notes on writings and presentations

Use The Tools To Fight The Resistance, Do The Work To Give Great Art


I recently listened to The Tools and was amazed at its brilliance. I loved this book. It immediately awakened a powerful affinity for its sense of possibility and inner strength, spirituality and courage. It also stoked my growing desire to become a therapist. Unlike therapy (and most self-help books) the tools are meant to be truly practical, immediate relief for people with specific problems who need something to work today, now.

In many ways it feels like the culmination of a string of self-help actionable books I’ve read over the past few years, an awakening that kicked-off with Linchpin, found a full-blown creative, spiritual worldview in The War of Art, and includes others like Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, The Advantage, Meditations, The Artist’s Way, The Six-figure Musician, The Four Agreements, Decisive, The Dip, The Icarus Deception, Poke The Box, The Power of Habit, Reality Is Broken, Incognito, and Ignore Everybody.

The five tools it refers to are sort of Jungian self-help visualizations to help break through common emotions keeping us from being courageous and finding our purpose: fear, anxiety, anger, insecurity. Practice connecting yourself to The Grateful Flow, for instance, by getting in the habit of enumerating things you’re grateful for, and get out from under the black cloud of worry or negativity. Or avoid the maze of the past by connecting to the Outflow of Love and neutralize those that invade your thoughts.


Barry Michels and Phil Stutz

The tools, it turns out, were invented by Phil Stutz (in the tan jacket), a New Yorker psychiatrist who amazed and taught Barry Michels (in the gray shirt), a skeptic lawyer turned psychologist, these methods before they became partners and SoCal therapists to the stars. Stutz is the prophet and Michels is the disciple and evangelist. Stutz’s tough-guy delivery makes it cool and authentic, despite the originality and audacity of his spiritual imagination. Both tell their own conversion stories and present the whole thing like a psychotherapy revolution and new-age religion.

The first thing that amazed me is that Phil identified and filled (pun-intended) a conspicuous weakness in the therapist’s abilities: to give patients specific, practical, immediate relief to overwhelming problems in the form of visualization homework. Don’t rely on months or years of talk-therapy, start practicing the tools and feel stronger.

The second thing that amazed me is how empirically spiritual Stutz’s worldview is. You don’t have to believe in the invisible mechanisms he posits, just try the tools and feel the effects. But there are spiritual laws and forces at work and soon you will feel and use the force and see these archetypal dynamics as the key to your inner greatness, succeeding by imitating and becoming one with them.

The emphasis on higher forces will undoubtably be a stumbling block for those not predisposed to some sort of faith. Michels takes us through his trouble believing and is ultimately convinced by a miracle of coincidence. As with the 12-step model, the emphasis is on what works. Higher forces can be thought of as the collective unconscious or the spiritual world, and is referred to as the source, the universe… mystery. This is just the type of undogmatic approach that awakens my sympathetic sense of the spiritual world.

After the first part explains the five tools, the focus telescopes out from personal psychotherapy to societal spirituality. Here we see the tools as part of the new religion, which are personal, practical amalgams of any tradition or system. Modern sinners are consumers and addicts and modern saints are creators and risk-takers.

Their conclusion rang true as they apply their worldview to society at large: we are a culture of consumers who need to become creators.  This is a familiar message, both because I hear versions of it all over and because it’s something I say to myself frequently. The Tools takes it a step further to say that only through the example of individuals accessing higher forces will our ultra-individualistic society find the hope to face our shared challenges.

The book’s structure and spiritual system closely paralleled Stephen Pressfield’s credo in The War of Art. Pressfield also spends the first part talking about the practical battles the artist must wage within, daily, then switches to a holistic, religious worldview that explains the greater spiritual reality. See Sunni Brown’s visual summaries of The War of Art below, click to enlarge and see part 1&2.


Seth Godin, since Linchpin, often echoes Pressfield’s central demon, The Resistance. Resistance comes up in The Tools too, as a similar sort of spiritual workout opportunity. For the unfocussed individual The Resistance is a self-sabotaging demon, for the spiritual warrior The Resistance is like weights at the gym. Only through adversity can we build inner strength.  Only by battling the resistance head-on can we do our best work.

Linchpin manifesto

The philosophies in these three books — Linchpin, The War of Art, and The Tools — speak to my my highest ambitions with a common language about how to be a courageous artist, doing the work, giving gifts of great art, and inspiring others to be brave. They also give a system to my spirituality, already reawakened by the recovery method’s emphasis on higher powers, called higher forces by Stutz and Michels.

I believe in the artist’s ability to channel higher forces and now I’ve got a good framework for doing the work. I highly recommend these three books to all the artists out there, even if you don’t think of yourself as one, yet.

Related Resources


As a geek dad this caught my eye: Agile programming for your family?! Make your family a self-managing team.

Feiler’s 3-plank Agile family manifesto

  • Adapt all the time
    • stay flexible
    • don’t listen only to ‘experts’
    • hook up with new ideas
    • be open minded
    • let the best ideas win
    • weekly family meeting, 20 mins. ask
      • What worked well?
      • What didn’t work well?
      • What can we all agree on to work on this week?
  • Empower children
    • stop ordering your children around
    • enlist them in their own upbringing
    • they come up with punishments and rewards
    • plan their own goals
    • set weekly schedules
    • evaluate themselves
    • succeed and fail on their own terms
    • less what they do wrong, more on what they do right
    • give them the tools to make themselves happy
  • Tell your story
    • as bedrock context for adaptability
    • preserve the core
    • define mission, core values, family mission statement
    • tell story of family, where we came from
    • difficult situations overcome
    • family strengths and successes
    • retell the positive and overcoming negative stories
    • make a family manifesto

Happiness is not something we find, it’s something we make. Greatness is not a circumstance, it’s a choice. What’s the secret to a happy family? Try.

{ 1 comment }

Today I’ll be talking with a dozen or so faculty in the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. We’ve got lots of questions, so I’ll give a brief introduction and dive right into all the questions that the people who RSVP’d asked ahead of time.



  • Your Brand
    • What are the most effective strategies to manage your brand? Know yourself, what makes you unique. Know your people, your tribe, and stay up on what they’re doing and interested, listen to them, develop a listening strategy. Share your unique expertise with your tribe. Lead them by serving them.
    • How does a researcher, consultant, academic develop a brand? I like to use discovery exercises. Answer questions like these about yourself: What’s the vin diagram that describes your unique overlap of interests, talents, expertise? Who are your biggest influences? Who are your heroes? What thought leaders do you want to be associated with? What conferences does your tribe attend? Where do they meet? What media do they consume? Where do they get and share their news?
    • How can a researcher, consultant, academic ensure consistency in the brand? Define it from the beginning, write it down, document it and keep it updated for yourself (and anyone who looks you up). Have goals and a strategy. Act, don’t react.
    • What are the best first steps to follow in setting up a social media campaign about a project or institute? I’ve included a slide below of Paul Walker’s 7 steps to a social media strategy. Paul says spend a week on each for a 7 week process.
    • Would you recommend a faculty webpage or are they obsolete? You definitely want your own site (blog, portfolio) and you want it to be the first thing that comes up in Google for your chosen name or keywords.
    • What are the various/multiple forms of social media that academics should consider? What are the relative benefits of one compared to others in terms of gains? How does a person determine which to choose? What are the potential losses? What makes these pertinent to academics? It’s all about where your people are. Use whatever channels you need to meet your audience where they already are.
    • How can you maintain a “scholarly” identity and still develop/fully participate in/be embraced by social media communities? How to effectively use social media in academia, but not have it consume too much time? What is overkill? What are typical pitfalls? Be systematic. Have goals, a strategy, scheduled times to document and share your progress, thoughts, news, etc. Don’t be a reactive addict. Incorporate it into what you already do instead of making it something else you have to do. Don’t use it to procrastinate or by default. Be intentional and consistent.
    • How can you measure impact of social media engagement, including measurements that help chairs see the impact & value? Define what matters to you and how you can measure it (key performance indicators or KPIs). This could be quality/quantity of output and input. Posts, comments, likes, followers, views, subscribers, inquiries, references, referrals, gigs, media mentions, interviews, dollars, etc. Google analytics is a great free tool for your site. Social media channels have all sorts of built-in ways of measuring. Don’t just watch the numbers; know what you want to achieve.
  • Classroom
    • Using wikis and blogs to expand classroom discussion and letting the students take the lead on this? Using a blog for class is a great idea. Keep it fresh with weekly materials and give students a way of interacting, posting. Have students post and comment on others’s posts. Make it somewhere students go for what’s happening, resources, schedule, syllabus, etc. is an easy way. We also have
    • How can it be incorporated into teaching, in & out of the classroom? Integrating social media into in-class lecture and discussion? Conferences are great places to look for good interaction habits.  Use Facebook (groups) or Twitter (hashtags) to take ask questions, solicit questions or comments. 
  • Channels
    • Timeliness
      • How often should different social media be updated to maintain the attention of an audience?
      • What forms of social media are on the front lines versus those that are being outdated?
      • What is the lifespan of the respective media formats – should one remain in constant change mode to insure remaining current?
    • Facebook and Twitter
      • Setting up effective Facebook and Twitter pages for classes?
      • What are the benefits of using twitter instead of Facebook for professional exposure?
      • What privacy settings do you recommend for various social media outlets?
    • Twitter
      • How does Twitter work?
      • What are the pros and cons to using Twitter specifically?
      • How to utilize Twitter in an academic setting?
    • Others
      • What is Pinterest?
      • How can academia use Reddit?
      • What is Instagram and can it be a tool for academia?

Paul Walker's seven steps to creating a social media strategy


A few things I’ve gathered from my SXSWi notes:

  • Create a compelling immersive story for fans to experience and shape
  • Shine a light on similar bands, brands
  • Partner brands make things possible that weren’t
  • It’s all about a narrative driven experience
  • Partner with what you need
  • People want to TELL stories
  • Engage where people are, not build new channels
  • Tech shouldn’t upstage experience
  • Get people together in physical space


Seth Priebatsch

I could not have been more impressed by Seth Preibatsch’s keynote at SXSWi (w/audio recording). A 21 year old who dropped out of Princeton after his first year, Seth started SVNGR, a location based service that makes checking in into a scavenger hunt and other games. His energy, presentation, insight, humor, and content were all right on. He wasn’t a smug, cynical hipster opportunist geek like so many presenters. He was humble enough for someone I expected to be brash.   He won me over from the beginning.

He said that in the last ten years we added the social layer to the web and in the next ten we’ll add the game layer. Then he went on to talk about all the stuff the game layer can fix, like education, by re-engineering motivations and rewards. Rewarding your participants is key for game makers, and your business is a game. It is by creating Epic Meaning for people that they become blissfully productive.

The first thing you’ll find when you flip through his slides are his ideas about how bad grades and failing are as motivations for school along with some suggestions for how we could have students level-up like a video game and remove some demotivation.

He had us play two games during the session. In the first he asked the audience to start clapping. They did, like applause. Then he asked them to synch up and clap a beat. They did in about 20 secs, it was a big crowd. He pointed out how quickly and easily a totally decentralized task can be accomplished

The second game was brought up in the context of how to solve global warming. Everyone had a colored card. The object was to trade cards while staying seated, and arrive at every row being a solid color. He gave them 2:30 to do it, and if they did, he would contribute $10K to a wildlife charity.

The audience accomplished the goal in 1:30 and he pointed out that the task was accomplished in a way that would have been impossible for a centralized government, that the hope of what the game layer can accomplish is taking an impossible problem and making it simply very difficult. All this from a 21 year old!