Make Your Own Psychological Tools

Three years ago I read a book called The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. Essentially the book is about five psychological tools they came up with to overcome certain challenges.

One example is the tool they call ‘Reversal of Denial.’ When you are trying to get yourself to do something that’s hard (like working out) you imagine the pain and discomfort you’ll feel if you do this activity as a cloud in front of you. Then yell (out loud or in your mind) ‘Bring it on!’ Walk thru the cloud and say ‘I love pain’ until you see yourself pass thru it. Then say ‘pain sets me free.’

It takes less than thirty seconds and it’s designed to turn your fear of pain into a desire for it. Basically, it helps motivate you to do the thing you know you should do.

They outline scenarios where people fall victim to pain avoidance, explain the tool and then cite examples where it helped people. The book goes on for four more tools.

I recommend this book with a caveat.

Read the book. It’s fascinating. I recommend trying out the tools to see how they feel. But if you really want to improve yourself, don’t just read the book, try to use the tools and stop. These tools are actually helpful.

But they’re not easy to remember to do all the time. In fact, in the book they talk about how the people who found success with the tools all eventually stopped using them. I know I did. I read this book, got really into it and then at some point without realizing it I forgot all about it.

So, is this book just a waste of time? Nope. It’s a blueprint.

These tools are effective, but they’re not fun or particularly memorable.

That’s why I recommend you craft your own tools. What are the things that you are more likely to remember? What will marry fun with self improvement?

Here’s a silly example of one I created:

I slouch a lot. Walking, sitting or standing with my back straight is not my default position. This constant hunching affects me physically and psychologically. So, I created a tool of my own to help me remember to stand straight up.

When I was a kid in the early 90s there was a video game called Altered Beast. I always loved that game. In every level you began as an average sized man. But as you kicked and punched your way thru the levels four purple orbs would randomly pop out. If you touched them a deep voice from nowhere would say ‘Power Up.’ And you’d get bigger and buffer. Once you got all four you became an animal (were wolf, dragon, bear, etc.).

So, now I try to envision purple orbs pop up in my way. Then I walk into them and hear the voice say ‘power up.’ I immediately stand up a little straighter and feel a little stronger.

Again, I am not telling you to copy my tool (though feel free if you want), but rather to think about constructing your own tools. It’s perfectly okay to start with one in the book and modify it. Let it evolve.

The word ‘tool’ makes it sound like a thing that is essentially not going to change, but these tools are much more malleable than that. They don’t exist outside of your own mind and the inside of your mind is not at all constrained by the laws of physics. Grow the tool, change it, mold it to something that is best for you.

Thanks, y’all!

New Challenge, Old Solution: What’s Your Personal Lynch Pin?

I have been on a quest for just over a year now (really though, my whole life) to be more productive. The goal is to attain the descriptor ‘prolific’ because I crank out the work.

And I’m happy to say, I have seen clear markers indicating progress. Not only can I measure my bit of success by the body of work I have produced (super jazzed about), but also by the challenges I think about.

In 2015 one of the problems that took up my mental bandwidth was clutter. I don’t thrive well in clutter. Never have. But I couldn’t make myself keep thing organized. I could motivate myself every once in a while to cleaning up. I would file every loose paper, respond to every email, sort thru every drawer, etc. Life would be tidy…for a short amount of time. Once I kept things pretty neat for nearly nine days. I felt like a rockstar.

But inevitably the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics would prove itself true once again – over time organization breaks down. And I would live in clutter for months before the next spring cleaning.

I’m proud to say that while I definitely could be more organized, I’m way way better than I used to be. My clutter is relegated to specific buckets (shout out to David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’) and rarely gets to an unnerving point for very long. The difference of course is that I put more energy and effort into keeping it that way. I rarely just set something down somewhere willy nilly. Pretty much everything has a place and it goes there.

One thing I realized tonight is that in addition to the positives, becoming a more ‘prolific’ person comes with new hardships too. For example, now I’m addicted to productivity. When the numbers get low, I get anxiety and depression (old friends who’ve visited me for a myriad of reasons).

YOu know the ghosts in Pac-Man? Depression and anxiety are like my ghosts. When they happen is often a result of me doing something wrong.

I have been sick a lot lately. Nothing serious. I hurt my ankle and had to stay off it for a few days. Last week I had what seemed to be a 24 hour stomach bug. And I currently have no speaking voice and was essentially out of commission for two days. In and of themselves, they are annoying, but not severe.

However, they severely cut into my productivity. And I feel depressed about the time I lost and anxious about meeting deadlines with stuff I could have been working on during those times.

Not fun.

The good news is that the same tools that helped me to become more productive can help me with this problem as well.

I could write forever about the stuff I have learned that has helped me, but the number 1 thing – the lynch pin – was that I did not love myself. I scolded myself. I made myself feel bad about a lot of stuff. And while it’s not impossible to be productive when you live like that, it makes it a lot friggin’ harder. That I can say for certain.

Right now, I’m really not forgiving myself for losing this time. Even though it’s not really my fault, I still blame myself. And because of that, I fall into old habits and beat myself up. Loving oneself comes easy to some people, but to me it might as well be a foriegn language. I’m learning. But it’s easy to forget.

So, check in with yourself. How are you treating you? I hope it’s good. Life sure is easier when you’re feeling love from literally the closest source.

Maybe that’s not your lynchpin problem. Whatever yours is, check in with it regularly. Use the tools that have worked for you to fix it if it got off track.

Thanks, y’all!

I’m Losing Heroes and Quite Glad About It

Bill Cosby was my absolute number one hero for most of my life. When I watched ‘As Himself’ as a child I experienced an intensity of laughter I had not known possible. It was a huge source of inspiration for what would later turn into my comedy career.

One of the reasons Cosby was such a genius in my eyes is because he managed to be consistently hilarious for years while somehow keeping his content ‘wholesome.’ Like many other fans of his I saw him as clean and family oriented. He was like comedy’s Mr. Rogers. Everyone loved him.

Turns out that you don’t have to curse in your act to be evil.

Until only a few years ago he was still in my top 3 of comedic talent I looked up to. Then I found out that not only was he a deplorable sexual predator, but also that he’d been one since before I was even born.

Well, that crushed my soul.


Now, I’m hearing on a very regular basis how other heroes of mine (Kevin Spacey & Louis CK for example) are also sexual predators who have been getting away with it for years.

My knee jerk reaction is to want to excuse their behavior or somehow dismiss it. If that’s yours too, don’t feel bad about it. That’s just your brain not wanting to accept that something it has believed absolutely true for years (ie. ‘Kevin Spacey is someone to look up to’) is unequivically false.

The great news is that we are not our knee jerk reactions. We are human beings. Our brains are developed enough to change and adapt to new information. These men were heroes of mine. And now they’re not. And it doesn’t matter how long I’ve looked up to them.

I’m glad these men and more are being outed. It’s disgusting and abhorrent what they’ve done. And it’s equally awful if not worse that we as a society have let them get away with it, keep it secret and go on living successful lives. Ew.

I’m glad it’s ruining their careers. I am angered that there seems to be no judicial consequences for a number of these people as of yet – Cosby & Weinstein should absolutely be in jail.

Sure, it sucks when your hero falls from grace. But it’s actually a great thing. Because while ripping the bandaid of illusion off the truthful ugliness may hurt at first, it will ultimately make us stronger as a society.

I don’t want a sexual predator as a hero no matter how talented and/or prolific he is at comedy (or whatever he did). So, I applaud Hollywood for cleaning house. There are thousands of talented people who deserve the top spots in TV, movies & comedy who don’t sexually assault others. Let them be the heroes. And get this evil imposters out of there.

Thanks, y’all!