Psychiatrist to the Stars: How to ACTUALLY Feel better | Phil Stutz

Phil Stutz

Have you ever felt stuck? In work or maybe a relationship or life? Like you’re just going through the motions day after day, and you have no idea how to break out of it? Maybe you long for more creativity, meaning, love, excitement, or purpose in your life. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We all can get trapped in inertia, afraid to disrupt our comfort zones. 

Facing these moments, hard as they can be, is critical. But HOW you face them can make the difference between finally getting unstuck and making amazing things happen in life, or digging yourself deeper into the rut that’s already wreaking havoc on you. Which is why I was so excited to sit down with someone whose work in this area I’ve been following for over a decade.My guest today is Dr. Phil Stutz, a psychiatrist with an unconventional approach and a remarkable story. As a young doctor just starting out, Phil found himself working with incarcerated individuals at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York City. Those early experiences would plant the seeds for his radically different approach to therapy – one that emphasizes practical tools and inner work over passive analysis, which then, and even now, has ruffled a lot of feathers, but also helped a lot of people. 

In the decades since, his path has led him to Los Angeles, where his unconventional methods ignited major breakthroughs for everyone from A-list celebrities to everyday people. You may have seen Phil’s methods on display in the recent Netflix documentary Stutz, where he had these deeply candid conversations about life and therapy with longtime client and actor Jonah Hill.

But in his new book, Lessons for Living: What Only Adversity Can Teach You, Phil shares the tools and wisdom gleaned from his over 40 years of psychiatric practice. And they just might challenge everything you thought you knew about living a good life.

See, Phil believes we’ve got it all wrong. We spend so much time and effort trying to avoid pain and hardship, never realizing these difficult moments hold the keys to our growth. It’s only by walking straight into the storms life throws our way that we can access our deepest wisdom.

Audio excerpted courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio from Lessons for Living: What Only Adversity Can Teach You by Phil Stutz; Read by JC Mackenzie © 2023, Phil Stutz ℗ Penguin Random House, LLC.

You can find Phil at: Website | Instagram | Lessons for Living | Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript:

Phil Stutz (00:00:00) – Nothing real can be accomplished. Nothing permanent can be accomplished. You’ll have no impact on the course of events around you, or even in the world, unless you become potent. One of the most satisfying things for me as a shrink is when I see somebody move up the ladder, and it doesn’t have to be deep, evocative, revealing experiences. You can. It’s great if it is is just can they get through life a little bit better? Can they make a phone call as they’re afraid to make it? Cetera. I always tell them, especially new patients, because there’s all kinds of objections as well. They should, I tell them, try this for two weeks, maybe a month. If you don’t feel something changing, fire me. Please fire me.

Jonathan Fields (00:00:51) – So have you ever felt stuck in work? Or maybe a relationship or life? Like you’re just going through the motions day after day and have no idea how to break out of it? Maybe along for more creativity or meaning, love, excitement, or purpose in your life.

Jonathan Fields (00:01:06) – And if this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We all can get trapped in the inertia, afraid to disrupt our comfort zones and facing these moments hard as they can be as critical. But how you face them can make the difference between finally getting unstuck and making amazing things happen in life, or digging yourself deeper into the rut that’s already wreaking havoc on you. Which is why I was so excited to sit down with someone whose work in this area I have been following for over a decade. My guest today is Dr. Phil Stutz, a psychiatrist with a rather unconventional approach and a remarkable story. So as a young doctor just starting out, Phil found himself working with incarcerated individuals at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York City. And those early experiences, they would plant the seeds for his radically different approach to therapy, one that emphasizes practical tools and inner work over passive analysis, which then and even now has ruffled a lot of feathers, but also helped a whole lot of people. And in the decades since, his path has led him to Los Angeles, where that same unconventional method ignited major breakthroughs for everyone from A-list celebrities to just everyday people.

Jonathan Fields (00:02:20) – You may have seen Phil’s methods on display in his recent Netflix documentary Stutz, where he had these deeply candid conversations about life and therapy with longtime client and actor Jonah Hill. And in his new book, lessons for Living What Only Adversity Can Teach You, Phil shares the tools and wisdom gleaned from his over 40 years of psychiatric practice, and they just might challenge everything you thought you knew about living a good life. See, Phil believes that we’ve kind of all got it wrong. We spend so much time and effort trying to avoid pain and hardship, never realizing these difficult moments hold the keys to our growth. It’s only by walking straight into the storms life throws our way. He argues that we can access our deepest wisdom. So excited to share this powerful and eye opening conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life project. Hey, before we dive in, I thought it would be helpful to just briefly share the body of work called The Tools, as today’s conversation with Phil is built upon them.

Jonathan Fields (00:03:30) – So the tools are a set of techniques developed by Phil Stutz over the course of several decades, starting in the 1990s, spurred on by his frustration with traditional therapies and limitations. So he began pioneering unconventional techniques focused on taking action in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past. And over many years, he refined these methods in collaboration with patients. The experiments evolved into The Tools A Dynamic New Approach to Psychotherapy, and Phil later partnered with psychotherapist Barry Michaels to further develop the tools, and in 2012, he and Michaels officially published their approach in the book The Tools, which brought the techniques to the general public. The tools are designed to help people overcome psychological obstacles and achieve personal growth. Now there are five main tools which I just want to share with you very briefly. Reversal of desire. This tool involves consciously leaning into challenges or discomfort instead of avoiding them, and the idea is that avoiding pain often means avoiding growth as well. By embracing difficulties, we can break through barriers. The second one is what he calls active love.

Jonathan Fields (00:04:40) – With this tool, you transform negative emotions like resentment into feelings of love and acceptance. It’s about generating loving energy and sending it to yourself or others. Now the third tool he calls inner Authority, and this tool helps build inner confidence and strength to counteract fear or self doubt. You visualize an authoritative figure representing your highest self. Now the fourth tool is what he calls the grateful flow. Shifting focus to really what you’re feeling grateful for. This tool combats negativity and pessimism with conscious appreciation, and the fifth and final one he calls jeopardy! Visualizing potential threats or losses. This tool motivates action to avoid procrastination and self sabotage. And unlike reflective talk therapy, the tools offer immediate relief through directed action. In the now, they activate your willpower in the present moment, unlocking the unlimited potential of the unconscious mind. Their goal is nothing less than for your life to become exceptional, exceptional in its resiliency and its experience of real happiness and joy and meaning, and in its understanding of the human experience and feel, doesn’t denigrate any other individuals or people or approaches to therapy in the field.

Jonathan Fields (00:05:57) – He just feels like with him and with the people that he’s worked with, this is a way that he’s been able to honor his own values around practical application and see genuine outcomes with people. Now here’s Phil, excited to dive in. My understanding is you started out like the very early part of your career working in Rikers. For those who don’t know Rikers, it is a prison in New York City. One of the most notorious, I would say, in the country. People have been trying to shut it down for decades now. So you start out there and then eventually navigating your way out to LA, where you end up working over time with a lot of folks in the entertainment industry. So I have this curiosity. How you starting out, working with incarcerated folks in one of the most notorious prisons in the country, prepares you in any meaningful way for then working with aspiring and accomplished industry folks in LA.

Phil Stutz (00:06:57) – Yeah, there’s only one difference, which is the industry folks are much more dangerous. You have to be much more careful with them.

Phil Stutz (00:07:04) – Other than that, I believe most people are pretty much the same. I’ll tell you one interesting thing, though about Rikers. First of all, I was very young. I think I was 26, something like that. I didn’t know anything, and it was a very macho culture, very much so. But I learned some stuff that was very helpful in prison, at least in Rikers. These very long corridor is very long, like maybe three quarters of a mile or something you barely see. And if you make a loud noise, it reverberates. There’s no soft surfaces. Everything is a hard surface. So there’d be, let’s say, 50 inmates walking in one direction and 50 walking in the other direction. They have to pass right there, and there has to be somebody there to make sure they don’t kill each other. And I would see some of the correctional officers, they could just boom like that, and they could bring 100 guys going in opposite directions. You could quiet them, bring them under control without visibly doing anything.

Phil Stutz (00:08:01) – Somebody else would be in that position. They would lose it. They’d either have to scream or they get terrified. So I learned something. I didn’t quite understand what I was learning, but it was actually very important, which is there’s a level of interaction between human beings in all settings. Isn’t that just this particular one? And you can. Convey very powerful messages. It’s like a nonverbal network, and I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing, but I was there for five years, so I was picking up a lot of it. And that was one of the first times I became interested in forces. So to distinguish a force from an idea, the force has an impact on the people who were subject to it. I thought most of the time, not all the time, but most of the time does nothing. And so that contradiction spurred me on to pursue tools, basically.

Jonathan Fields (00:08:56) – Yeah, that’s a really interesting. When you describe forces, do you make a distinction between a force that you see as being intrinsic or originating from a person versus a force that is from the outside in that somebody might tap into and then harness in some way? Do you feel like it’s an inside out thing or an outside thing?

Phil Stutz (00:09:15) – Ideally, it should be both.

Phil Stutz (00:09:18) – The next book I’m going to write is going to be about that which is nothing real can be accomplished, nothing permanent can be accomplished. You’ll have no impact on the course of events around you, or even in the world, unless you become potent. And what that means is, everything that happens is done as a co-creation with you and something higher. And most people fall into one or the other. They’re very into the spirituality of it. Or they like to fight and everything’s black and white. But the secret is, is to combine them and it’s starting to in regular psychiatry, they’re starting to become interested in this, which is how do you combine the collective force, which is where the forces mostly emanate from? How do you connect that to the individual and his goals and what his reactions are? So I have about a year to write this book, so if you come up with any solutions, please just call me up. But but anyway, no.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:22) – I think it’s fascinating. You referenced the tools.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:25) – And so this is a body of work. It’s a documentation of your approach to psychiatry, to therapy, to stepping into a relationship with somebody who’s struggling, which is very different than the traditional approach than almost any other traditional approach. And one of the big differentiators is that a core tenet is that you acknowledge the existence of what you often describe as a higher force, something outside of you, and basically say that it’s really hard to accomplish whatever somebody is looking to accomplish without in some way acknowledging and integrating that into the experience of therapy or growth or change, which when you say that now a lot of people will raise their eyebrows, especially in the field of any sort of mental health care. This has been a part of your practice for decades now, right? I’m curious when you decide that this has to be the way that I work with clients, with patients, this has to be a part of the process. What were you seeing that was broken in the way that people were traditionally stepping into therapy?

Phil Stutz (00:11:40) – When I started, I was like a kid off the street.

Phil Stutz (00:11:42) – I was interested in psychology, but I didn’t know nothing from nothing. So at first I accepted the dogma, which mostly was Freudian, which is very passive. It’s like you’re just free associating and eventually you’ll find the answer. I knew right away whatever I was 27, 26. I knew right away that was bullshit. It was ridiculous. I don’t believe in self regulation in anything, whether it’s communism or the markets. But certainly this particular area, there’s just no way you could expect somebody who’s untutored in this. And why should they be tutored? There’s no way you can do anything constructive or positive without the help of something else. Now what really bothered me is what would happen after a session, not during what would happen after the session. And most of the time when I would see is we were letting the patient leaves the room was the session was over with nothing. He was just impotent. And I wasn’t a great altruist. It was just I was offended by it. And to be honest, I was a little bit offended by the patients who are also willing to be passive about this.

Phil Stutz (00:12:57) – So I knew one thing. The problem had to be at least addressed immediately. It had to be explained to the person in some way that would lead to a solution. And then you need to give them a tool so that they can actually do this. My thing about philosophy is now in the 21st century, there’s no philosophy that is real, that is efficacious, that. None unless this thing ends with action. So that was the residency program. I got through it, and I was actually attracting a lot of patients at the same time. But I didn’t fully understand, you know, at that age, I was overly critical and know it all. Now I know nothing. I didn’t know that at the time. So anyway, I didn’t want to let them leave a session with nothing. And it was remarkably ubiquitous, remarkably. I couldn’t believe I was seeing in my eyes. So let’s say somebody is depressed. This is an example. I would try to create a protocol for dealing with it.

Phil Stutz (00:14:02) – And then the dramatic endpoint is using a tool. And why is that? Because the efficacy of a tool can be judged through real evidence. So the tools actually were born step by step, so slowly that a lot of them I didn’t even identify as a tool. But then the psychiatrist is like anything else after you do the same thing like 100 times, if your eyes are open, you can see if it’s not working. And one thing I was fortunate. I always had this support of the patients. The way I would put it is they voted with their feet and they did now. And the big milestone was that documentary. Did you see that?

Jonathan Fields (00:14:42) – The Netflix menu. Yeah.

Phil Stutz (00:14:44) – That was a breakthrough because it made this alive, especially for males who didn’t understand how it could really work.

Jonathan Fields (00:14:52) – So when you start to say, there’s got to be a different way and this way has to be practical, we need a set of tools that lead to action, that lead to some sort of outcome that somebody can experience, rather than a more passive.

Jonathan Fields (00:15:06) – And part of. What you’re inviting also is somebody to play a more active role in their own experience of healing or of growth. And I wonder if you got resistance from that, because there’s often a mindset where people show up and say, like, you’re the expert, take care of me, heal me. And I feel like a lot of us, there’s a tendency to be passive in life and look for the service, the app, the person, the technology that is going to fix the problem for us. And you’re very explicitly telling people no, like you actually have to do be central in the process of whatever it is that you want to experience. You have to do the work, and not just when you’re with me in session, but you’ve got to bring this out into your life and do homework and build practices. Did you get resistance to that, or were people most, like, find it refreshingly honest and just saying like, oh wow. Like, I’ve never thought about it like this.

Phil Stutz (00:15:59) – You know, it happens. It becomes a selective process. The people that like it who can relate to it is they’re going to tell their friends, hey, this is something valuable. But that also eliminates a lot of people. I’ll tell you a funny thing, though. I never found the public as much of a problem. You know, maybe one out of 20 people see what I realized is people are desperate. And now, I mean, the last 2 or 3 years, the desperate times 100 and they don’t care, especially in a technical field like this. They don’t care what the theory is. They only care about one thing. Does it work? Every single one of them says the same thing. Does it work? And so encouraged me a lot, because the psychoanalytic approach really says you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s contradictory because it tells the patient, I’m the expert. I know the way this is supposed to go. But on the other hand, simultaneously, he says, this shrink says, I can’t help you.

Phil Stutz (00:17:00) – You’ll get a solution, but it can’t come from me. Which made me even more angry because if the guy knew how to solve it himself, why would he even be there retaining a fortune of money?

Jonathan Fields (00:17:11) – Yeah. I’m curious. Also, have you gotten pushback from colleagues from others in the profession about you saying, no, we have to do it differently.

Phil Stutz (00:17:19) – In New York? I did, and then I moved. I was about 34. I moved out here. The people out here are much nicer than more open minded. It was different, no question. I think also, I was a little older, so I wasn’t quite as militant about the whole thing. But anyway, I got surprisingly little pushback because all I was doing was in an office basically isolated. So I wasn’t really in the establishment psychiatric establishment. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people in it that are great and they try really hard. It’s just there’s certain ingredients that they don’t have. And look, doctors are a how shall I say it, they’re conservative group of people and their stamp of approval is a sense of validity doesn’t come from the patients, it comes from their peers.

Phil Stutz (00:18:09) – And that’s okay because you can go too far with that. And I’m only talking about psychotherapy. I’m not talking about psychopharmacology. But anyway, mostly, as I said, people voted with their. And that was very encouraging, let’s put it that way. Oh, and another thing I guess it’s of interest is Los Angeles is run by show business, the doctors, all kinds of doctors. They’ve ranked themselves by the level of clientele that they have. It’s affordable, by the way. All this stuff comes naturally to me. I listened very carefully to what somebody says, particularly if they tell me what they’re going to do and why it’s going to work, and then I just sit there and watch. That’s probably the most disturbing effect I had on my colleagues. If they said something, I say, okay, let’s see and try to hold myself to honesty about what was really going on, including if I did something I think didn’t work. But the overlying thing was, this is serious shit, and now there’s a tremendous interest in it for a very simple reason.

Phil Stutz (00:19:17) – People’s wives, husbands, they’re dying. The suicide rate is off the scale. And there’s an economic issue with psychotherapy as well. And it’s getting worse, meaning that there’s a lower strata of people that can’t they can’t really get good therapy. They just can’t do it. If a guy says it’s $100 and they can’t pay $100. Yeah, look, I make good money and I’m part of this group of however you want to characterize them. I’m not saying I’m a great person, but it’s offensive and it goes against, I think, the way the United States is meant to be. But it’s always been like a flame of my resentment about that. And one of the things is not going to solve the problem, but one of the most satisfying things for me as a shrink is when I see somebody move up the ladder. And it doesn’t have to be deep, evocative, revealing experiences. You can. It’s great if it is is just can they get through life a little bit better? Can they make a phone call as they’re afraid to make it? Cetera.

Phil Stutz (00:20:25) – I always tell them, especially new patients, because there’s all kinds of objections as well. They should, I tell them, try this for two weeks, maybe a month. If you don’t feel something changing, fire me, please fire me. And some of them do. But the point of it is it’s reality based. And not only is it the only way to live, because otherwise you don’t even know what’s going on. Well, let’s say you have an anxiety disorder and you have to go out somewhere and give a speech or some. The person who prepares for that, even if they do a shitty job, even if they go up and they feel it still is valuable because it’s defining the universe in a new way. And the new way is that the goal is expansion and growth. And the solution is a protocol. I call it a protocol that includes, again, labeling what’s going on, giving a brief understanding of a brief, and then finding out what are the tools that will reverse what you’re feeling, or at least make it bearable.

Jonathan Fields (00:21:30) – You eventually make this decision to codify these tools that you’ve been using in practice for years into a book called The Tools. And from the outside looking in, this looks also like your attempt to democratize a lot of what you’ve been doing in practice to basically take these things and just share them in the most accessible way possible, so that somebody who can’t afford to see you as a patient or a client or somebody else can at least understand, like, well, there is there’s a tool box here, there’s a set of things that you can explore on your own that may make a meaningful difference for you. So here you go. It was interesting because I remember actually reading that book when it first came out and actually sharing it around with a bunch of friends, because I thought it was not just valuable, but also different than a lot of what I was hearing and reading. And it struck me how the intent behind it was really to make these ideas accessible. Yes, to more people. It’s interesting. Also, you zoom the lens forward a decade now, as you spoke about one of your longtime clients, Jonah Hill, an actor who many people’s name will know ended up asking you or I guess, working together with you to create a documentary that aired at the end of last year where he’s in conversation with you, essentially talking to you about your life, but also talking to you about your practice, about these tools where, yes, he’s on screen with you, but you for the first time also, you become known in a different way.

Jonathan Fields (00:23:04) – You become one of the players on screen. You become one of those people. And I’ve been curious what that felt like to you.

Phil Stutz (00:23:13) – Yeah, I want to be honest about this. Well, the first thing is it took two and a half years to make it, but I had hit the sweet spot as far as well as fame. Meaning nobody’s going to really look at me in a restaurant, maybe for a second. So it’s been really comfortable. But now, because of the third book, I think it’s going to be be a little more problematic. But even that has rules and has tools to deal with them. That has to do with your desire for validation and how you deal with that, because most of the time it’s not a good thing and it’s subject to addiction. Also, people don’t realize this. The addiction to being famous. It’s one step below being a heroin addict, because once people taste that, they don’t like to let go of it. They really don’t. But I feel about this is whatever I’m discovering in the generic sense should be applicable to everybody.

Phil Stutz (00:24:13) – I’m more interested in in the issues and the solutions that have to happen in real time. It’s not exclusive, but pretty much it is. And one of the most important, most powerful practice is to be very alert for disaster. In other words, 92% of real change occurs right in the middle of a disaster. And the reason for that is these are like deaths equivalent, so to speak, is that those moments that you find out or get a feeling, is there really a higher world up there or not? It’s when you don’t know what to do, you confuse your choice of somebody else is disappointed. Anything like that where your own identity is, is at stake is the maximum learning moment.

Jonathan Fields (00:25:02) – Yeah. It’s interesting what you’re describing, because this is one of the topics that you write about in the new book, lessons for living. One of the things you describe is really how accepting your flawed shadow side, for lack of a better word, frees you from worry about others judgments, letting you express your true or self.

Jonathan Fields (00:25:22) – And I think a lot of people might not along like saying, well, that, okay, I get that. Intellectually I get that. That makes sense to me. But then the question becomes how? How do we actually make that real in our lives? Like, what are the steps to be able to actually operationalize that in some way?

Phil Stutz (00:25:42) – You ask good questions. That’s one of the best ones. Okay. First of all, the best way to operationalize it is on a very small scale. So we call that the world of small things. And you actually tend to get more out of and be changed in a milieu where the content is not that important because it’s the world of small things. So let’s say you live in the supermarket and some guy bumps you. You can either keep walking with him a nice day, use active love, which is one of our tools. Or you could scream at him. You have a choice at that point, but it’s not a real choice unless you have the tools to control yourself.

Phil Stutz (00:26:23) – The point is, something starts to reverberate in the human psyche. When there’s a big failure, there’s an impending failure, there’s danger. It’s like whatever comfort your ego took in, the certainty that it would be saved, protected, whatever it suddenly removed. At that point, you’re in an uncertain world, which is the real world, and you can hide from the real world for an indefinite amount of time. But sooner or later it’s going to catch you, and you’re not going to be able to fall back on. See, the idea of the tools is that it’s not enough just to get through something. And, well, it was rough, but it’s over with now. That’s okay. But that’s not real acceptance. So what we want is to walk into something that’s very difficult, that is completely uncertain, and have a protocol to deal with it. Even if it fails, even if it fails, you begin to condition yourself to look at the world in different terms. So that’s where the big opportunity is.

Phil Stutz (00:27:32) – If the person is not prepared in advance to harvest that opportunity, it might as well have never have happened. And people don’t like that. There’s a famous three unavoidable, which are uncertainty, hard work and pain. Nobody gets to avoid those three things. It’s not an indictment. It’s not a criticism. It’s just the way the world works. So now what is the psyche do? It postulates this other world out here and it’s really making it up. And the other world is magic means the other world will have the potency to allow you to avoid all these things that are unavoidable. And it’s repeated in our culture. You just turn it around. How many people are driving cars that should they should pay 400 a month, but they got one for 750 a month. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s there’s a pressure to constantly expand and you’re expanding away from reality. That means you’re unprepared for reality. And the biggest one, I think that people are unprepared for is the actual consistency that it requires that you can change.

Phil Stutz (00:28:51) – Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t change, but you can’t change without suffering. We call it the realm of illusion. You can see it in a lot of reformers where they’ll say their habits will be terrible, they don’t learn their lines, etcetera. And a lot of them come to me when they’re young. And I always tell you, if you keep on like this, I don’t care how talented you are, how good looking you are, how great you are. You don’t care about any of that. You’re toast in this environment. And they ought to a person, they will say the same thing. This is a young kids are 22, 25. They say, I’ll become disciplined after I become a star. I’ll become disciplined after I become a star because I need that reassurance. Right. And we call it part X is the part that keeps lying to you about this. It gives you a false sense of reassurance and the way it does that is pick out a singular reward that you think you’re going to get that you think will exonerate you from the three.

Phil Stutz (00:29:53) – Unavoidably, that’s the state of the human race right now. And everybody, which is probably 90% of the human race, wants to go to the next step, but they don’t understand what that entails.

Jonathan Fields (00:30:07) – One of the things, and it’s interesting because a lot of the essays in this new book, they weave together, even though they’re written over a period of years, they really there’s a lot of just one informs another, and they’re common themes. And one of them also is the notion of and you describe this as how to love yourself, self love. A big part of that is accepting parts of yourself that you may be ashamed of. Yeah, and I think this ties in part to what you’re talking about. Also, it’s it seems like a lot of us spend a lot of our time, a lot of our days. Fighting against things that simply are a true part of the human experience. Rather than saying okay. This is always going to be traveling with me like you just described. Like there’s it’s very hard to imagine or to actually create any kind of change or growth without suffering along the way.

Jonathan Fields (00:31:01) – And as you described, a lot of people will reject that, a lot of people, because we don’t want that to be the reality. But whether we reject it or not, whether we want it or not, like reality is reality. And I feel like so much of our suffering comes from us fighting against things that are a true, immutable part of our human experience, rather than accepting certain things. And I’m not saying accepting things that don’t have to be accepted or improper treatment or abuse. Of course, these are not things that we tolerate or should tolerate, but there are certain facts of life, certain circumstances, internal and external, that are just a part of us. And it’s the refusal to actually dance with them that compounds the suffering. And it sounds like that’s a lot of what you’re describing.

Phil Stutz (00:31:53) – Yes. And just to go back to the shadow and have fits in with this, the shadow I’m sure most people have heard about, but even if you have, it’s worth going over again.

Phil Stutz (00:32:05) – The shadow is the part of you that you wish wasn’t there. But it is. And not only is it there, but it’s never going away. It has to do with something in you, in every person that they feel inferior about. It could be your physical stature. It could be your painting ability. It could be that you have a bad it doesn’t matter what it is, whatever it is, you have to be honest about its existence and you have to accept that it won’t go away. It’s very important. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on a short or brief or a limited expansion, but that’s real. And that you can reproduce, is worth 10 million times some theory that can’t be proven and you can’t feel. I always tell people there are two centers of cognition. One is here and one is here, which is in the solar plexus. The one in the solar plexus is more potent, and it has a broader world view. But even that you don’t get that kind of vision by itself.

Phil Stutz (00:33:10) – You get that vision by facing uncertainty and not deviating from your plan, or even if your plan fails, it’s still a winner. If you can remember what the whole protocol was.

Jonathan Fields (00:33:24) – One of the things that you write about, it’s one of the essays. It’s almost inviting people to reimagine how we see success in our lives. Not as like, let me accumulate money, status, well, stuffed toys, whatever it is, but rather equating it more to the ability to tap into your own creativity and to express it in a way that connects you to something bigger.

Phil Stutz (00:33:50) – Yes, there’s another issue that brings up, which is what is the relationship of relationships you need in order to create. Because nobody can create something just by themselves doesn’t work like that. And there are laws about that as well. But we’re talking about now, which is basically failure. Adversity, challenges so bad that you’re not even sure you can get through them. That’s who you cut your teeth on that spiritually and amongst other things, you have to learn how to ask for help from this higher echelon of being, so to speak.

Phil Stutz (00:34:26) – And by the way, if your reaction is, this guy’s full of shit, he’s just making this up. God doesn’t exist. Where my reaction to that it’s been very helpful is, that’s cool. You can hold on to any belief you want. All I’m asking you to do is in the crisis. Do what the protocol says, including using a tool, and then make your judgment about it. And it’s funny when the patients realize you don’t particularly give a shit if they come to you, they don’t come to you. Whatever. It snaps them to attention. They know something’s going on here. That’s not consonant with what we normally look at the world. Listen to this. I had a guy that I treated for 14 years. Nice guy. Right? Very bright. 14 years. And he never did a thing. I told him never. He did nothing. Finally, his kids got so scared and so pissed off and they said, hey, we’re going to throw you out of the family, so to speak, because he was an alcoholic, among other things.

Phil Stutz (00:35:24) – So he was scared straight, so to speak. So he said, I don’t want to do this. I don’t believe in it. It was enough that I came for 14 years. But what happened was because he was forced, he actually began to do what I told him. And the result of that was spectacular. Actually, he became a different person. But the issue of motivation is a big deal. And one of the other things I’m fascinated by his 12 step. It comes at the same problem from a different point of view, because it comes out from a collective point of view and instead of individual. I know which is the the birthday cake today?

Jonathan Fields (00:36:04) – No, I don’t think so.

Phil Stutz (00:36:06) – Okay, I’ll do a real fish. It just looks like a birthday cake that you see from this side.

Jonathan Fields (00:36:12) – Yeah, yeah, like a three layer cake. Almost. Yeah.

Phil Stutz (00:36:16) – So the bottom. The bottom is face. It can be faith in God. It can be faith as you’ll be alive tomorrow.

Phil Stutz (00:36:25) – It could be facing some. It doesn’t matter so much. What’s the faith it attaches itself to? The only thing you can do is face is choose it without proof. It has to be a completely irrational. Fear is very important. This thing about faces. I choose to have faith for no reason, and you have to become inspired by the fact that there’s no reason. And if you can do that, then you can act. The second story is action. The top story is confidence. Now most people get it wrong. They think that the confidence should come before before the action. Words they say. You shouldn’t have to take action until you become confident again. That sounds good, but what it really is. Again, the same old thing of I want certainty in my life. Sorry you can’t get it. So anyway, the reason is people like pictures. It helps them remember what we’re doing. And I have some people that use this as a meditation. So they have faith here and they’d say, I choose to have faith.

Phil Stutz (00:37:30) – It’s both one of the frightening, but one of the most almost like triumphant experiences a human being can have. Because I choose this and I got nothing backing me up.

Jonathan Fields (00:37:42) – It’s interesting also because on the one hand, I feel like you can look at faith and say like, this is a willingness to believe something and suspending without needing proof. I’m just going to choose to believe in something, even though there’s nothing rational or there’s no proof that I can speak to what you’re also saying effectively when you’re doing that is that I accept uncertainty.

Phil Stutz (00:38:07) – Yes.

Jonathan Fields (00:38:08) – Is that so? Because it’s essentially the same thing in a lot of different ways. And the other side of uncertainty is possibility. Like it’s like when we have no faith. And tell me if this makes sense to you. I’m speaking it out as we’re talking. I’m sure if you have. No. Yeah. If you have no faith, unless there is clear proof about something. Right. That means that you will never believe anything. You will never take action on anything unless somebody presents you with like, here is the clear proof that this is real or this is possible.

Jonathan Fields (00:38:45) – The problem being so much of what is beautiful and gives our life grace and possibility and surprise is beyond proof. So we eliminate the opportunity to experience any of that when we refuse to ever act on faith. Does that make sense?

Phil Stutz (00:39:02) – That’s exactly right. Yes. Exactly right. And the whole thing of doing it without proof is the next step in human evolution. People say, what, are you crazy? That’s the next step. Don’t know. Don’t know what the fuck is going on. But the answer is yes. Not because you get a good answer, but it’s because you’ve appealed to the gods at the worst moment. That’s a good way to say, and not only can you not, but you should not try to figure out why that’s true. You shouldn’t. It’s like a sin. And look, anything can be skewed and you go too far in one direction or the other. But I can see if you don’t do that, if you can’t do that, there’s something we can phone you about your existence.

Phil Stutz (00:39:50) – You’ve lost the sense of meaning. Choosing faith and living a life of meaning. I just took sides at the same point.

Jonathan Fields (00:40:02) – That feels like a good place also for us to come full circle in our conversation. So in this container, a good life project. If I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?

Phil Stutz (00:40:14) – I would say. Her good life would be a confluence of your desire to support the collective, which means other human beings, and simultaneously pursue what freedom for you individually is meaningful and in some ways almost unbelievably joyous.

Jonathan Fields (00:40:35) – Yeah. Beautiful. Thank you so much.

Phil Stutz (00:40:37) – Thank you. This was good.

Jonathan Fields (00:40:39) – So as we wrap up this episode, we thought it would be fun to share with you an excerpt from Phil’s new book, which is made up of these really deep and wise essays that illuminate the timeless truths of human existence with a whole lot of depth and nuance, he just cut through the confusion of modern life. Meet you where you are and then elevate you beyond old patterns and really reminds us that as the old phrase goes, we contain multitudes, pain and joy, weakness and strength, and that life’s messiness holds the ingredients for alchemy.

Jonathan Fields (00:41:09) – The heaviness in your heart becomes courage, confusion gives way to conviction, and hardship transforms into wisdom. So here’s one of Phil’s essays called How to Love Yourself from the audiobook of Lessons for Living, read by JC Mackenzie, courtesy of Penguin Random House audio.

JC Mackenzie (00:41:28) – How to love yourself. A friend of mine is an acting teacher who has coached many of the biggest names in Hollywood. One night we were discussing why some actors go on to stardom while others equally talented do not. Is it the whim of the gods? Dumb luck. My friend claimed that if you showed him a group of gifted young actors, he could predict which ones would make it. I laughed and asked him when he’d become a psychic, but he was serious. He believed there was one specific factor in actors personalities that determine success or failure. The secret was how they dealt with auditions. Since I’ve had many actors as patients, I’m aware of how difficult it is to audition. You have to walk into a room full of strangers and bare your soul on cue.

JC Mackenzie (00:42:15) – You’re given five minutes to impress them, and believe me, they’re not easily impressed. It’s one of the hardest tasks in the world. No actors like auditioning, but some deal with it much better than others. According to my friend, the stars came from that group. All of them, he said. No matter how different they were, had one thing in common. It wasn’t how well they prepared for their audition. The key was how they reacted after the audition was over. Unlike most of their colleagues, they never attacked themselves. Even if things went badly, they’d find some way to tell themselves they did okay. They were missing the gene for self attack, is how my friend put it. This made instant sense to me. Imagine a boxer who, when the fight is over, goes into the locker room and punches himself repeatedly in the face. That boxer won’t want to fight much longer. The process is too intimidating. By being gentle with himself after an audition, the successful actor is already preparing himself for the next audition he’s working on the only variable he can control his reaction to himself.

JC Mackenzie (00:43:24) – Modern life is one big performance. We measure ourselves at school, at work, with our friends, as parents. Social media makes it worse, slamming us with images of perfection. But few of us are like the successful actors my friend described. We judge ourselves viciously and end up thinking we’re not enough when we make a mistake or lapse into a bad habit. Were trained to correct it by beating ourselves up. This just makes things worse. By the next day, we rebel against our own harsh standards. We respond like a teenager defying a stern parent. Only we are the parent. Sure enough, our rebellion takes the form of the very behavior we judge so harshly the day before. It’s an endless cycle. Constant self attack makes us feel secretly inferior, destroying the confidence to do new things. Most people accept this habit and the damage it does to them as just the way I am. But it doesn’t have to be. Anyone can break the destructive cycle by practicing what’s best called self love. We’ve all heard this term it’s constantly thrown around on Oprah like shows and in self-help books.

JC Mackenzie (00:44:35) – Frankly, it’s always bothered me. The word seems saccharine and mushy, connotes a vague, feel good state that’s out of touch with reality. In my mind, self love came under the heading of psychological loose talk concepts that sound good but don’t have this specificity to take you anywhere. It’s taken me years to discover what self-love really means. Now I realize it’s the single most potent factor in human development. Self love is the process of accepting the most inferior part of yourself. Any one can accept the great parts. That’s easy. The work is to accept the part of ourselves that we’re ashamed of. The Union shadow, what he defined as the thing a person has no wish to be, but can’t GEtrillionID of. It might be your height, your ancestry, your college board scores, or the fact that you’re an alcoholic. In the end, the details never matter. Human beings have a fragile, temporary place in the universe. It’s natural for us to feel inferior. We try to hide this from the world and ourselves with the facade.

JC Mackenzie (00:45:40) – We drive the right car, have the right body, send our kids to the right schools. But the moment the facade breaks down and it always does, we attack ourselves. Self criticism is our reaction to the failure to live up to our illusions about ourselves. But these failures are actually the most important moments in our lives. These are the times when our shadow breaks through. Mistakes and failures are supposed to trigger love. If we learn to love our shadow at these times, we become whole and gain the confidence that comes from accepting ourselves. Here’s an exercise to help you break the habit of self criticism and start loving yourself instead. The whole thing takes just a few seconds. First, try to imagine an inferior version of yourself, an alter ego that contains your every weakness and failing. Your shadow may look like a younger, needier image of yourself. Go back to a time in your life when you felt inferior, rejected, or insecure. Don’t worry about what your shadow looks like as you work with this.

JC Mackenzie (00:46:42) – Its appearance usually changes. The important thing is to make the image seem real, as if you’re in the presence of a living being. If this being makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re on the right track. Then accept this part of yourself unconditionally. Only love can do this. Feel your heart expand and send pure love to your shadow. If you have more time, you can imagine hugging your shadow or reassuring it in words. The closest experience to this is when we comfort our children. We need to love ourselves with the same intensity. All this may sound hokey at first, but if you do this consistently, you’ll be shocked at how real the experience becomes. Self love has the power to change everything in your life. You’re less vulnerable to others reactions. You’re bolder and more relaxed when you make a mistake. You recover much faster, but this power doesn’t come easily. Understanding self love, even using the tool a few times does nothing. Self love has to be practiced with great discipline. In California, where I live.

JC Mackenzie (00:47:49) – There’s been much criticism of the self esteem movement in many schools. The critics claim the schools teach the kids that it’s more important to feel good about themselves than to work hard, in effect condoning a complete lack of standards. They may be overstating their case, but they are right to object to self esteem being sold as an alternative to discipline. The real practice of self love is quite the opposite. Self love and the resulting self esteem cannot exist without discipline. Self love isn’t giving up and telling yourself it’s okay. That’s denial. It means nothing to accept your failings if you make no effort in the first place. If you’re too lazy to commit to life, you won’t have the energy needed for real self love. Self love isn’t self absorption either. In fact, narcissists can’t accept and love their shadows at all. They need endless outer attention to reassure themselves that they don’t have any failings. They have neither the courage to admit their weaknesses nor the discipline to learn to accept them. Narcissism is a form of spiritual laziness.

JC Mackenzie (00:48:53) – All love, but particularly self love, takes work. It requires real effort to learn to love the parts of yourself that you dislike. The work of self love reaps a tremendous reward. Your heart opens. Your heart has powers that your head doesn’t have. When you attack yourself, you are completely in your head, caught up in your judgments. That’s a very limited world in which to live, and it gives you a limited view of your own potential. The heart runs on love, not judgment. Love knows no limitations. Love gives you the power to do anything. If you have true self love, nothing can stop you.

Jonathan Fields (00:49:34) – Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode safe, bet you’ll also love the conversation we had with Judd Brewer about anxiety and what we can do about it. In a very practical, hands on way. You’ll find a link to Judd’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields.

Jonathan Fields (00:49:52) – Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelly Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.

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