated, false image that has nothing to do with your real potential. You simply have to see yourself as you could become, and let that image impregnate your subconscious mind for a period of 21 days, which is the time it usually takes to develop any kind of new habit, or become accustomed to a new situation, whether it be to a new hairstyle, house, job, etc.
The question then arises of what to do when negative thoughts or images about yourself do arise, which they inevitably will. Cybernetics has the answer: a servomechanism will attain its objective both by trying - and failing -to do so. Failures are examined and analyzed, and the necessary corrections are made. Negative past experiences, ingrained in our memory, do not necessarily inhibit the functioning of this servomechanism, but can actually contribute to the process of learning.
Errors should be seen as stages on the road to success. Once they are properly analyzed, mistakes can be used to help us. Once they have served their purpose, you can forget them. The worst thing you can allow yourself to do is think, "I failed in the past, therefore I will fail in the future."
F.M.H. Myers, a well known psychologist, explained how persons who were ordinarily shy and withdrawn could be transformed into brilliant orators under hypnosis by being purged of memories of past failures. In fact, the same effect can also be achieved on conscious subjects.
When he was young, Doctor Alfred Adler, a friend of Maltz, did poorly in arithmetic at school. His teacher soon became convinced that little Alfred did not have a mathematical mind. He told the boy's parents, who immediately accepted the verdict, claiming that since the family tended to be more literary-minded, they were not surprised their son was not interested in math. Influenced by this negative feedback, the boys math grades began steadily dropping.
One day, however, the teacher presented the class with a difficult math problem, and said anyone who could find the solution would get the highest mark in the class. Only one arm was raised - by little Alfred. The entire class burst out laughing.
"Well Alfred, show us your solution," the teacher said, hardly managing to hide the derision in his voice.
When he looked at Alfred's paper he was shocked - the boy, in a flash of insight, had managed to come up with the solution to a problem that would have taken college students hours to figure out.
The incident had a profound effect on the boy - instead of accepting the suggestion that he didn't have a head for math, he became convinced that he was somehow gifted in mathematics. His marks soared, and he went on to forge a career in science.
When we use our mind to modify our self image, thoughts must be accompanied by emotions. The event that marked young Alfred Adler did so because it had a powerful emotional impact on him.
Doctor Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, showed that persons could be made to relive past events simply by electrically stimulating certain brain cells. The scenes were so vivid, subjects actually thought they were happening all over again.
"Subjects feel the same emotions that were generated by the original event, and are aware of forming the same opinions and interpretations, whether true or false, as they did when they first had the experience. Thus the memory evoked by the stimulation of brain cells is not simply a visual or auditory representation of a past event, but an integral reproduction of everything the subject saw, heard, felt and understood at the time."
This is exactly what happens when we modify our self image: if we imagine details, colors, odors, sensations and emotions with enough sharpness and clarity, they can actually replace previous images which are detrimental to our progress.
Analyzing the things that make us worry or preoccupy us in the right way can provide us with a clear notion of how to proceed in order to change our objectives.
When we worry, we start by thinking about some unpleasant incident that is likely to recur in the near future. It could be an event like the loss of a loved one, or being laid off at work, a letter we received containing bad news, an interview which did not go well, etc.
The more we think about the event, the more details it evokes, and the more real the event becomes. We soon start feeling the negative emotions associated with it - tension, disappointment, anguish, and so on. As Maltz remarked, there is no effort of will involved - the cause of our anxiety is simply the result of our uncontrolled imagination.
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