Title: "The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence and Creativity"
Author: Phil Stutz and Barry Michels
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 2012; 288 pages; $25
Psychology has become more of a pop cultural phenomenon than any other field of scientific inquiry. People throw around diagnostic terms like any other adjective, deeming their mother-in-law a narcissist, labeling their organized sister obsessive-compulsive, and claiming, albeit jokingly, that "adult ADD" is at the root of their own career ennui.
It’s not at all bizarre to watch reality shows film the once-confidential confessionals of therapy sessions, and Woody Allen has repeatedly immortalized on film the decades-long therapeutic relationships that are common in certain schools of therapy.
People "shrink" themselves and each other, and frequently explain why they have their quirks and personality problems by looking back at their childhoods and the role their parents or early life experiences had on forming their current issues.
Schools of therapy vary in terms of how past or present-oriented they are; from Freudian analysis to rubber-band-wielding cognitive behavioral modification therapies. But 25 years ago, psychotherapist Phil Stutz committed himself to addressing his patients’ immediate crises and pain with solutions they could use to get immediate relief.
Stutz formulated what he calls "the tools" — specific visualization and mindset exercises that you can use at specific times to deal with specific issues — then taught them to his mentee, attorney-turned-therapist Barry Michels.
Stutz and Michels soon became the go-to therapists for high-powered individuals and Hollywood creatives who wanted to break blocks, express themselves with confidence, and eliminate the negative effects of trauma and anxiety in their lives without spending a decade delving into childhood traumas and dramas.
I can testify firsthand that this book and these tools are immediate and powerful in effect, once you decide to use them. I consider myself to be an uber-productive individual by default, yet just working with the first tool, found myself racing excitedly to get to the difficult conversations and dreaded tasks that had fallen to the bottom of my priorities list.
While the tools themselves are life-changing and procrastination-destroying, there is a lot of latent power in their logical, yet spiritual, foundations — simple, profound statements that bust myths many of us hold onto for a lifetime without realizing how destructive and disempowering they can be. Here are a few of the myths about life that Stutz and Michels shatter in "The Tools," to great effect.
Myth 1: Life can or should be painless. Stutz and Michels believe that the reason we often get stuck, procrastinate or engage in self-sabotage is because we are trying to avoid pain. These avoidance techniques — our preference to live in our comfort zones and protect ourselves from uncertainty, rejection, anxiety and other painful emotions — provide some immediate relief, but also place severe limitations on what we can achieve and experience in life.
Pain avoidance is based in the childish, irrational, often subconscious belief that life is, can be or should be painless. The fact is, almost any endeavor worth aspiring to, whether it’s getting fit or launching a business, involves some amount of discomfort — even the daily discomfort of going for a run instead of staying in bed, or the little pains involved in staying organized. Stutz and Michels provide a tool for helping readers learn to reverse their avoidance of pain, and even lean into inevitable discomfort, as a means of tapping into a realm of endless possibilities for their lives.
Myth 2: Other people will or should treat us fairly. Our moms told us life isn’t fair. But the fact is that many of us have held on to the belief that we will or should be treated fairly. As a result, when we feel wronged or disrespected, even by someone we love, we get trapped in what Stutz and Michels call "The Maze," a reactive, life-wasting cycle of anger, rumination and revenge fantasies.
When we learn to accept everything and everyone as they are, instead of as we think they should be, we are able to transcend the angry spinning of the Maze, stop wasting our time fixated on how other people are treating us, and assert ourselves and our rights without being so strongly affected by the actions of others.
Myth 3: Energy is finite. Stutz and Michels repeatedly address what must be the most common objection they hear to using the "tools," which is that they take time and energy, seemingly scarce resources in people who are stressed and anxious.
While acknowledging that the tools take time and effort to practice and use, the authors point out that they each only take a few seconds to implement once you have learned them. More importantly, they point out that the tools actually give you back the measureless time and energy that we all lose to being anxious, stressing about how other people treat or perceive us, and avoiding the things we really need to do to live the lives we want.
In the final analysis, using the tools may actually generate and recoup much, much more time and energy than they require — an assertion that was certainly validated by my personal experience and experiments using the tools.