Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Tools: Transform your problems into courage, confidence, and creativity. A Book Review by Graduate Student Ian Rosenfeldt.

I came across The Tools in the Cultural Studies section of the bookstore. After flipping through, it looked appealing enough to investigate. The premise is straightforward - outlining five tools to be used to develop one’s self actualization. It occurred to me that there are plenty of cognitive tools to guide creative thinking and yet I hadn’t come across many whose purpose was to guide our thoughts so as to optimize our mindset for creative thinking. How do we suspend judgement? How do we accept opinions even if we disagree with them? Since the elements of courage and confidence are fundamental to developing creativity, perhaps The Tools, developed by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, would show a path to do just that and more?

Chapter one is written in call-and-response style from each author. One talks about his experience as a psychotherapist, encountering challenges with patients and looking for answers himself. The other talks about being approached by a young patient who was searching for answers. Not to why she thought the way she did, but on how to change her way of thinking. This led Barry Michels on his own quest to find tools that could do just that. The historical perspective on how the authors came to be acquainted with each other and the Tools made for an easy an engaging read and heightened my anticipation for more.

The tools are a way to bring positivity to your consciousness and to connect you to something called the Higher Power (and yes, it’s capitalized in the book). When first reading about the Higher Power, skepticism came naturally. The authors invite skepticism and ask only for one thing - for the reader to practice the tools. Given that simple request, I read on with an open mind, curious about what lay behind these Higher Powers. By inviting skepticism, the reader is forced to examine the book from deeper perspectives, to be open minded and yet look for cracks in the process.

Each of the next five chapters, one for each of the tools, starts with a story from their experiences - giving personality and context to allow the reader to identify with. They present situations that would prompt you to use the tool, the higher force that you will connect with, the process on how to use the tool (with simple illustrations), how the tool works and what the benefits are. The authors also address frequently asked questions they’ve had for each tool before ending off with a summary. This layout works very well. As I progressed through each chapter, I was trying to identify how I would use each tool. As each chapter summary drew near, there were additional examples given and alternative uses offered. Many of my own questions were addressed.

Thus far, I was grateful for finding The Tools and yet, the chapter on Higher Power was yet to come and my skepticism alarm started to chime. Turns out the Higher Power is not meant as a concept to challenge or replace anyone’s god, religion or spiritual belief. It offers a way of explaining how the power of happiness and confidence is actually a never ending well that we can tap into...only it comes from inside of us and not from external sources. To paraphrase the authors - these tools are a means of defeating inner enemies, using the weapons that enable us to believe in and experience higher forces without sacrificing our mental freedom to anyone or anything.

Despite my skepticism, I realized that the perspective presented isn’t revolutionary or even that scary. What is unique about this book is how the tools and this unique perspective of Higher Powers are presented, in an easily digestible way with simple and plain language that is not steeped with cultural, religious or spiritual dressings.  I found its simplicity and presentation refreshing, and after some short term practice I can say that these tools have had a positive impact on me. More practice is in the cards, most definitely.

The concluding chapter espouses practice and has us consider what might happen if more and more people tapped into these Higher Powers - how we as a society could benefit from the resulting positivity. One theme underscoring the entire book is that Western society is hell bent on consumption as a route to happiness, as if the latest and greatest will allows us to harness our creativity and confidence even better than before. What Stutz and Michels stress, however, is that along with developing a more positive mindset we each have the limitless power to develop our own creative selves. In effect, creating is more powerful than consuming.

Reading between the lines, it is not a far cry to draw connections to humanistic psychologists such as Rollo May or Abraham Maslow. The field of positive psychology is there as well, with the elements of motivation that could have easily referenced Teresa Amabile and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and even psychologist Viktor Frankl.

The tools seem like mantras, images and stories to be repeated and experienced repeatedly in one’s head. What is most interesting is that we’re not being told what specific images to use (i.e. not of someone else's creation) but scenarios to create ourselves, based on our own experiences, insecurities, goals and wishes. It takes imagination to visualize these future scenarios and The Tools calls upon our metacognitive efforts to practice them.

The authors mainly draw upon their experiences as psychotherapists in developing these tools. It was disconcerting as a reader to have no references to draw upon, and yet a core tenant of the book is that having faith in a process despite not being able to prove it, doesn’t detract from its effectiveness. Getting through the book is pretty easy, so I encourage a temporary suspension of judgement while you read it. Once through the book, having gained an understanding of the tools themselves, the concept of Higher Powers may be easier to digest and reformulate in a way that makes more sense to you.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is craving an infusion of fresh perspective to their stale inner dialogue. If you’re looking for techniques to be used to top up your positivity, courage and confidence then The Tools is worth further investigation.

About Ian
Ian is an energizing facilitator of deliberate creativity, team training and Creative Problem Solving. He is a specialist in coaching for success, providing the tools to optimize creative thinking and facilitating diverse groups through their unique challenges.
Ian is a current Masters student at Buffalo State College, studying creativity, innovation and change leadership. He pursues optimal experience in the mountains (not often enough), on bikes of all sorts and behind two turntables. 

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