How to Use Self-Help Strategies Like Tools in a Toolkit
It’s not just about knowing what to use, but also when
If you are in a hole, feeling acutely down and at a loss of meaning, it is probably not helpful to reflect on your purpose, engage in positive visualization, or write in a gratitude journal. A better bet is to accept what is happening in a non judgmental manner, practice self-compassion, and reach out for help. If, on the other hand, everything is clicking and you are on a roll, leaning into your purpose (or other sources of motivation) and being actively grateful for your lot is a pretty good idea.
A striking theme that has come up time and time again over the last five years in my coaching practice and my research and writing of The Practice of Groundedness is this: Many of the concepts used for mental health and productivity are like tools. They are only powerful when applied in the right circumstances.
This has two important implications:
- Develop a big and diverse toolkit helps.
- Cultivate the self-awareness to see clearly and know where you are right now — and then understand what tools are most likely to work. What works today might not work tomorrow and what worked yesterday might not work today.
Another way to think about it goes something like this: Level one is knowing some tools. Level two is knowing a lot of tools and how to use them. Level three is knowing a lot of tools, how to use them, and when to use them. Level one and level two you can learn predominantly from others. Level three you got to learn from experience. It is the wisdom level, and it is constantly changing as you and your situation are. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to what tool you use when, and what you get from it. Over time, just like a craftsperson, you refine and gain precision.
Also, a paradox is this: As you keep learning and practicing tools for mental health and productivity you may find that some seem at odds with each other. Here are a few particularly striking examples from The Practice of Groundedness:
- Resting your way out of a rut versus getting up and going
- Self-discipline versus self-compassion
- Facing your fears versus taking it easy on yourself
- Reflecting on your purpose and finding meaning in the struggle versus showing up and getting through even if it feels meaningless
Yet these seemingly contradictory tools are actually complementary. They are yin and yang, most powerful when considered equally and applied with discernment. Sometimes you yourself can figure out what makes sense when, other times you may need the help of thoughtful friend or a book, and still other times you may need the help of a coach or therapist. Here, I simply want you take away that there is rarely a this or that but often some version of this and that.