My Top 5 Mental Health Book Recommendations
After baring my soul last week and opening up about my recent battle with depression & anxiety that I've now been recovering from for over two years, I thought it would be fitting to share a couple of books that have helped me along the journey.
Self help books can be real a hit and miss topic for many. I used to be one of those people who would turn their nose to them, but in recent years my opinion has flipped and I've become a real advocate. What I've learnt is that the reason so many people don't get anything out of them is because they're looking for some kind of miracle quick fix to their problem, and don't actually take the time to implement the strategies they read about, leaving them feeling like self help books don't help them.
One thing I can not stress enough is that the reason I got some much out of these books is because I acted on what I read. Taking action is the key!
1. The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris
Hands down, without a doubt, the book that has had the greatest impact on me during my recovery is The Happiness Trap.
Harris’ teaching of ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) was a real light bulb moment for me. His knowledge and theories of mental health were like the key to a door that had yet to have been opened during my lifetime. A door that once unlocked would lead me to a much greater understanding of myself, and a contentment that I didn’t know was possible.
So many self-help gurus preach that the key to our happiness is to simply think positive, as if it's just some simple flick of a switch. Not Harris. Whilst thinking positive can without a doubt play a big role in improving one’s mindset, Harris explains that the problem to the theory that positive thoughts are the be all and end all is that we humans do not have the ability to control our thoughts, and are naturally built to think 80% negative as a primal survival instinct that we’ve inherited from our stone age ancestors who needed to be weary of hungry sabre tooth tigers.
If you’re stuck in a rut, feel like your thoughts have taken control of your actions, and want to step back into the real world please read this book!
Biggest lesson I learnt: That it’s completely normal and human to feel negative emotions. It’s how you ACT on those emotions that will decide whether they have a negative effect on your life or not.
2. Mindset – Dr Carol Dweck
The way that I stumbled upon this book still blows my mind to this day. Whilst holidaying on the other side of the world, in a foreign speaking country (Croatia) last year, I was in need of a new book to read during some quality relaxation time. My only dilemma was that of all the books available in the stores, minuscule percentages were actually printed in English. After hunting through many a bookstore to find that the tiny English sections, hidden away out of plain sight, usually contained only fictional books (not really my style), I finally came across a store in Split with an English section that appealed to me. When I saw the word ‘Mindset’ crammed tightly in the middle of a shelf full of books, I instantly new I had to read it.
Dweck’s studies of ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets in humans is fascinating, and is very much the reason I am so excited to be alive right now. If you’ve come to a point in your life where your hobbies, interested and everyday activities that once filled you with excitement and enthusiasm no longer feel as fun as they used to, this one could change your perspective and reignite a fire in your belly just like it did me!
Biggest lesson I learnt: That our IQ is not a set in stone figure that we're simply born with and stuck to for the rest of our life. Like a muscle, our brains have the ability to expand over time if we are willing to invest in the process of learning, and understand that we have to fail in order to grow.
3. The Confidence Gap – Russ Harris
Following a sequence of career events that had a negative impact on me, my confidence had spiralled to an all time low by early 2016. I was becoming more and more uninspired and it was affecting my ability to write and perform with freedom.
I was still writing, but the time I was dedicating to it was becoming less and less, and with that came more and more of the hollowing feeling that I was failing and not getting anywhere. I was still performing, but felt like I was loosing touch with my audience, which lead me to promote myself less and book shows that I wasn’t particularly enthused about doing.
The Confidence Gap taught me how to begin regaining the confidence that I had once felt and was beginning to believe was a thing of the past, never to return again.
Biggest lesson I learnt: That confidence is not something that just comes to you from time to time, out of the blue. It is built over time, in small steps, and takes dedication and practice.
4. The One Thing – Gary Keller
I read this book throughout December last year and it has very much shaped how I am approaching my life in 2019.
Admittedly, the old me was an avid ‘multi-tasker’, and for a long time I believed that that was a totally realistic approach to both my work and personal life. Answering emails whilst trying to spend quality time with my loved ones, or taking phone calls in the middle of a recording session in the studio; all in an effort to try and keep on top of things. Little did I realise how much time I was throwing away, and that my multi-tasking ways were actually helping me to fall behind.
Looking back, I believe that my multi-tasking lifestyle was one of the main contributors to my depression. It had stained my ability to be in the moment, as my mind bounced from once place to another at a thousand miles a minute. Things that once brought me great pleasure and purpose slowly grew stale, with the feeling that I was constantly short of time to pursue them.
Nowadays, I’m forever trying to be conscious of when I’m becoming distracted. I dedicate at least 20 hours of ‘blocked time’ per week to being in the studio. In this time I am completely unavailable to the world. I turn off my phone, I shut down my emails, I close the door and I write with a focus that was completely foreign to me before reading the Keller’s paperback.
Biggest lesson I learnt: If you want to truly excel at something, you must create structure in your life that will allow you to dedicate time to it with no distractions.
5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Mark Manson
One of the most talked about books in the media of recent times has been Mark Manson’s ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’. For a while there, I couldn’t walk past a shop window without the bright orange cover and bold black title slapping me in the face a screaming “READ ME FOR FUCK SAKE!”. Overcome with curiosity, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
A lot of people talk this book up to be of great comical value, and yes, at times Manson’s wording and straight down line, ‘say it how it is’ attitude did make me smirk. But I also couldn’t help but notice the many valuable lessons that I was learning as I flicked through the pages; from self-entitlement, fear of failure, the importance of suffering, and becoming comfortable with death. Sounds pretty grim doesn’t it? It’s not.
The final chapter of this book is one of the most intense and riveting pieces of writing I have ever read, and literally sent my body into a state of tense discomfort as Manson painted a picture of the day he decided to sit at the top of a cliff face on South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and stare over the edge in order to better understand just how lucky he is to be alive and how close to death he could be at any moment.
This is a must read!
Biggest lesson I learnt: I am entitled to absolutely nothing, and no matter what life throws at me throughout my years; whilst it may not necessarily be my fault, it is absolutely my responsibility as to how I respond and deal with things.