In 1960, Prentice-Hall published a book by well-known plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz. This book, Psycho-Cybernetics, went on to sell over 25 million copies worldwide and is still considered one of the most influential writings about self-concept and the power of visualization in attaining goals.
Maltz discovered that the majority of his patients who underwent cosmetic surgery procedures were still dissatisfied with their looks after the “problems” were corrected. He concluded that people were responding to some inner perception of how they look, rather than seeing what was now in the mirror. Sadly, this flawed self-concept continued to be a defining factor even when it no longer bore any resemblance (if it ever did) to reality.
Why Does Self Concept Matter?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-concept as “the mental image one has of oneself.” Essentially, the term self-concept refers to how we think about, perceive and evaluate ourselves. Dr. Maltz and subsequent researchers delving into the power of self-concept would agree with Michael Jordan, who said, “You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.”
The flip side to this statement may well be this well-known quote popularly attributed to Henry Ford , “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you're right!”
After years of study, Maltz came to believe three key things about the self-concept or self-image:
- It grows out of past experiences of success and failure and how we reacted (emotionally and psychologically) to those experiences.
- It is value neutral. In other words, it doesn’t care whether it’s an empowering or destructive force in our lives.
- It is malleable; meaning that we are not stuck with the self-concept created by our uninformed reactions to past experience.
Many performance coaches and trainers of the world’s elite athletes draw on the ideas originally put forward by Maltz; and the relaxation and imagery techniques he describes in Psycho-Cybernetics are still widely used over 50 years later.
Self-Concept and Performance
So what does a self-help book written in the 1960s have to do with performance in the workplace in 2014? More than you might imagine. Brian Tracy, noted speaker and author on self-esteem and personal performance, writes: “Your self-concept precedes and predicts your levels of effectiveness in every area of your life.” In fact, our self-concept has a significant impact on what we believe we can accomplish. It effects the career path we choose, the challenges we take on and the outcomes we anticipate. Before we even make those choices, our self-concept is already dictating what we will and won’t accomplish.
Similarly, if the people we manage are influenced by a limiting self-concept, they will never perform to their full potential. So, if we believe that helping people live up to their potential and succeed at work is important, perhaps the first step is to work on building each employee’s self-concept. In other words, we have to start by encouraging them to see themselves achieving greatness; and then, once their self-concept has been expanded, help them create the plan to get there.