“Maximum Mental Health” by Aleks George Srbinoski
I recently had the chance to ask Aleks some questions about himself and his new book, “Maximum Mental Health”. Read on to learn more, and pick up some tips that may improve your own life
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am an Aussie born and raised in the beach town of Wollongong an hour south of Sydney. I am a fully qualified Australian Clinical Psychologist with my own practice and the author of 8 books. In terms of psychology, I am also a trained hypnotist and Positive Psychology (the study of happiness and peak performance) practitioner. Outside of this, I love humour and story-telling. I have a background in comedy, theatresports and love the martial arts. I also have a degree in creative writing and plan to return to fiction and screenplay writing later in life.
What drew you to your career?
I’ve always been fascinated by the question “why do people do what they do and how could they become better?” I believe (and plenty of research supports this claim) that there is nothing more satisfying than helping others. I’ve always felt medicine, teaching and psychology (to name a few) are noble professions as they are based on service and the advancement of others. I personally, have always wanted to be part of both sides of psychology, that being helping those with depression, anxiety and other forms of psychological distress as well as exploring happiness and peak performance and how we can all better ourselves.
Give us a run-down of the book. Who is it for? What is its purpose?
The book serves a dual audience. It is a book for self-improvement enthusiasts who really want to better understand themselves and maximize their life and it also acts as a treatment manual for those with depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties. I distilled a decade of clinical experience and research and refined every thing I have learned into 20 simple life principles to follow. I break those principles into 4 categories (4M’s) of superior mental health. They are Motivation, Mood, Meaning and Mastery. I cover just about every core area of life including nutrition, sleep, optimism, meaning, peak performance, self-image, exercise, relationships, social skills, achievement and more.
What inspired you to write this book?
Loneliness and abandonment! My partner went overseas to visit family for a month and due to work commitments, I was unable to join her. My partner and I are from opposite sides of the world and the first 5 years of our relationship was primarily long-distance. During those early years, I learned the power of finding a creative and meaningful outlet to deal with lonely situations that cannot be changed. It sure beats drugs and alcohol and you feel much prouder afterwards 🙂 One of the greatest skills of life is to channel both positive and negative emotions into creative expression.
So when she left, I decided I would use the time to write my next book. The goal was to complete an entire draft by the time she got back. Then the question became, what to write about? Since I would use writing as a tool to help me cope and remain focused on something positive, a flash of insight suggested I should use the book to help others do the same. Every time she goes away, my mental health is put to the test and I tend to respond by exercising even more than usual, having even better nutrition, getting good sleep, staying optimistic, practicing mindfulness (especially when feeling lonely), seeing friends and family more often and being creative. As I prepared to do these things and started to research my previous materials the idea snowballed into creating an entire life enhancing manual.
I decided to develop simple and practical principles around improving every key area of life, but also use all my experience to address mental health as well. It was also a unique idea that I believe is very much needed, considering 25% of people are diagnosed with a mental illness each year and over 50% of people are overweight, over 50% are high stress sufferers and over 50% of people will have long term relationships fail.
I have never come across a book that was able to address mental health and life enhancement at the same time. I also wanted each chapter to be practical and succinct. Thus the 20 principles for maximum mental health were born. When she returned, I had completed the first draft and then I did what was best for my mental health, which was set the book aside for awhile and enjoy catching up with her!
You make reference to things like hypnosis and mindfulness, what other sources do you draw from?
My clinical training was in two distinct types of therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which is based on learning to re-shape your thinking and create more empowering beliefs and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is a mindfulness based therapy that focuses on the importance of behaving towards what is important to you regardless of how you think. Both are highly valid therapies and I use elements of both. At the same time, in my final year of clinical training, I came across the Positive Psychology movement (the study of happiness and peak performance) and became totally enthralled.
I studied everything I could find on it in those initial years and built my whole business and life around the idea of happiness. After finishing my studies I embarked on being a Clinical Psychology career but also spent some time in working in Neuropsychology (study of the brain) and at the same time continued with my personal studies in Positive Psychology and by extension self-improvement in general. That is why I also have a good understanding of exercise, nutrition, sleep and other areas that are not traditionally taught in psychology. Hypnosis was a skill I developed much later after many years of searching for quality materials, teachers and training. A highly skilled hypnotist can obtain some amazing results but unfortunately most hypnotists are poorly trained. However, once I found the right resources and reached a high level of skill, it soon became one of my favorite disciplines.
What helps keep you happy and healthy?
The best way to answer this question is to use my own “fulfilling happiness” model which I created and do my best to live by. There are 7 positivity pillars I developed based on the positive psychology research I conducted.
- Pleasure – This is the foundation of happiness and we all need it. It involves immersing yourself in the things you enjoy. I love spending time with my partner – and all the naughty and nice things that involves :), joking with friends, and I really enjoy being outdoors whenever possible. For example, I enjoy training in martial arts, but whenever possible, will train at the beach where I can get sun, sand, scenery and a wonderfully refreshing swim afterwards. Love it!
- Power – This refers to developing empowering and optimistic thinking patterns and beliefs. I’m constantly reading and listening to podcasts that stimulate my mind and build my confidence (which is also quite pleasurable). I also have my own podcast on happiness and entrepreneurship on itunes. It is called The Fulfilling Happiness Edge.
- Performance – This refers to doing activities you enjoy and giving it your all so you can hopefully find “flow” (a naturally occurring peak performance state). Whether it is writing, speaking or practicing my sports, I really enjoy focusing to the best of my ability and performing well. I once heard a statement to the effect of – a professional is always overprepared – and that is what I aim to do. I like to make the most of every opportunity even when I know it is unlikely to lead to anywhere special in terms of an external reward, the internal gratification is reward enough.
- Prosperity – This refers to financial and psychological/spiritual prosperity. The foundation of prosperity is gratitude which I practice regularly. I firmly believe most people in the West are highly spoiled and yet struggle to appreciate it. When you are grateful you instantly become rich. I also believe in constantly searching for new financial opportunities and to be aware of what is happening in your life and around the world financially. I firmly believe “no one cares more about your money than you do.” In other words, educate yourself and don’t rely on financial planners or others to take care of your money.
- Passion – This refers to finding the activities you love (based on your own unique strengths) and doing them regularly. Early in my career, I knew that being a psychologist full time would not sustain me. That is why I also write on a range of topics, speak, do organizational training and am constantly exploring other creative pursuits like theatresports, fiction and martial arts.
- Persuasion – This refers to being a great communicator as success in any area of life is usually reliant on your relationships. It’s important to know how to communicate effectively and positively. I’m always exploring and working on my communication and performance skills. I love studying the more professionally orientated things like nonverbal body language, facial expression, stage presence and the more personal like he best way to build a relationship with lovers, friends, family and clients.
- Purpose – This refers to developing a meaningful life. Personally, finding meaning is something I have always sought to do. I believe any profession that helps others is noble and meaningful and I love the idea that through my books I can help people from all over the world who I will never even meet. Outside of my work, I deeply value my partner and the struggles we went through to be together and my close friends, family and all my clients – even the difficult ones 🙂
If you want to see the model – visit fulfillinghappiness.com/coaching
Sometimes in the depths of depression and anxiety it can be difficult to motivate yourself to make life changes or do the things that will help you get well; what’s a good first step?
There are two principles to keep in mind here. The first is to understand the more you move, the better you feel. When feeling depressed, embarking on an enjoyable activity will really help. Usually the more physical it is, the better. However, sometimes people feel stuck and require a bit of an emotional boost. Therefore it helps to have a specific list of immediately accessible “pleasure prompts” at hand to build positive emotion and motivation. To assist, I’ve added a short excerpt and technique from “Maximum Mental Health” below.
Unfortunately, sometimes people can fall into depressive and de-motivated moods. The secret in this scenario is to create a list of pleasure prompts. However, this can be hard for someone to do alone when they are feeling depressed. With patience and by asking the right questions, I can get even the most stuck person to create a list of at least a dozen things. Of course, having a trained professional to assist is a luxury most people don’t have when needed most.
There is a better option which is to act now! You should create your pleasure prompts list when you are feeling fine and continue to add to it whenever a new idea comes up. Ask friends and colleagues what they enjoy and if you enjoy them too, add it to the list. One of the advantages of modern technology is not only can we put our list on our phone so it will be with us wherever we go, we can also easily and quickly access video, audio and text when we need it.
Pleasure Prompts List and Set-up: Right now, create a favorites list. Don’t think, just write. All you need is at least five in total. Write down 1-3 of your favorites in each of the following categories: songs, jokes, books (book passages), poems, videos/movies, sports, hobbies, sensory joys (bath, massage, intimacy, cooking), friends, games, dances. Keep this list in your wallet or electronically on your phone and make these options easily accessible.
Put your favorite songs, images or videos on your phone (or links for where they can be easily streamed), your favorite jokes, poems and books (or at least book passages) on your desk and in your phone. Have maps and apps for key places of interest. Keep special folders with cherished photographs and social activities to do alone or with friend’s.
As a general rule, avoid computer games and alcohol as they can be addictive and depressive in the medium to long term. Stick with prompts that normally inspire or rejuvenate you. Even if you are not feeling inspired at the time, the principles of “acting now” and “movement” will lead to greater pleasurable momentum. The key is not to overthink it. If struggling, immediately scan your list and do the first thing you find that you can start without delay. That is why your list should always be with you and ready. When in doubt – open, scan, pick whatever seems easiest and begin!
The more you engage with the activity, the more effective it will be. If you’re going to listen to your favorite song, listen deeply or better yet, sing along as passionately as you can. Dance freely, read that poem out loud, make that bath just right, turn off the TV and your computer and put your phone on airplane mode and really talk, walk or play games with your friends, colleagues or kids if suitable and so on.
Where can readers get the book?
The direct link to the book is http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U3SRQJM
The book is available on Amazon.com. Simply type in Maximum Mental Health and you will find it.
You can also visit MaximumMentalHealth.com for a free chapter.
Where else can you be found online?
As part of Maximum Mental Health, I also give away 3 mindfulness recordings and a unique “holiday escape” relaxation recording. Although it is better to have the book first, so the recordings are placed into context, they can be freely obtained at MentalHealthHypnosis.com
If you enjoy podcasts and have an interest in happiness and entrepreneurship, visit – http://ow.ly/FdICv
My blog and a range of other materials is at – FulfillingHappiness.com