What if every bad thing that’s ever happened to you–including every problem you’ve ever had–was there, in your life, to get you in touch with abilities you never knew you had?
In The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels (two impressively well-educated and accomplished professionals in the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy) bring forward a new approach to self-help.
This book is written in a way that connects you not just to the tools or strategies that they share, but to the authors themselves. They include lots of personal stories, triumphs and failures in regards to how they have used the tools in their own lives.
The book focuses on how we must not only change our attitudes when dealing with our problems, but also must change our behaviours.
It’s a powerful book.
The Big Idea
Are you a consumer or a creator?
"The enemy is called ‘Consumerism’."
We have a choice: Do we want to live our lives consuming or creating?
A consumer limits the kinds of opportunities they create for themselves because they can’t genuinely connect with others. The focus is on having and gaining rather than giving and serving; too much on the external world and not enough attention to what’s really going on inside the individual.
Being a consumer means we’re focused on what’s outside of us and how we can obtain it. The bigger problem then becomes that once we have it, we’re not satisfied. We want more.
What really struck me was that being a consumer is not all about unhealthy wants. It’s not all about having the newest car or phone. It can be based on things that, without looking intentionally, can seem healthy: reading, listening to podcasts, networking.
The challenge with being a consumer is that we take in more and more information but we don’t allow that information to actually change us in anyway. The focus is on quantity, not quality.
As a consumer, we believe that the magical pill–that thing that will change our lives, fix our problems, or improve our relationships–is somewhere in our external world, rather than realizing that it’s within us and has been this whole time.
The creator, on the other hand, doesn’t allow that to be true. The creator is more intentional in what he or she does and focuses on the outcome being something that impacts the world in a positive way. It could be something like reading a specific book because it will help you solve a specific problem in your workplace or relationship. The creator has an awareness of how what he or she does impacts his internal and external world.
Where consumerism is often about quick, convenient, and being in control, being a creator is about intentionality, thoughtfulness, and being open to what comes.
Willpower comes from a fear of losing it all
"A sense of purpose doesn’t come from thinking about it. It comes from taking action that moves you toward the future. The moment you do this, you activate a force more powerful than the desire to avoid pain.A sense of purpose doesn’t come from thinking about it. It comes from taking action that moves you toward the future. The moment you do this, you activate a force more powerful than the desire to avoid pain."
There’s an inherent flaw with most of the self-help books out on the market these days: they identify the problem, provide a thorough and comprehensive program, but few discuss what happens after you finish the book. Even fewer acknowledge how difficult it is to create that change in ourselves and how hard it can be to stick it out.
The book straight out tell us that as human beings we will always be a work in progress.
Stutz and Michels tell us that if we’re going to stick it out, we need to be constantly connecting to something bigger than ourselves.
That’s where this concept of Jeopardy comes in.
Jeopardy (with a capital “J”) is the feeling that at any moment, we can lose it all: a career, a relationship, a life. And that knowing this is a positive thing.
It’s not intended to scare or demotivate. It actually does the opposite. It energizes and pushes us forward toward our fullest potential. By having an awareness that nothing is permanent and that our time on this world is limited, It’s a reminder to get our butt off the couch and get started on that project we’ve been putting off or tell that special someone how we really feel.
It’s more than just a tool to keep ourselves motivated, it’s a way of living our life to it’s fullest potential.
The Price of Negativity: The Black Cloud
"In the Black Cloud, every problem is of life-and-death importance–but no one can see this but you. You can’t trust anyone to help with your problems because no one takes them as seriously as you do. Inevitably you’re left feeling overwhelmed and alone."
We’ve all heard of the power of positivity: That by thinking positively about the circumstances of our lives the result will be that it becomes easier, more fulfilling and meaningful.
Stutz and Michels call that out. They suggest that though it would be nice to think that our positive thoughts are more powerful than our negative thoughts, they aren’t. It’s a lot easier to let go and allow that worry to carry us away than it is to hold tight to the positive when everything around you is out of control. We worry.
We worry because we fear that we won’t be taken care of or looked after. We worry because we believe it gives us control of the situation.
The books calls that kind of worrying and negativity “the Black Cloud”. In order to address this head on and to move through the Black Cloud we have to start to understand that our experiences have the power to change our perspectives.
But how can someone change their perspective when all of their experiences seem to be negative?
Gratefulness is the key. Stutz and Michels suggest that Gratefulness is much more than just an emotion, it’s a way of perceiving things you never thought you could before. Not only do they help you understand this, the tool provides you with a process to actually create more gratefulness in your life in a tangible way.
One of the things that I was really impressed by in The Tools was how confident and uncompromising the authors are in their belief in these tools. In fact, they go as far as to call out the reader and challenge you to be a creator rather than a consumer of this information. It’s inspiring and not something I’ve often come across.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book as there were ample real life application opportunities and it was easy to take a tool that the authors shared and apply it into my own personal life. Though I know there’s still lots of work to do on myself (we’re all works in progress after all), I know this will be a book I come back to time after time when I find myself struggling to bring more courage, creativity or willpower into my life.