The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower—and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion (2012) outlines five mental exercises to immediately tackle common challenges that may be holding you back in life. The coauthors are therapists and include patient cases and sketches to elaborate on how to use each tool.
Introduction: Master your demons with five simple tools.
Table of Contents
Isn’t it frustrating when you finally get around to that nagging home repair, only to find out you don’t have the correct screwdriver?It’s even more troubling when you are unequipped to navigate bigger challenges in life, such as grief, difficult relationships, and professional setbacks, to name just a few. You may seek help in therapy to get to the root of the problem, yet still walk away frustrated without any actionable steps to effect immediate change. That’s because so much of traditional talk therapy leaves us just that: unequipped.
In this summary to Phil Stutz and Barry Michels’s The Tools, you’ll receive an actionable toolkit to tackle any part of your life that needs repair: including pushing through pain points to achieve goals, managing difficult interactions with people, using your insecurities to your benefit, appreciating what you have, and finding the motivation to keep doing the work.
Each of The Tools are quick mental exercises you can use in the everyday. Just like literal tools, it’s completely on you to choose the best one for the job and do the work. The best part is that all can be put into action right away. You’re still on your own with the DIY home repairs, but there’s plenty on YouTube for that!
Tool #1: Welcoming Adversity
What’s on your immediate must-do list that fills you with dread or even fear? Is there anything you’ve been putting off for longer?
While it’s human nature to avoid what we don’t like, uncomfortable and even painful situations are inevitable. In most cases, the challenges themselves aren’t what hold people back from achieving their greatest potential; it’s the avoidance of taking the next step to unlock the possibilities.
The first tool helps you not only power through tough situations but learn to use them to your benefit. We are not talking about just accepting adversity, but actually being glad to see it when it inevitably appears. It sounds bizarre, but it’s a powerful way to reframe the role difficulty has in your life.
Here’s the exercise: First, visualize the emotion surrounding the task or situation. The emotion may be fear of a difficult conversation going badly. Perhaps it’s the humiliation if you slip up while giving a speech. It may be a less rational emotion, such as having a fear of flying despite statistics showing air travel is much safer than driving.
Whatever the pain is, give it a visual in your mind, and ask it to envelop you. As it does, accept it eagerly with the belief it will bring something good. Focus your mind on that good as you move yourself through and out, thanking the pain as you go for what’s on the other side.
Regardless of the outcome, you’ll gain power in overcoming the mental block, which is a win in itself. That satisfaction will encourage you to use the tool again and again to the point where you will naturally welcome pain points. Meanwhile, you are moving forward, which is the force that drives life itself.
Using this tool also builds your capacity for commitment, which is essential for making meaningful, long-term changes. Take the authors’ example of a beat cop who had initially pursued his talent for writing in college, only to drop out. Storytelling remained his passion, as evidenced by his ability to keep listeners engaged in tales he shared at the bar after work. However, he had an aversion to the extra focus needed to commit those stories to writing. Using the tool to overcome his uncomfortable feelings about concentration, he finally reignited his writing ability and pursued the career he’d always wanted.
While this tool helps overcome daunting situations, the next will help with difficult people.
Tool #2: Channelling Love
John Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” has a handy chorus to remember when using this second tool, which is choosing love to cope with difficult people, or rather, difficult behavior by other people.
Now, let’s define “difficult.” It could be your significant other blatantly flirting with someone else at a party, an obnoxious driver cutting you off in traffic, or a flippant boss who also isn’t noticing how much you deserve a raise. You get the gist: These are the last people you feel like loving in the moment.
The tool focuses on that resistance by teaching you to control your emotions by choosing a bigger, more productive one to counter any inferior, destructive ones. It isn’t intended to invalidate your legitimate, bad feelings but to balance them at least and completely overcome them at best. The alternative is to get stuck in the negative emotions, ruminating endlessly in what the authors call “the maze.” If you’re in it, you can’t move forward. Don’t forget what you learned with the first tool about how critical it is to take the next step to unlock your potential.
Let’s look at how you go about choosing love, especially when you may feel particularly unloving. Actually, that’s your first cue: Whenever you feel anger or resentment toward someone, whether in the present, having a memory, or anticipating an interaction, it’s time to reach for this tool. Next, focus your mind on the greatest concept of loving energy you know, and let it fill your heart. Then, imagine the offending person and your directing every bit of the loving energy toward them. Fully engage your senses to experience the person receiving that energy, and then refocus to the moment and breathe.
This tool helps you virtually connect with the other person in a positive way, which humanizes them and puts you in a more capable state of choosing better subsequent words and actions. It also demands that you connect with a higher force of benevolence, which ultimately benefits you individually regardless of the other person’s actions. With that in mind, much like the first tool, you may eventually learn to welcome difficult interactions with people as opportunities to practice the tool of choosing love.
We’ve covered tools for dealing with difficult situations and people. Now let’s look at a tool for when you’re getting in your own way.
Tool #3: Embracing Your Whole Self
Few people lack insecurities, and most of us allow them to plague even our best efforts. The third tool teaches you how to bring your entire self to situations – insecurities and all. Since no one really wants to think about themselves being their biggest obstacle, we’ll start with the authors’ story about someone else who was in that boat.
A patient was a first-generation high-school graduate and small-town native who left to make her way in a large city. There, she tried to integrate into her idea of big-city sophistication, and worked hard to set her child up for success. She didn’t want him to feel like an outsider, like she did. But despite her efforts, other mothers still seemed to shun her, even when her son was accepted to a prestigious soccer program.
She sought help in therapy to make sense of it, and learned she’d been outwardly denying the existence of a big part of herself – the part that felt insecure around more cultured, affluent people. Yet that part, which the authors call “The Shadow,” was absolutely present in the assumptions she made about herself and how others perceived her. While she was assuming the other moms were judging her for a background they couldn’t even see, she was not showing up as her whole self and actually coming across as a snob by not engaging with them out of fear of being judged.
The third tool is a three-part exercise that helps you bring your entire presence to situations, especially intimidating ones. First, you visualize an actual image of the you that you aren’t proud of, for whatever reason. Once you become comfortable doing this, you can begin to picture that self next to you in any situation when you’d have previously clammed up or choked. You then can focus on this image of yourself while connecting with it fully as you speak and act, with the enhanced confidence of bringing your whole self to the matter at hand.
You can use this tool in any situation where you must muster a deeper command of an audience, whether that’s a speaking engagement before a big group, a business negotiation, or a personal one-on-one conversation.
Back to our small-town mom. Once she began using this tool, she could pull the insecurities from the edges of her mind, where they clouded judgment, to the forefront, where she could effectively manage and counterbalance them with reality. With that new openness and vulnerability, she instantly became more reliable and was better able to humanize the other mothers and build friendships.
Tools one through three can help us with challenging situations, people, and internal struggles. The fourth tool will help you eliminate worries in general.
Tool #4: Creating a Gratitude Loop
Does anything keep you up at night? If you’re losing sleep over it, chances are it fills your waking hours, too. Add it to the list of any potential thing that could go wrong in a day, and you may not want to get out of bed in the morning. That is, if you’re allowing worst-case scenarios to dictate your existence.
It’s so easy to succumb to negative thoughts, especially if you’re a worrier. You may have good health, a happy family, fulfilling work, and even moments of joy amid it all, and yet you’ll find something to agonize over.
Just how badly will your daughter’s future be wrecked if she’s not accepted to your first-choice college? Oh, and scientists are predicting a dramatic change in sea levels because of melting Arctic ice, so on top of the college thing, maybe you should plan to uproot your family now and move further inland.
The fourth tool, gratitude, stops that loop and creates a new one that connects you to a force-multiplying energy of more to appreciate. It’s much like the second tool of choosing love in that it tempers your concerns without invalidating them while evoking an elevated emotion that’s aligned with a higher power the authors call “Source.”
To create the gratitude loop, you must first identify the feeling within yourself. If nothing immediately comes to mind, do a quick scan of your life experiences for moments when you’ve been filled with such strong, positive emotion it’s hard to label. Maybe in that moment, you exclaimed “Wow! Thank you!” even if only in your head. Next, consider things in your life that maybe aren’t as magnificent as a child being born, an unexpected vista, or your dog, but awe-inspiring nonetheless. The simpler the better. When you’re finding reasons to be grateful for the most mundane, daily things, you’re doing it right. There will be less time and energy to devote to things you truly cannot control, and you’ll feel a greater sense of overall peace.
That will come in handy if your daughter doesn’t get accepted to her first-choice college. She probably will. If not, you’ll both be more likely to see opportunities at the second-choice school that you somehow never noticed before. Rising sea levels? That’s literally your move. if you use the fourth tool of gratitude, you’ll hopefully be better rested if you do. On that note, let’s consider the fifth tool, which reinforces the first four.
Tool #5: Keeping a Sense of Urgency
You’re now fully equipped with four critical tools to tackle every problem in your life, but no one is going to make you use them. That’s why the fifth tool speaks to motivation. Get ready, because it’s going to sound absolutely terrible, especially if you cringed about owning your insecurities to use the third tool of personal agency.
Here we go.
Imagine yourself dying, and not in a quick way. You may have been given a timeline, but beyond that you only have your mental capacity to think and no other ability to do anything else. There’s not much more compelling than fully embracing the contents of your dying thoughts to inspire urgency.
This may have you thinking back to the first tool, where we posed the question of what you dread or are putting off. Perhaps you consider how you could have better handled interactions with other people by choosing love, as explained with the second tool. Maybe you regret keeping up an act for most of your life, never embracing your insecurities and going after what the whole, real you always wanted through the personal agency of the third tool. You may suddenly understand the fourth tool, gratitude, for everything good you had but can’t enjoy now.
This fifth tool is hopefully not one you’ll have to use often. It’s an unpleasant exercise, and yet highly effective at combating two common challenges. The first is when you confront a situation but can’t find it within yourself otherwise to grab a tool to help. The second is when you’ve attained whatever initial desired outcome or goal you set and don’t think you need to do the work any longer to maintain it – nor open unknown, greater possibilities.
Hopefully you’ve come away with an ultimate toolkit of five tools to tackle any part of your life that needs building or repair. With the first tool, you learned how to practice welcoming adversity to push through your pain points and achieve major goals. With the second tool, you learned how to harness and channel love to better deal with difficult people and calm your own mind. Third, you learned how to build confidence by bringing your whole self to intimidating situations by visualizing, connecting with, and acting in tune with your “shadow” self that embodies your insecurities. The fourth tool spells out the method of practicing gratitude for all that you have, which shifts your energy from a focus on anything that’s lacking. And with the fifth and final tool, you learned the way to motivate continuous improvement is by continuously reminding yourself how you’d feel if you suddenly ran out of time. No one wants to end life with great regrets, and with these tools, you won’t have to.
“The Tools” by Phil Stutz is a self-help book that offers readers a practical and transformative approach to overcoming obstacles and achieving personal growth. Stutz, a psychotherapist with decades of experience, introduces five powerful psychological tools that can help individuals find courage, creativity, and willpower to live a more fulfilling life.
The book is structured around the five tools, each designed to address different aspects of human psychology and behavior. Stutz explains each tool in detail, providing real-life examples and engaging anecdotes to illustrate their application. The tools are presented as practical techniques that readers can use to confront their fears, break through limitations, and unlock their potential.
One of the key strengths of “The Tools” is its emphasis on action and accountability. Stutz encourages readers to actively engage with the tools and implement them in their daily lives. He emphasizes the importance of consistency and perseverance, highlighting that lasting change requires ongoing effort and dedication.
The first tool introduced in the book is “The Reversal of Desire.” Stutz argues that by embracing our negative feelings and desires, we can harness their energy and transform them into positive action. He provides strategies for identifying and redirecting subconscious patterns that may be holding us back.
“The Active Love” is the second tool, which focuses on cultivating a sense of compassion and empathy towards oneself and others. Stutz highlights the power of love as a transformative force and offers techniques for developing a more loving mindset.
Tool number three, “Inner Authority,” explores the concept of taking responsibility for one’s own life. Stutz encourages readers to overcome their dependency on external validation and instead rely on their own judgment and inner strength. He provides exercises to help individuals access their inner wisdom and make decisions aligned with their true selves.
The fourth tool, “The Grateful Flow,” centers around gratitude and appreciation. Stutz argues that by practicing gratitude, individuals can shift their focus from lack to abundance, fostering a positive mindset and attracting more positive experiences into their lives.
The final tool, “Jealousy Map,” addresses the destructive emotion of jealousy. Stutz offers strategies for understanding and managing jealousy, ultimately transforming it into a catalyst for personal growth and self-improvement.
Throughout the book, Stutz’s writing style is engaging and accessible, making complex psychological concepts relatable and easy to understand. He provides practical exercises and step-by-step instructions, allowing readers to apply the tools immediately.
While “The Tools” offers valuable insights and practical techniques, it is important to note that the book may not resonate with everyone. Some readers might find the psychological concepts oversimplified or the tools overly prescriptive. Additionally, the book’s tone and approach may not appeal to those seeking more scientific or evidence-based methods of personal growth.
In conclusion, “The Tools” by Phil Stutz is a thought-provoking self-help book that offers a unique approach to personal development. By introducing five powerful tools, Stutz empowers readers to confront their fears, tap into their creativity, and live life with greater courage and willpower. While the book may not be for everyone, those open to its teachings may find it to be a valuable resource for self-discovery and personal transformation.