SPN Recommends: The Tools, by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels

This is the first installment of an ongoing series of recommendations geared toward the tech and startup community. SPN is not receiving payment or endorsement for any of these recommendations (not yet, anyway). We simply consider them worth checking out.  Written by a duo of Los Angeles-based therapists whose clients include several recognizable actors, musicians,…

Barry Michels & Phil Stutz (from left). Photo courtesy Goop
Barry Michels & Phil Stutz (from left). Photo courtesy Goop

This is the first installment of an ongoing series of recommendations geared toward the tech and startup community. SPN is not receiving payment or endorsement for any of these recommendations (not yet, anyway). We simply consider them worth checking out. 

Written by a duo of Los Angeles-based therapists whose clients include several recognizable actors, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs (John Cusack, anyone?), “The Tools” is a book offering a set of techniques to help readers increase their courage, creativity, willpower and inspiration to “live life in forward motion.” It is a quick, engaging read that claims to teach readers how to optimize their internal state. The central conceit is that, by conjuring the right inner weather, readers can overcome distressing situations and diminish the negative habits that may keep them from achieving their goals.

“The Tools” is a frank, well-voiced, powerful addition to self-help literature, a genre littered with everything from the absurd to the banal.

A key takeaway? Get rid of the idea that fulfilling your dreams will lead to an easier life. If anything, success makes life harder and busier, according to Stutz and Michels. No matter how much success a person experiences, there simply doesn’t exist an easy street where they no longer have to pedal uphill. Life is full of surprises, and no amount of personal growth will exempt us from struggle. 

The point is to learn how to manage and enjoy the struggle.

Instead of counting down the days until we can free ourselves from the grind and live a life of ease, we should embrace hard work. Hard work, the authors say, leads to a deeper state of happiness than the illusion of exoneration ever could. 

But because we are hardwired to believe pain is bad for us, certain cognitive skills are necessary to manage our self-defeating habits. Stutz and Michels provide a compelling justification and explanation of the tools they’ve developed, as well as how and when they should be used. 

One such tool, the Reversal of Desire, is meant to help us tackle difficult, tedious or fear-provoking tasks—tasks that we all need to do sometimes, but that we delay doing. Since humans naturally gravitate toward what they desire, difficult things will become easier if we can train ourselves to desire them, the authors write. That’s where the tools come in: they help individuals accomplish what they can’t achieve with willpower alone. (Find out how to use the Reversal of Desire here.)

The book occasionally strays into quasi-mystical territory. Stutz and Michels unconvincingly tie the tools to a set of “higher forces” that they appear to have invented out of nowhere—they are based in California, after all. But to their credit, the authors stress that it is not necessary to believe the concepts they postulate in order for the tools to help transform people’s lives. And they have no trouble poking fun at themselves or anonymous versions of self-entitled, fragile-ego’d clients. The humor helps moderate some of the book’s more unbelievable claims.

Available in both book and audio form, “The Tools” is worth a read or a listen. Don’t take our word for it. Listen to what The Simpsons voice actor Hank Azaria has to say about Stutz, his longtime psychiatrist. He even offers a dead-on impression of the man.

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