The 6 Pillars of Optimum Psychological Health (and how to develop them)


Steven Burns

Hi! I’m Steven. I’m a professional therapist, coach, trainer & author with over 20 years experience. I teach the latest psychological tools and techniques to help you transform and make a difference.

What is optimum psychological health?

  • Feeling good all the time?
  • Successfully accomplishing all your meaningful goals?
  • Using your mind to achieve world domination?
  • Or something else?

Optimum psychological is actually a utopian vision. It’s most likely not something we can achieve in its entirety.

Life is a continually moving picture so we are always a work-in-progress.

Plus, what you perhaps regard as ‘optimum’ today might become your ‘run-of-the-mill’ in a year’s time. It’s all relative to your progress and development as a human being.

When you get down to it, Optimum Psychological Health is more of a direction. It’s not some kind of holy grail or magic elixir that we suddenly obtain, it’s something that we get more of over time by diligently applying certain principles to our daily lives and working to improve particular areas.

Optimum Psychological Health is a process, and one that we are eternally involved in. When you make it a key life goal and work towards it, you naturally become healthier, happier, more fulfilled, and more successful as each month and year passes.

Over the last 2 decades, having worked with thousands of clients, both 1-2-1 and in groups (and also working feverishly on my own development), I’ve noticed that Optimum Psychological health is made up of different elements.

I now call these ‘The 6 Pillars of Optimum Psychological Health’.

“Optimum Psychological Health is a process, and one that we are eternally involved in.”

This provides you with a road map, a way of assessing your psychological health, and raising your awareness with regards to which areas need worked on the most.

Develop a high level of ability in each of the pillars and you’ll be in a very good place.

Master each of the pillars and you’ll be able to achieve and maintain your version of optimum psychological health.

As a fun game to play, you can even grade yourself in each of the pillars. 

(Suggested grading scale: 1 = Terrible; 10 = Optimum) 

Hint: You shouldn’t ever score yourself a 10. If you do, while I admire your high self-esteem, there’s a high chance you’re deluding yourself a little :). Your personal development should always be a work-in-progress.

Pillar 1: Purpose & Goals

There’s not a personal development plan in the world that wouldn’t recommend setting goals. It’s a staple part of any successful self-help or personal development system.

Because we live in such a cluttered world, where we our attention is being continually fragmented and pulled in multiple different directions, getting clear about what we want has now become more essential than ever.

If we don’t then we’ll just spend our time meandering through Facebook, or on Youtube caught up in an endless look of watching cats do funny things.

So when it comes to using your psychology in an optimum way, being able to sort through the mess of modern life and set clear goals is a fundamental aim.

There is a big difference though, between just randomly setting goals that we ‘think’ we want and doing it strategically, in a way that fits neatly our life purpose(s).

If we’re looking to live a meaningful and fulfilling life then it’s important to set goals in a very particular way.

Rather than simply writing out a list of outcomes that you ‘think’ would be quite nice to achieve, it’s best to start off at the level of ‘purpose’ and then work outwards from there.

What I mean by this is that you want to start the process by looking inwards and intuitively connecting with what’s important to you – what your values, passions, and principles are.

Then craft tour goals from this place.

“When Crafting your Goals, ALWAYS start with your values, passions, & principles.”

This way, you’ll be tapping into your purpose(s) and using it/them to guide your choice of direction. Using this method, any goal you set will be connect to something that’s meaningful and resonant with you.

Many people view goal setting from the outside-in, allowing social expectation to dictate the outcomes they set.

But this is a huge mistake. 

Sure, it is important to get external feedback regarding our goals, and it’s also useful to look out into the world for inspiration, but the goal setting process should always be predominantly an inside-out process.

Even if you do look outwards for inspiration when creating goals, you still want to do an internal check to make sure that the what you see resonates with you.

If you don’t treat it as a predominantly inside-out process, then how do you expect your goals to be meaningful?

So Purpose first, Specific Goals second.

It’s also important to approach the goal setting process holistically.

Some people put all their eggs in the one baskets and dedicate all their time to a single activity and, as a result, the rest of their life starts to suffer.

We all know of examples of people who make their work the sole focus of their life and, without realising it, their marriage collapses from underneath them or their health starts to deteriorate.

Or something akin to the opposite:

They spend all of their energy and focus on their family that they they lose their own sense of identity and stop doing things that they, themselves, love.

To use our psychology in an optimum way, it’s important that we look at the different areas of our life and craft purpose-drive goals that compliment each of the areas, and not necessarily compete with each other.

That way we create a sense of alignment rather than having outcomes that conflict with each other unnecessarily.

Not to say, of course, that there won’t ever be trade-offs. We can’t always have our cake and eat it, but it’s important that we do everything we can to make any trade-off is not something that will detrimentally affect our long term health and well-being.

So to summarise pillar 1:

  • Set goals from the inside-out: connect with your passions and make sure your goals are purpose-driven.
  • Think holistically: examine the main area of your life and craft goals that comment and not necessarily compete each of the areas.
Follow these two rules and it’s great step towards mastering this important part of your psychological health.

Pillar 2: Emotional Wellbeing

A second important element of optimum psychological health is the ability to manage and influence our Emotional Wellbeing.

Emotions are often our go-to indicators when it comes to assessing our psychological state-of-mind.

We check in every now and again to see how we are feeling, and then use this as a gauge for our ongoing mental health.

And there’s a whole variety of different labels we use when doing this:

Sad, happy, motivated, apathetic, frustrated, anxious, stressed, elated, excited, enthused, confident?

These are all labels that we attach to the feelings and sensations we experience in our body in order to describe our emotional state of mind.

When it comes to achieving optimum psychological health, the ability to understand and positively affect the feelings & sensations we experience is crucial.

Instead of believing that our emotions are like mysterious entities that lurk in our subconscious, occasionally forcing themselves on us in a way that we have no control over, we look at them as variables – things that we have a large degree of influence over.

In truth, our emotions often do work on auto-pilot – and they can often feel like they are out of our control – but by learning the mechanics behind them we can hijack the process and use it by design.

It’s a bit like breathing. 

Most of the time, it happens automatically but we can take charge of it temporarily if we choose, and use it it by design with a goal or purpose in mind – for example, if you are a yogi you can use a specific breathing pattern to deliberately affect your body and mind in a particular way.

Emotions work a bit like this. They happen subconsciously most of the time but that doesn’t mean we can’t become of aware of how they work and then temporarily take charge of the process to achieve a particular result.

“Emotions work on auto-pilot but, by learning how emotions are naturally created we can take charge of the process and create empowering emotions by design.”

{If you’d like to learn more about emotional management then I’d recommend you check out this eBook – if you haven’t already. It’s a 34-page Insider’s Guide on Understanding & Influencing your Emotions}.

Download The Insider’s Guide to Understanding & Influencing your Emotions  by clicking on the image below.


In general, to use your psychology in an optimum way, you want to learn how to do the following with your emotions:

  • Reduced the intensity of negative (disempowering) emotions. E.G Fear, anxiety, stress.
  • Deliberately create positive, supporting and empowering emotions. E.G Confidence, relaxation, peace, motivation, love.
  • Improve the relationship you have with your emotions: learn to listen to your emotions more, learn from them, and use them as springboards for future development.

When you become skilled  – even just a little bit – at doing these 3 things you can make a profound difference to your emotional wellbeing.

Pillar 3: Ability to Overcome Psychological Limitations

As human beings we all have our own psychological sh*t to deal with.

I haven’t met a single person on the planet who hasn’t struggled with some kind of psychological limitation or issue at some point in their life (including myself) and I don’t think I’m likely to find one.

We are imperfect creatures and that’s cool.

A lot of the time our imperfections and baggage make up endearing aspects of our personality, but sometimes we encounter psychological limitations that significantly hold us back.

As human beings, we are imperfect creatures so it’s absolutely fine to struggle – and admit that you’re struggling.

Also, if you’re the kind of person who likes to challenge themselves – which is a good trait, obviously – then you’ll regularly be pushing yourself outside of your own comfort zone. 

And doing this can often cause our psychological angsts and worries to rise up and present themselves quicker than bubbles do in a jacuzzi!

To experience psychological hang-ups, limitations or issues that hold us back is a natural part of life so it’s important that we have a way of uncovering these issues and then resolving them.

We take 2 steps forward then what feels like a million back.

Now of course, if you’re experiencing something severe and crippling that’s affecting most aspects of your life – and you can’t figure it out – then the gold-standard would be to visit a skilled therapist and seek some professional help.

But outside of that, it’s important – and sometimes essential – to be able to make sense of your own psychological ‘stuff’ and have techniques and processes that allow you to move beyond them – or at least make some progress.

There are many different methods you can use to understand and resolve your psychological problems, like CBT (Cognitive behavioural Therapy) or Positive Psychology, but my own personal choice is a combination of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), Self-Coaching, and Self-Hypnosis – or ‘meditation’ of you don’t like the ‘H’ word.

By combining these different methodologies, you can better understand your thought processes, both at the surface and deeper levels, in a way that allows you to make changes that are quick, positive, relatively painless, and in a way that’s sustainable.

If you’re looking for a method for tackling your own psychological issues & limitations then you can use the following 3-step process.

Note: This is only one method you can use to create change and is a massive oversimplification. 

There’s a lot to these 3 steps so let’s dig in a bit deeper:

→ Step 1: Smoke out the Problem:

Often our problems can be quite difficult to see clearly, usually because we are too close to them. By following a specific process though, it is possible to understand their structure. To basically smoke out the problem.

It’s difficult to change a problem you don’t know about – or just have a vague understanding of – so it’s important to spend some time becoming more self-aware – to analyse your experience objectively, and figure out the root cause of the issue. 

What is really going on for you? What is it that you are really responding to? What’s at the root of this problem?

Once you have a good idea what it is you’re dealing with you then move on to step 2.

 Step 2: Go into a Creative State:

Einstein once said that you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it. It’s nigh-on impossible to solve a problem when we are analysing it to death. 

We might be able to figure out what the problem is with this type of thinking but to change it you need to first shift your state if mind: 

You need to access a more creative state.

If you’ve done any hypnosis before then you would describe this state as a ‘trance’ but you needn’t label on this way.

A creative state is any state of mind that involves you being absorbed in a mildly relaxing way. It’s a bit like you’re day dreaming.

When we daydream – especially when we do it in a disciplined and focused way – our mind begins to open up to new possibilities, we become more creative and more open to new options and different ways of thinking.

This state is wonderful when it comes to creating personal change. It makes it possible for us to explore our current situation from a new angle or perspective, and to then step into this new way of thinking and consider it as an alternative to the existing paradigm.

Our more cognitive, analytical mind is useful when it comes to analysing and assessing our problems, but our creative, dreamy mind is much better at coming up with potential solutions.

 Step 3: Explore a new choice:

So once you’v figured out the problem and then taken some time to shift your state of mind into a more creative place, you can start to explore a new alternative.

One cool way to do this is to imagine what life would be like if your problem were to just disappear

If that were to happen, what would you think and feel instead? 

How would you behave differently?

Or you could just simply use the time to explore random possible solutions. At this point they don’t have to even be feasible, you’re simply brainstorming from a dreamy place of creativity.

Then, once you have a few potential solutions, you can step into them, imagine that they have become your reality and role-play for a while

When you do this, you start to build the neural networks that support this new choice or solution, and it can start to become part of your reality.

“To Create Precise, Sustainable Change, first figure out what the problem is, then go into a Creative state-of-mind, and then Explore new choices from this perspective” 

There are many methods, techniques, and processes you can use to create personal change, but this 3-step process is a useful place to start and will give you a strong foundation if you decide to explore some of the more advanced change-techniques. 

Pillar 4: Life-Long Learning & Development

The 4th pillar of optimum psychological health is to do with your own continual learning and development.

The world we live in moves fast. Change is inevitable and it appears to be happening quicker today than it has done in previous years.

Because of this, we also have to change: we have to make our continual learning & development a priority or we’ll be left behind.

Albert Einstein knew this when he was asked – allegedly – by a local university to design a set of questions for an up-and-coming exam.

After designing the questions, Einstein handed them over to the head of the department with a smug look on his face.

The head took one look at them and said,

“Erm, Mr Einstein, these questions…they are exactly the same as they were last year.”

To which Einstein replied,

“Yes, that’s correct…but…the answers have changed!”

We live in a world where the answers are changing faster than they ever have before.

What we used to do no longer cuts it. And what we currently do will most likely not cut it in the no-so-distant future.

That’s why if we want to use our psychology in an optimum way, it’s vital that we continually look to develop: to work on improving our value over time, adding additional talents and strings to our bow, or developing the ones we currently specialise in.

If we don’t do this, chances are, our methods, ideas and skillsets will be in danger of becoming prehistoric. What we do can become out-of-date pretty quickly, and our value and worth to the world can begin to drop as a result.

“If you don’t keep learning, your methods will go the way of the dinosaurs” 

In truth, the relevancy of this pillar will depend on your situation, your values, and – quite possibly – your age, but it should always be something you want to take into consideration regardless of who you are or your current situation.

It’s important to remember that optimising your psychology is a process, not something you achieve once and then forget about: it’s a moving picture.

Because the world is always changing, we need change with it or we’ll be left the way of the dinosaurs.

True Life-long learning like this is a large topic but here are 2 pieces of quick advice that I’ve found to be useful:

→ Tip 1: Fall in love with learning.

Don’t see learning as something you have to do, see it as something that you enjoy doing.

Spend some time exploring the benefits of taking your knowledge, skills, and value to the next level.

As human beings we are ‘learning machines’. We have an innate thirst for learning that can, at times, be insatiable. 

It’s one of the primary drives that’s made us the dominant species on the planet so it’s within every one of us, including you!

This quality may have been suppressed by poor education and teaching in your formative years but it’s still in there, waiting to be brought to the forefront and aimed in a particular direction.

To connect – or re-connect – with the joy of learning it can be useful to do the following:

  • Reminisce Past Learnings: Think back to something that you learned in the past that you enjoyed. Spend some time recalling this past event, step into it, and re-live it. Remind yourself what it was like to thoroughly enjoy the process of learning and developing. By doing this you can start to re-kindle your innate thirst for learning. 
  • Explore Your Why: Think about a subject that involves learning and explore the ‘Why’ behind it. Why are you learning this? What will learning this skill, ability or body of information get you? What will it it give you that’s important? What will it do for you? By exploring the purpose behind the subject or skillset you’re looking to develop, it can help fuel your desire to learn more.

→ Tip 2: Become more comfortable with difference.

One of the most effective ways to stimulate learning is to step out of your comfort zone and do something different. 

By doing so, you expand your world, your ‘thinking’, and your range of behaviours.

You’re forced to become a more flexible person and your value and skillset naturally starts to develop as a result.

However, stepping out of your comfort zone can be difficult to do because it feels…well…uncomfortable!

It can be the easiest thing in the world sometimes to fall back into our own engrained habits and turn life into a day-to-day grind of mundane and predictable rituals. 

But to do so to the extreme can lead to serious stagnation in your development and, to be brutally honest, a pretty boring existence.

We do of course need rituals, and it’s healthy to create and maintain positive habits, but it’s also important that we mix it up occasionally by doing something different. It’s one the things that will accelerate our learning, expand our world, and make life more interesting.

So make a point to: 

  • Challenge yourself. 
  • Do something different. 
  • Step out your comfort zone regularly. 

And eventually you’ll become significantly more comfortable doing so.

Your world will expand, your development will accelerate, you’ll become a more flexible & valuable person, and it may even make life more thrilling & worthwhile. 

“Life’s Challenges Are Not Supposed To Paralyze You, They’re Supposed To Help You Discover Who You Are.” Bernice Johnson Reagon

Pillar 5: Performance – the Ability to Raise your Game

Many things in life don’t require us to ‘step up’ and be the ‘best versions of ourselves’.

They just require us to be reasonably present and able to access an adequate level of focus and attention.

For example, when we’re lying on the couch watching Netflix on a Saturday night, we don’t need to be all pumped up and ready to perform to the best of our abilities. We just need to relax on the sofa, allocate a small amount of concentration, grab a drink and some popcorn, and we’re good to go.

But some situations require us to raise our game a bit more: to elevate our performance and bring more to the table.

Examples of such situations could be the following:

  • Going to work.
  • Giving a presentation.
  • Doing an interview.
  • Seeing a client.
  • Going on a first date.
  • Attending an important social event.
  • Studying for an exam.
  • Doing a stage performance.

Events such as these require a lot more focus, attention and energy than regular day-to-day activities. They require us to tap into a greater amount of our inner resources so we can bring more to the table and perform at an elevated level.

So in order to use our psychology in an optimum way, we have to learn strategies that allow us to ‘switch on’ a peak performance state: to get us into the right frame of mind to perform to the best of our capabilities.

Interestingly, people often think that peak performance just happens. That it’s the result of ‘magic’ or ‘innate talent’. But the reality is that peak performance is not something that we’re born with: it’s an ability that we learn and prepare for.

Behind the scenes of any high performance is a carefully crafted sequence of planning, practice, preparation, and feedback. 

To raise your game, you need to invest a reasonable amount of energy into it. There may even be some blood, sweat and tears on the journey.

Top performers also often practice and prepare in a distinctly different way to average performers. They always put the hours in, but they also know what to put in the hours.

There’s a lot to Peak Performance, but you can break it down to following 6 elements – usually done in order:

1. Create an ambitious goal:

  • Pick a goal that stretches you. This will push you beyond your current limit.

2. Self-Motivate:

  • Explore the ‘Why’ behind the goal.
  • Learn how to self-motivate: you’ll need to invest energy into practicing so it’s important that you know how to motivate yourself.

3. Practice Schedule:

  • Create a practice schedule: figure out the key aspects that need to be practised/improved and then commit to the schedule.
  • Practice in a relaxed, creative state: to accelerate your learning, it’s important that you practice in a relaxed and focused state of mind – not one that is distracted. So take the time to centre yourself, and bring your attention to the here-and-now, before starting each practice session.

4. Psychologically Prepare:

  • It’s important to get your head right for a performance. There are many intricacies to this, but a simple way is to spend some time visualising a successful performance. Sit down and imagine, in your mind’s eye, the future performance going the way you’d like it to go. What would you see, hear, and feel? It can also be useful to repeat this several times a few days before the performance itself.

5. The Performance:

  • This is where you step up and deliver: the actual performance itself. When it comes to performing, the key strategy is to do everything you can to relax your body and mind and – as much as you can – bring your attention to the present moment. By doing so it helps you tap into as much of your resources as you can so you can deal with the challenges of the performance. Essentially, you want to ‘let go’ and enter a flow like state.

6. Feedback:

  • Feedback is the breakfast of champions. It’s the spark that ignites future development. Once you have performed, it’s essential that you look back on the performance objectively and look for areas of improvement. If possible, the gold standard would be to get a coach so they can assess your performance and give you high quality feedback. Once you’ve extracted the feedback, you then utilise it in your future practice sessions to continue your development.

“People often think that a high level of performance is down to innate talent. It’s not. Behind every high level of performance is strategic hard work, applied with a goal in mind”

Pillar 6: Communication & Interpersonal Skills

They say the most important relationship is the one that you have with yourself.

This is perhaps true but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that the relationships you have with others is also crucial.

The ability to use your psychology in an optimum way isn’t just confined to what you do internally, inside your mind.

It extends beyond this into your interpersonal behaviour: the ways in which you engage and interact with your social and work circles.

As human beings we are intensely social creatures. So, unless you become a dictator and force people to bend to your will (I’m not suggesting it!), your ability to interact effectively and work with others is crucial to your chances of success in any venture.

If you want to successfully achieve your goals and dreams, you need to understand what makes people tick and then use it as a basis to form long-term, harmonious relationships.

Plus, at a more basic level, social interaction can be an absolute joy when it goes well. It’s one the most natural forms of human bliss.

Learning to communicate and interact effectively with other people is an art form, and it’s also a topic that you could spend your entire life continually developing. 

However, I find the following 2 skills to be fundamental, irrespective of your level of social wizardry.

Key Skill 1 -> Active Listening

Many people think that ‘listening’ is what you do when you’re waiting for the other person to shut up and talk.

It’s not. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Giving your full attention to the person you’re communicating with can be one of the most powerful things that you can do to aid social interaction. 

When we feel like we’ve been ‘truly heard’ it lights up our neurology and we feel a sense of connection and belonging.

This goes a long way to creating and nurturing a positive relationship. In fact, it’s usually when this fails that it the relationship begins to unravel.

Key Skill 2 -> Strategic Empathy

‘Empathy’ is the ability to psychological step into the shoes of someone else and ‘sense’ their feelings and intentions.

The great Scottish Comedian Billy Connelly used to tell the following  joke:

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. If you don’t like him after that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” Billy Connelly

It’s a great joke but the first part (not so much the second part) is also great advice. 

Before you judge what someone is thinking or feeling it’s important to make the imaginary leap inside your mind and, genuinely, see the world from their perspective.

It’s only then that you have the information you need to properly interact with them. As Abraham Lincoln once said:

“When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.” – Abraham Lincoln

Empathy is crucial for effective communication but you can go over board. 

If you spend too much time seeing the world from other people’s perspectives, you may start to lower the importance of your own feelings, intentions, goals and dreams — this often happens in relationships where one, out of a couple, gives too much of themselves to the relationship and starts to lose their identity as an individual. 

So it’s important to use empathy ‘strategically’. Don’t do it obsessively to the point where you devalue your own needs. Do it strategically, with forethought, and with the goal of gauging a person’s feelings and intentions.

Whenever you’re looking to improve communication and understand someone better, stop for a moment and then imagine — in your mind’s eye — what it would be like if you were to briefly step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes

And then from there, consider the following questions:

  • What am I thinking right now?
  • What am I feeling?
  • What are my intentions, and/or goals?   

Once you’ve considered these questions step back out — again, in your mind’s eye — bringing the insights back with you.

This psychological technique can work wonders for your social intelligence. Give it a go the next time you’re interacting with someone and notice how it improves communication.

There is, undoubtedly, vastly more to interpersonal skills than these two elements, and social interaction is a skill that can spend a lifetime developing, but if you start off by improving these key areas you’ll be building a solid foundation.

Closing Comments

So there you have it. The 6 Pillars of Optimum Psychology. Excel in each of these areas and you’ll find that your potential for living a happy and fulfilling life will be exponentially increased.

If you haven’t already done so, grade yourself in each of the pillars. Then work on the pillar that you scored the lowest in. 

Developing this will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to your personal & professional development.

Learn. Grow. And Be Well.


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