8 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Best-Selling Author and Therapist Phil Stutz

June 5, 2017

On June 1, therapist and author Phil Stutz spoke to an audience of student entrepreneurs and community members at Yale’s Luce Hall about tools they can use to overcome fear, manage failure, move forward and find success. Together with therapist Barry Michels, Stutz wrote the best-selling book The Tools which details a methodology Stutz developed to awaken creative impulses and provide people with a means for reaching their potential. Below, top advice from Stutz’ talk for budding entrepreneurs.

  1. If you don’t feel afraid, you’re not trying hard enough. Starting a company is scary—you have to find customers, attract investors and build a team, and there’s a very good chance you will eventually fail. Go forward anyway. Stutz says, “You know you’re going properly if you’re scared every day.” Stutz added that entrepreneurs need to develop “expansive discipline,” or the courage to constantly move beyond one’s safety zone.
  2. Give yourself a nightly review. Every day should begin by establishing specific challenging action steps that you intend to take, Stutz says. Every night, before you go to sleep, he advises would-be entrepreneurs to take an inventory of what they did that day. “Start to monitor yourself,” Stutz says. “Look at what you are avoiding. Most of the time if you’re avoiding something that’s the right direction to go in.”
  3. If something is painful, go towards it. Stutz calls this principle the “reversal of desire.” The normal human desire is to avoid pain, but in life and in business, avoiding painful actions means that they will grow into massive problems. “We call it the ‘Law of Pain,’” Stutz told the audience. “If something is painful, and you go towards it, it diminishes in pain.” He told the story of an intimidating high school football player—the best running back in New York City—who befriended him during a shared class. The player told him “I’m not the biggest or the fastest, but I’m the best running back because I’m not afraid to get hit.” Stutz internalized that message and later applied it to his practice.
  4. Thinking will never help you deal with fear. Fear, Stutz told the audience, is irrational and paralyzing. It’s an animal response—and we need to combat it with a force from our guts, not minds. Stutz told the audience to imagine that their fear formed a cloud in front of them. Then he had them imagine yelling in a very primal way “Bring it on!” followed by “I love fear!” and “Fear sets me free!” Those three statements can be repeated mentally before any scary action to get you moving forward.
  5. Be careful how you define success. Unlike secondary success (a nice home, sports cars, tropical vacations), primary success represents your inner state. It is not about results, but rather what motivates and fulfills you. “If your primary success is only about money,” says Stutz, “you will do very badly when you fail. And you will fail.”
  6. Be willing to walk away. Stutz told the audience that “in every negotiation, the guy who can get up from the table and leave wins.” He calls this the “potency of non-attachment,” and says “If you can’t walk away, your view is distorted. There’s a power that comes from being willing to lose.”  
  7. Free yourself from the need to be liked. Stutz says there are three things that a leader must endure: being alone, uncertainty and hatred/misunderstanding. The last one, he said, is the most painful. But, he noted, “the person who can tolerate that is much bolder—they have freed themselves from the need for adoration.”
  8. Approach life like a string of pearls. During the talk, Stutz drew two images on a chalkboard. One showed a uniform set of circles connected by lines. Next to it he drew a few connected uniform circles followed by one massive circle. “Each pearl represents an action you take,” Stutz says. “The only thing that matters is that you put another pearl on the string.” Many people, he said, think they are working towards a “magic pearl” such as fame or wealth. They believe once they achieve that goal, they won’t have to work anymore; their world will be transformed. He told the audience: “Either you won’t reach that magic pearl, or, if you do, you find it doesn’t give you what you wanted. You need to have the discipline to keep putting pearls on the string.”

Phil Stutz and Barry Michels have a new book called Coming Alive due out this summer. Visit them online at thetoolsbook.com.

CONTACT: Brita Belli, Communications Officer, Yale Innovation & Entrepreneurship, (203)804-1911, brita.belli@yale.edu.