The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity - by Phil Stutz, Barry Michels

The things which hurt, instruct.
— Benjamin Franklin

To control behavior you need a specific procedure to use at a specific time to combat a specific problem. That's what a tool is. A tool--unlike an attitude adjustment--requires you to do something. Not only does it take work, it's work you have to do over and over again--every time you get frustrated. A new attitude means nothing unless followed by a change in behavior. The surest way to change behavior is with a tool.

Ask yourself what your own warm-bath activities are. The more frequently you indulge in them, the more likely it is that you're using them to create a Comfort Zone. The Comfort Zone is supposed to keep your life safe, but what it really does is keep your life small.


What the Tool is For: Use the tool when you need to take an action you've been avoiding. We avoid doing the things that are most painful for us, preferring to live in a Comfort Zone that severely limits what we get out of life. The tool lets you act in the face of pain and helps you get your life moving again.

What You're Fighting Against: Pain avoidance is a powerful habit. You get immediate relief when you defer something painful. The penalty--helpless regret at a life you wasted--won't come until far in the future. This is why most people can't move forward and live life to the fullest.

Cues to Use the Tool

  1. The first cue comes when you have to do something uncomfortable and you feel fear or resistance. Use the tool right before you act.

  2. The second cue occurs whenever you think about doing something painful or difficult. If you use the tool every time you have these thoughts, you'll build a force that will allow you to act when the time comes.

The Tool in Brief

  1. Focus on the pain you're avoiding; see it appear in front of you as a cloud. Silently scream, "Bring it on!" to demand the pain; you want it because it has great value.

  2. Scream silently, "I love pain!" as you keep moving forward. Move so deeply into the pain you're at one with it.

  3. Feel the cloud spit you out and close behind you. Say inwardly, "Pain sets me free!" As you leave the cloud, feel yourself propelled forward into a realm of pure light.

The Higher Force You're Using

The higher force that drives all of life expresses itself in relentless Forward Motion. The only way to connect to this force is to be in forward motion yourself. But to do that, you must face pain and be able to move past it. The Reversal of Desire lets you do this. Once the tool connects you to the Force of Forward Motion, the world is less intimidating, your energy is greater, and the future seems more hopeful.

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. We call this the "Force of Forward Motion."

Your experience of pain changes relative to how you react to it. When you move toward it, pain shrinks. When you move away from it, pain grows. If you flee from it, pain pursues you like a monster in a dream. If you confront the monster, it goes away. That's why desire is a crucial part of the tool. It keeps you moving toward pain. You're not desiring pain because you're masochistic; you're desiring pain so you can shrink it. When you become confident you can do this every time, you've mastered your fear of pain.

Nietzsche's statement makes it sound like adversity itself makes you stronger. It doesn't. Inner strength comes only to those who move forward in the face of adversity. That's impossible for a victim. His energy is wasted insisting it shouldn't have happened in the first place. He can't get that energy back until he accepts the event--no matter how painful it was. But accepting bad things takes work. This is where the Reversal of Desire comes in. It bypasses your opinion about what should be and gives you an active way to accept what is. This differs a bit from using it to prepare you for future pain. You use the tool the same way, but the target pain is in the past (even if it's just a few minutes in the past). In effect, you're training yourself to desire what's already happened anyway. The sooner and more frequently you use the tool when something bad happens, the faster you'll be able to recover. For some people it will be the first time in their lives they've faced adversity without feeling like a victim. With the Reversal of Desire, Nietzsche's idea becomes a reality.

To develop courage, you have to give up the illusion of future certainty. This frees you to focus on the present--the only place you can find the courage to act.

Life will never exempt you from facing more pain. Once you accept this, your goal will no longer be for pain to stop; it will be to increase your tolerance for it--which is exactly what the Reversal of Desire will do for you. That leads to a much more positive way to look at pain. Pain is the universe's way of demanding that you continue to learn. The more pain you can tolerate, the more you can learn. In this chapter, what you're learning is how to MOVE FORWARD despite adversity. Every painful event is part of that training program. It's only by accepting this that you can develop your potential to its fullest. Once you look at life this way, you won't ask for pain to stop--because it's really asking for your education to stop.

Other Uses of the Reversal of Desire

The Reversal of Desire enables you to expand your professional and social circle. We all know people we'd like to have a connection with but feel insecure about approaching. If you're honest with yourself, you question whether you're really on their level. It's easier to associate only with people who are no threat. This is really a form of avoidance that keeps you from living as fully as you can.

The Reversal of Desire allows you to develop skills that require a disciplined, long-term commitment. The biggest difference between those who succeed and those who fail at any endeavor is their level of commitment. Most people would like to be committed. But in practice, commitment requires an endless series of small painful actions. When a person has no way to deal with that pain, his commitment falls apart.


What the Tool is For: When someone enrages you and you can't get the person out of your head. You may replay what he or she did or fantasize about getting revenge. This is the Maze. It puts your life on hold while the world moves forward without you.

What You're Fighting Against: The childish belief that people will treat you "fairly." You refuse to move forward with life until the wrong you experienced is rectified. Since that rarely happens, you're trapped.

Cues to Use the Tool

  1. Use Active Love the moment someone does something that angers you.

  2. Use it when you find yourself reliving a personal injustice whether it was in the recent or distant past.

  3. Use it to prepare yourself to confront a difficult person.

The Tool in Brief

  1. Concentration: Feel your heart expand to encompass the world of infinite love surrounding you. When your heart contracts back to normal size, it concentrates all this love inside your chest.

  2. Transmission: Send all the love from your chest to the other person, holding nothing back.

  3. Penetration: When the love enters the other person, don't just watch, feel it enter; sense a oneness with him or her. Then relax, and you'll feel all the energy you gave away returned to you.

The Higher Force You're Using

Active Love creates Outflow. Outflow is the force that accepts everything as it is. This dissolves your sense of unfairness so you can give without reservation. Once you're in that state, nothing can make you withdraw. You are the chief beneficiary; you become unstoppable.

As long as you insist that life treat you fairly, when someone wrongs you you'll demand that the scales of justice be balanced immediately. You'll dig in your heels and refuse to budge until this happens. This is why the Maze almost always involves fantasies of revenge or restitution. You're engaged in a futile attempt to restore fairness to your world.

It isn't always easy to get yourself to use Active Love. When you're in a self-righteous rage, it feels like you shouldn't send love to the person who put you in that state. Usually, we think of love in a moralistic or religious context; we try to be loving because it's the "right" thing to do. But the abstract concept of "doing the right thing" isn't enough to change your behavior when you feel wronged. I never ask patients to use Active Love because it's the right thing to do. I tell them to use it because it's in their self-interest. I remind them that they don't want to live in a state of rage--ever; not because it's bad, but because it's painful and debilitating. Morality is important. But there are always times when it isn't strong enough to motivate us. At those times, you have to find something that acts as a more powerful motivator: your own self-interest. The other reason it's difficult to use Active Love is that anger is such a reactive emotion--just seeing the other person's face, even in your imagination, can reinforce your rage and make it impossible to generate love. If you find this happening to you, try this simple technique: when you use the tool, see the other person without a face. A face is the most identifiable aspect of a person. A body without a face could belong to anyone. When you penetrate the person with love, see only his trunk and aim the energy right at his solar plexus. This takes the focus off the other person and puts it back on your task, which is to generate Outflow.

Other Uses of Active Love

Active Love builds self-control. Nothing is more destructive for you and those around you than a temper you can't control. The only way to rein this in is to have a tool that works right in the moment, defusing the bomb before it explodes.

Active Love trains you to accept others as they are. Everyone in your life is imperfect, either because of something they've done in the past or something they can't change in the present. Fixating on these things destroys relationships. You need a tool that allows you to accept people despite their flaws.


What the Tool is For: In intimidating situations, when you find it difficult to express yourself or even connect with other people. These are moments when you "freeze," become wooden or stiff, unable to express yourself in a natural, spontaneous way. Underlying this is an irrational sense of insecurity. The tool allows you to overcome the insecurity and be yourself.

What You're Fighting Against: Insecurity is a universal but badly misunderstood human trait. We think we know what's making us insecure--our appearance, level of education, or socio-economic status. In fact, there's something deep inside us that is the cause of all insecurity. It's called the Shadow--the embodiment of all our negative traits--and we're terrified that someone will see it. As a consequence, we expend a lot of energy hiding it, which makes it impossible for us to be ourselves. The tool gives us a new way to deal with the problem of having a Shadow.

Cues to Use the Tool

  1. Whenever you feel performance anxiety. This could be triggered by social events, confrontations, speaking in public.

  2. Use the tool right before the event as well as during it.

  3. A less-obvious cue would be when you're anticipating the event and worrying about it.

The Tool in Brief

  1. Standing in front of any kind of audience, see your Shadow off to one side, facing you. (It works just as well with an imaginary audience or an audience composed of only one person.) Ignore the audience completely and focus all of your attention on the Shadow. Feel an unbreakable bond between the two of you--as a unit you're fearless.

  2. Together, you and the Shadow forcefully turn toward the audience and silently command them to "LISTEN!" Feel the authority that comes when you and your Shadow speak with one voice.

The Higher Force You're Using

The Force of Self-Expression allows us to reveal ourselves in a truthful, genuine way--without caring about others' approval. It speaks through us with unusual clarity and authority, but it also expresses itself nonverbally, like when an athlete is "in the zone." In adults, this force gets buried in the Shadow. The tool, by connecting you to the Shadow, enables you to resurrect the force and have it flow through you.

Other Uses of Inner Authority

Inner Authority lets you overcome initial shyness, particularly around people you're interested in romantically. Many people who have a lot to offer in a relationship never give themselves the chance to get into one--the act of meeting someone new is too frightening. The people who get the most opportunities to connect romantically aren't those who make the best partners; they're those who put themselves out there the most.

Inner Authority lets you express need and vulnerability. Many people, especially males, hide behind a facade that says they have life under control and need nothing from others. Life has a way of breaking down this facade and putting you in a position where you must ask for help. Those who can't ask for help risk losing everything.

Inner Authority allows you to connect to your loved ones with more emotion. The way you communicate, especially the emotion you express, is more important than the words you use. When you speak without emotion, you can't have enough impact on others to form a real connection.


What the Tool is For: When your mind is filled with worry, self-hatred, or any other form of negative thinking, you've been taken over by the Black Cloud. It limits what you can do with your life, deprives your loved ones of what is best about you. Life becomes a struggle to survive instead of the fulfillment of great promise.

What You're Fighting Against: The unconscious delusion that negative thoughts can control the universe. Because we think the universe is indifferent to us, we cling to the sense of control negative thinking gives us.

Cues to Use the Tool

  1. Use the Grateful Flow immediately whenever you are attacked by negative thoughts. If unchallenged, negative thinking will just get stronger.

  2. Use the Grateful Flow any time your mind becomes undirected--when you're on "hold" during a phone call, stuck in traffic, or standing in line at the market.

  3. You can even make the tool part of your daily schedule. That turns specific times (waking up, going to sleep, mealtimes) into cues.

The Tool in Brief

  1. Start by silently stating to yourself specific things in your life you're grateful for, particularly items you'd normally take for granted. You can also include bad things that aren't happening. Go slowly so you really feel the gratefulness for each item. Don't use the same items each time you use the tool. You should feel a slight strain from having to come up with new ideas.

2.ß After about thirty seconds, stop thinking and focus on the physical sensation of gratefulness. You'll feel it coming directly from your heart. This energy you are giving out is the Grateful Flow.

  1. As this energy emanates from your heart, your chest will soften and open. In this state you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you, filled with the power of infinite giving. You've made a connection to the Source.

The Higher Force You're Using

Far from being indifferent to us, there's a higher force in the universe that created us and remains intimately involved with our well-being. We call that higher force the Source. The experience of its overwhelming power dissolves all negativity. But without Gratefulness, we can't perceive the Source.

Other Uses of Grateful Flow

The Grateful Flow frees you from regrets about the past. Many of us fall into the habit of rethinking past decisions we've made, blaming those decisions for everything bad that's happened since. Besides the fact that life isn't that simple, this kind of regret makes it impossible to move forward into the future. You need a tool that allows you a renewed sense of possibilities right now; only then can you leave the past behind you.

The Grateful Flow frees you from self-hatred. Self-hatred rarely has anything to do with your actual value as a person. It's the direct result of a stream of negative thoughts about yourself. Usually, these take the form of criticisms delivered by a harsh inner voice. This inner critic speaks with such authority that there's no reasoning with it. You need a tool that silences its voice altogether.

The Grateful Flow stops you from being judgmental about others. When we judge others, we kid ourselves that what we think privately has no effect on those around us. The truth is that judgments, especially repeated harsh judgments, send an energy into the world that alienates others. You can't fake a non-judgmental attitude; you actually have to eliminate the judgments themselves.


What the Tool is For: No matter how effective the tools have been, you'll find yourself quitting them. Not only will quitting stop your progress, it will destroy all the gains you've made up until this point. This is the fundamental obstacle every reader faces.

What You're Fighting Against: The illusion that you can obtain a "magical something" that will exonerate you from using the tools. This is reinforced day and night by the consumer culture that surrounds you. The illusion always leads to the same result: you quit. In success, you think the tools are no longer necessary; and in failure, you're too demoralized to use them.

Cues to Use the Tool

  1. In any situation where you know you need a tool but, for whatever reason, can't get yourself to use one.

  2. When you feel you've grown beyond the need for the tools.

The Tool in Brief

See yourself lying on your deathbed. Having run out of time, this older self screams at you not to waste the present moment. You feel a deep, hidden fear that you've been squandering your life. This creates an urgent desire to use whichever basic tool you need at that moment.

The Higher Force You're Using

You can't overcome the tendency to quit by thinking about it. You need a higher force. We call that force willpower. It's the one higher force you must create yourself; all the universe can do is provide a challenge that demands you generate it.

Other Uses of Jeopardy

Jeopardy supplies you with the willpower to control addictive and impulsive behavior. We have much less control over ourselves than we'd like to think. Whether it's what we eat, what we buy, or how we react to other people, etc., we can't resist the pull of immediate gratification. We resolve repeatedly to change our behavior, but impulses always win in the end. What we need isn't more resolutions; it's a way to defeat our impulses right in the moment. That takes willpower.

Jeopardy gives you the strength to concentrate in circumstances where you usually space out or get distracted. We've become a society of hyperactive multitaskers, with the attention span of a flea. We need a force strong enough to hold our concentration on one thing until we're finished with it. That takes willpower.

Jeopardy enables you to start new ventures. One of the hardest things to do in life is to start something new: moving to a new city, developing a relationship with someone thrust into your life (stepchildren, in-laws, etc.), starting a new business. Each of these steps--and any other new undertaking--triggers the most primal of human fears: fear of the unknown. We gravitate toward the familiar, even if it's not good for us, because we lack the will to push through that fear. Jeopardy creates a force of will stronger than our fear.


  1. Thinking about higher forces is worthless, you have to experience them.

  2. When it comes to spiritual reality, each of us is his own authority.

  3. Personal problems drive the evolution of the individual.

Most people feel more motivated when they envision themselves as part of an intelligent system whose goal is their advancement.

The ongoing sense that problems are meaningful is a fundamental difference between a consumer and a creator. A consumer feels that life is only meaningful when his needs are being gratified. Problems, because they are ungratifying, inevitably destroy the consumer's sense of purpose. In contrast, a creator has a sense of meaning that can't be destroyed--he insists on seeing problems as driving him toward something better, something higher in himself. Far from destroying his sense of meaning, problems actually reinforce it.