It’s encouraging to see mental health being discussed more openly these days. From social media to mainstream media, an increasing number of influential figures are shining a light on their personal psychological struggles in an effort to reduce stigma and embolden others to do the same.
One of the latest examples of this is Netflix’s Stutz, directed by and starring Jonah Hill. The documentary explores the life and teachings of Phil Stutz, Hill’s therapist-turned-friend whom he credits with helping him cope with significant life struggles. These include body image issues as well as grief, with Hill’s older brother, Jordan, having died suddenly in 2017. Hill so strongly believes in the power of Stutz’s teachings that this project is his way of sharing the tools and concepts involved with as many people as possible.
Table of contents
- Who is Phil Stutz?
- 10 Useful concepts and tools we gained from watching Stutz
- Stutz: Final thoughts
Who is Phil Stutz?
Stutz was raised in New York City. He claims that even as a child, he noticed that adults would come to him with their problems, a trend that likely influenced his later career choice. After earning his MD at New York University, Stutz worked as a prison psychiatrist at Rikers Island, before setting up a private practice in New York and then Los Angeles.
Stutz rejects the idea that therapists should adopt a neutral, back seat role when it comes to treating their patients. On the contrary, he believes that for therapy to be effective, the patient must be provided with tools that prove it’s possible to “change your inner state immediately in real time”.
He also suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which he says has made him extremely aware of time and the importance of viewing experiences (be they good or bad) as opportunities to achieve growth. In the documentary he explains various concepts and methods that can help us all do this. We explore 10 of them below…
10 Useful concepts and tools we gained from watching Stutz
Feeling aimless and like you’re lacking direction? Stutz would tell you to work on your Life Force. He considers this to be the only part of us that can provide guidance when we are lost. Before you know what your life passion is, be passionate about your Life Force.
To help visualise this concept, Stutz tells us to think of a pyramid with three elements. The first, which is where you should begin, is all about our relationship with our body. This means focusing on eating nutritious foods, getting more sleep and increasing exercise. The key here is not to focus on changing the way you look, but rather on improving the way you feel.
When you’ve established a better relationship with your physical body, you can move onto the middle level, which is about your relationship with other people. Stutz is adamant that we can’t cope with life’s challenges alone—we need the support of others. Unfortunately, when we’re sad, some of us have a tendency to retreat into ourselves and neglect key friendships. Instead, make an effort to strike up conversations with others and spend time with loved ones.
The last element of our Life Force is our relationship with ourselves. This can be the most complicated one, as it involves connecting to our unconscious, which by its very nature is something we’re not actively aware of. To work on this Stutz teaches that we should write. Whether it’s a journal or a basic word document on your computer, start writing what’s in your head and let it flow.
According to Stutz, if you work on your Life Force, “everything else will fall into place”.
Part X is an idea rather than a tool. Being aware of it will allow you to implement Stutz’s methods more effectively. Think of Part X as a villain that sets up camp in your brain and blocks you from fulfilling your potential. When times get tough or opportunities arise, Part X is the voice in your head that tells you change is impossible, you’re a victim, there is no hope. Listening to these thoughts causes our primal fears to kick in, which prevents us from achieving growth.
The problem is, Part X is not a villain you can slay. Just like the horror movie cliché, this one always comes back. This is because there are three realities that none of us can avoid:
- Constant work
Each time one of these aspects of life become too much for you, Part X is likely to rear its ugly head.
The aim, then, is not to destroy Part X, but to accept that it is part of the human experience and use tools (like the ones listed in this article) to weaken its influence. It’s also useful to acknowledge that, without Part X, we would be unlikely to make any progress in life. Facing adversity and overcoming hard times is exactly what makes us stronger as people. If you can, reach a place where you can appreciate the process of (at least temporarily) defeating Part X.
String of Pearls
The String of Pearls is a great tool to utilise if you are struggling with motivation. Whenever you’re putting off a task, be it big or small, remind yourself of this: “I’m the one who has to put the next pearl on the string”.
Picture every action you take as a circle, and each circle is linked in a chain. Over the course of a day, all of these circles make up a String of Pearls. The important thing to keep in mind is that each action has the same value. Whether it’s getting out of bed in the morning, or earning a promotion at work, you allot it one pearl. The knowledge that only you can continue the chain should spur you to build progress.
Ever the realist, Stutz also notes that within every circle is a darker circle that represents a turd. This is to remind you that, no matter how much effort you put into achieving something, it will never go perfectly. Mistakes happen and unforeseen circumstances may arise, but you just need to accept this and move onto the next pearl.
We all have a Shadow. It is the part of us that we want to hide from everyone else, the traits we dislike the most, the things that we wish we weren’t. In the film, Hill produces a large cardboard cut-out of himself that he says represents his Shadow: “a 14-year old boy, who’s very overweight and has acne and feels very undesirable to the world”. No matter how Hill’s outer appearance changed or how successful he became, he never shook the feeling of being that boy.
Stutz teaches that our Shadow is part of us and we cannot rid ourselves of it. In fact, when we ignore or disrespect our Shadows, it sets us on a path to self-destruction. In order to heal, we need to find our Shadow, focus on it, accept it and be in sync with it.
Think of a time in your life when you felt inferior or ashamed. Picture this version of yourself and consider how your rejection must make them feel. Make an effort to acknowledge them and even be proud of them. By doing this you can achieve contentment in your true self, which results in the opinions of others mattering less and less.
Now we turn to two things, both produced by Part X, that hold you back in life. The Snapshot (also referred to as The Realm of Illusion) is an unrealistic fantasy that we hold in our mind. We all have our own version of it, and it represents what we see as the perfect life experience.
The problem is, of course, that it is completely unattainable. It’s called The Snapshot because it’s just that—a two-dimensional idea with no depth. Wasting our mental energy on The Realm of Illusion causes us to miss out on real life experiences or dismiss promising opportunities as not worth chasing.
The Maze is what we get stuck in if we refuse to let go of grudges or dwell on past experiences that don’t seem fair to us. It always involves other people, be that someone who cheated on us in a past relationship, or someone who gained something that we see ourselves as more deserving of. Within The Maze is a lingering idea that we deserve some kind of payback to balance the scales.
There are two major issues with this. Firstly, when we’re in The Maze, the rest of our life is put on hold. Secondly, we cannot depend on others to right these perceived wrongs. You are setting yourself up for disappointment. Finding a sense of balance must therefore come from within. A tool you can use to achieve this is Active Love.
A warning: practising Active Love will require British people to momentarily drop their aversion to sentimentality. We’re about to get all up in our feelings…
To perform Active Love, Stutz instructs that we must close our eyes and picture ourselves surrounded by a universe constructed entirely of love. Imagine that you are taking in this love and placing all of it in your heart. Now, think of the person who is the focus of your Maze. You must send all of the love in your heart to them. Literally picture them standing in front of you, receiving all of the loving energy you are directing at them. This process connects you to them in a very positive way.
The logic, according to Stutz, is that you should then think: “If I can become one with this bastard, I can become one with anybody!” This is both freeing and empowering. It’s not necessarily about forgiving the other person, but rather to gain a sense of wholeness and thus free yourself from The Maze.
Radical Acceptance is all about finding the value that lies within some of life’s toughest moments. Mistakes help us to learn and grow. So, next time you find yourself in a bad situation, instead of focusing on the negatives, ask yourself what you can do about it. Dwelling on the bad parts doesn’t get us anywhere except a bad headspace. Be the glass-half-full person and direct your energy towards finding the silver lining. If the situation is out of your control, at least take comfort in the fact that you can learn from it.
Stutz explains that Radical Acceptance is more about having faith that there is value to be found, rather than simply willing yourself to find it. By going through life believing that there is something to be gained from all experiences, Stutz proposes that you are putting yourself in “a zone of tremendous opportunity”.
The Grateful Flow
Even on cold days thick with clouds, we all know that the sun is up there in the sky. The fact that we can’t currently see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. When we apply this to our perception of the world, however, this logic can escape us.
When you feel depressed or have a bad experience, it’s easy to forget that good times ever existed or may ever happen again. Part X wants you to dwell on these negative thoughts. If you’re not careful, a small bad experience can change your perception of reality. A tool Stutz designed to help us break through these mental ‘clouds’ is The Grateful Flow.
Start by naming three things you are grateful for. The smaller they are, the better. For example, you could list the warm cup of coffee you enjoyed this morning. Carry on the exercise by continuing to list more things you are grateful for—really let yourself get creative with it. Once you get into a steady flow, right as you feel you are about to list something else, stop. Zone in on the feeling you are experiencing and allow it to grow stronger until it takes over your body.
At this point you are basically marinating in The Grateful Flow. It is this process, rather than the things you are listing, that has the power to change your mood. Completing this exercise is a reminder that, even if you can’t see it right now, the sun is always up there.
Most people, over their lifetime, will become attached to certain partners, ideas or locations. We then waste a significant amount of time worrying about losing these things. To overcome this, Stutz teaches the concept of Loss Processing, which is all about moving towards a state of non-attachment.
We’re going to hand over to Stutz for this one, as it gets fairly deep:
This place is what Stutz calls the sun world: “All you can do is give; you can’t take, you can’t grasp, you can’t hold on to anything; it’s just impossible.”
The lesson here is that no place, thing or person should be able to take away your sense of wholeness. You can still pursue things you want and enjoy connections, but you have to be willing to lose them. A state of non-attachment is very hard to achieve, but simply aiming for it can produce a healthier mindset.
Stutz: Final thoughts
We hope you found Phil Stutz’s tools and concepts as useful as we did! Let’s finish off with three valuable life lessons from the man himself:
- You can’t move forward without being vulnerable
- Feelings of failure, weakness and shame force us to connect with other people
- Nobody has it all figured out—you gain happiness when you accept this and know what you’re going to do about it
Stutz is available to watch on Netflix.
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