The Importance Of Having The Right Gear

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We humans are often distinguished from other animals by our ability to make and use tools.  We got things rolling with the wheel and haven’t stopped since.  Now we have supercranes to build skyscrapers, cars and airplanes to move us from here to there, and screwdrivers to put things together.  The problem we find isn’t a lack of tools; it’s that we often use the wrong tool or no tool at all and end up struggling far more than necessary to accomplish the task at hand.  When obstacles seem insurmountable or just harder to slog through than we think they should be, often the problem is simply that we’re using the wrong tool.

When I bought my first hiking shoes, the salesman put me through a series of what I thought at the time were ridiculously thorough tests (walking up and down an incline, stepping up and down stairs), measuring for toe slippage until he found a pair that satisfied him.  After seven years of hiking, I can report they remain my most comfortable shoes and that I’ve never even developed so much as a blister while wearing them, even after ten hour hikes.

I recently returned from a vacation in Europe, which was made significantly easier by the use of the right gear.  Rather than pack a large suitcase, my wife and I brought two backpacks, one of which was a hiker’s pack designed to carry heavy loads a long distance.  It’s made so that the weight of its contents is distributed over the hips rather than the back, which enabled my wife and me to wear it through four countries without either of us straining anything.  This, even as we took turns pushing my son in a stroller that collapsed into a form as thin as a closed umbrella—perfect for taking on trains, buses, and cabs.  We also used mini head lamps strapped around our foreheads to read at night in the dark while our son slept in his portable pack-n-play crib.

Have you ever used a drill to put in or pull out a long screw?  When I discovered this tool years ago I almost threw out my screwdriver—except shortly thereafter I found myself confronted by a screw in a space the drill wouldn’t fit and I had to resort to the old-fashioned way of screwing it in.

If there’s a job you have to get done, there’s almost always a tool created to help you do it more easily, efficiently, or well.  Rather than presume you already know the best way to go about it, check first to see if someone has knitted together some wires or written a few lines of code to help you.


Here’s a funny thing.  When confronting a situation, some thoughts, like some tools, are superior to others.  We’re often biased to think our first thought is our best, but like a screwdriver, it often isn’t.  For example, say a colleague ignores your greeting as you pass her in the hallway at work.  Your first thought may be that she’s mad at you, causing you to spend the rest of the day anxiously searching your memory for what you may have done to offend her.  A second thought might be that she’s having a bad day herself and was so absorbed in her own thoughts she didn’t hear you.  Or she responded to your greeting after you passed by her long enough that you didn’t hear her.

When we think about our thoughts as tools that frame events, it becomes immediately clear how important choosing the right thoughts is.  It’s not events themselves that affect us—it’s the thoughts we have about them.  And some thoughts are more accurate and more adaptive than others.  We shouldn’t be married to our first thought or even our most pressing or alarming thought any more than we should be married to using a screwdriver instead of a drill.  Rather, we should think about our thoughts as tools we can select—and take great care to select the best ones for the job, or situation, that confronts us.

Next WeekWhen You Don’t Like Yourself

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  • I was pleased to see the last section, “Our Thoughts are Tools, Too.” I’ve been reflecting on that recently—good timing.

  • Really great post! This is so incredibly true, and it’s amazing what a difference you can make by just taking a step back and choosing how you respond to something (internally) rather than reacting.

  • Nice post…a big shift from physical tools to mental tools! I totally agree with your perspective: Events are just that—happenings. Now what meaning we assign to that: That is non unique and dependent on our state of mind, etc. From the POV of the intending process—every thought is important and can affect your future experiences. Nice post, again. Looking forward to your next post.

  • Can’t wait to read “When You Don’t Like Yourself.” Would be great to read right this minute!

    As always, enjoyed your post. My simian mind won’t put down the darned hammer so that I may use a different tool—you have words regarding persistent, recurring negative thoughts?

    naturegirl: I will in next week’s post.


  • I’ve been very aware at my thoughts a lot lately and realized how the toxic ones can create situations that never existed in the first place. If I find my mind racing now with a lot of thoughts I’ll work at just quieting my mind and let let them come one by one and weed out the ones that I know aren’t going to help me in the future. I always try to select the best thoughts now that are the healthiest for the situation at hand.

  • I’ve been noticing how frequently I assign negative meanings to others’ behaviors, and I’m quite adept at “finding” evidence to support my assumptions. But recently I forcibly removed myself from an incredibly imaginative and toxic storyline that I’d created about an old friend—I decided to set it aside for a day, assume the best and act accordingly. I’ve been so richly rewarded by that choice and it astonishes me how in an instant I could choose, essentially, hell or happiness. So now when I catch a negative thought/reaction moving through my mind (and body), I ask myself, “Do these thoughts serve me and my well-being?” I’m finding that in the absence of facts it works well to assume the best.

    Thanks again, Alex!

  • Alex, I often reflect on the use of technology in health care. We are meant to use technology as a tool—that was the original intent. But I see that we are on a slippery slope, and that the technology may consume more of our attention than the patient.

    Technology is a seductive tool.

    Chris: Having championed the recent adoption of a new medical informatics system at my hospital, I’m in agreement that new technology can bring risks as well as benefits. I’m often asked by physicians how they’re supposed to relate to the patient now with a computer in the room competing so strongly for their attention. Seminars have been given on this very topic. It’s a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.


  • If I may please extend your analogy a bit…

    Being a small person I used to have a lot of trouble using tools. I always thought I had to apply as much strength and force as I possibly could to get the same results as a guy twice my size. One day a fellow I was working for walked by (probably after watching me struggle for a few hours) and said, “Don’t force it, use a different tool.” Now I’ve discovered that instead of gnawing at a personal problem for days and weeks, if I set down my thoughts about it for a while, the solution will usually present itself when I least expect it. I guess the point being, if a person is using the wrong “tool,” a stronger effort won’t improve the tool’s performance. All the more reason to set it aside and see what other “tools” become available in the workshop. ‘Course, sometimes that’s easier said than done. 😉

    Julia: Great advice.


  • I really appreciate all the comments, especially Catherine’s. I do the same with negative thoughts and the suggestions are worthwhile. Early morning is toughest for me, when I feel the saddest and most negative, even though I read spiritual material before I go to sleep. I too am looking forward to your next week’s blog.