"The Balanced Toolkit" Approach To Life

This website and all the material on it, is my attempt in some small way, to offer the guidance and mentoring that I always sought and never found...

About Zen Tools. Picture of tarot card of "The Tower Struck Down By Lightening"

"I remember the day I lost my faith as clearly as the day I lost my virginity. It was the day I almost jumped from the tower.

The seagulls woke me at dawn. My room, which perched precariously at the top of the tower, echoed to the pitter-pattering of seagull's feet on the roof immediately above my head.

The nauseous stench of vomit on the mattress and the dull thumping ache in my head returned hazy fragments of earlier excesses. This was immediately followed by an ache in my gut which expanded with consciousness.

I crawled out of bed, and lurched onto the flat roof adjacent to my room. Still naked, I climbed the fire ladder by the door, breached the castellated wall that capped all sides of my room and staggered onto the roof of the tower.

Vertigo and hangover rooted me to the centre of the square, I swayed slightly in the early morning breeze.

As the early morning sea breeze chilled my body, I was overwhelmed with feelings of betrayal, compromise, sacrifice, sexual desire... a sense of having all yet nothing... a sense of being taunted like a mouse by a cat. I moved to the edge of the tower. It was 100 feet to the ground. One more step, two seconds and it would all be over.

The deciding factor was the mess. Madam would have to clear up the mess...

I liked Madam and she had enough hassle with the rest of the staff. The gesture made, I stepped back from the edge of the tower, climbed down the ladder, and returned to my room and cleaned up.

If I wasn't going to go then something was going to go. Something that would lessen the pain and give me a chance to find some possible answers.

It was easy really: 'Sorry God, I don't believe in you any more.' Then I added as an afterthought: 'You catch me if you can!' "

The Yellow Brick Road

I wrote those words many years ago and they describe a true incident that took place almost exactly 47 years ago.

I was 20 years old and working the summer season as assistant manager in a large seaside hotel in Ilfracombe which is in the south west of England.


My life was in ruins. I was estranged from my immediate and extended family due to their physical abuse and endless criticism of me as a person. My family were deeply religious and totally judgemental. My mother was a very damaged woman and was physically violent to me for most of my childhood and adolescence and my father was an inadequate man and suffered from depression. My wider family were equally religious and very critical and judgemental.


Two years earlier, my adored sister Jenny, who was the only person I could communicate with, was badly smashed up in a car accident and sustained life changing injuries which included brain damage sufficiently bad to render her largely out of control but just about sane enough to meet the legally defined threshold for being free of legal guardianship.

I had returned to Ifracombe to work for the summer in the hope that I could "rescue" Jenny, but had rapidly realised she didn't want saving and was continually high on drugs and blowing the large compensation package she was awarded as damages for her injuries.

The local church and youth leaders of the organisations I had belonged to were worse than useless and also very judgemental and critical of me as I was seen as a someone who did not conform.

The album of the summer was "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" which at the time seemed fitting as Elton John had holidayed in Ilfracombe a couple of summers earlier which felt like some sort of personal connection. It was a miserable and desperate time and I really did come very close to ending it all and jumping off that tower.

But something inside me pushed me to fight back and the last and only thing left to reject and cut loose from was the God my religious upbringing had indoctrinated me to believe in.

In short I was a desperately lonely, sad, screwed up and damaged young man.

The Sacrifice

There was one last tie I had to break before I left Ilfracombe at the end of that summer on my quest to find some answers and try to become normal and whole. I had two other sisters who were 13 and 15 years younger than me, so much younger in fact that I always thought of the "little girls" as my though they were my children.

On the day before I left Ilfracombe I took them out for a big afternoon tea and bought them all their favourite cakes and sweets. After tea I put them in a taxi to return them to my parents.

What they didn't know was that I had determined to put considerable physical and psychological distance between myself and my whole family and I had no idea whether I would ever see them again.

My heart was broken as I watched their happy little faces waving goodbye to me from the back window of the taxi. Nearly 50 years later, I can still see that scene as though it was yesterday.

But, and here's the thing, I was so determined to find myself, to be able to be free to express myself and to become empowered that I was prepared to sacrifice anything and everything, and every relationship - including my adored sisters - to achieve that empowerment.

It was as though some primal force within drove me to find and fight my way to "normal" and wholeness.

Stephen Warrilow - Zen Tools Author

I became that man I always sought, I became the mentor I always wanted and never found...

Over the following years I was able to sort myself out sufficiently to become a functional human being and that work has continued to this day.

Once I had successfully addressed the worst of my issues I found myself seeking a mentor, an older and successful man who had achieved career and business success and who also was a spiritual and insightful person.

I sought and longed for a contact, a friendship even, with someone who could offer me guidance and advice, who could help me build a balanced and rounded view of life, who could point me to the resources I needed, and fundamentally a man who could be some form of father figure...

This search continued throughout my adult life, and whilst I did meet people who were able to help me and guide me I never met the mentor I was seeking.

For about 30 years this remained an unfulfilled longing until one day - about 10 years ago - I realised that I had become the man that I always sought, the mentor I always wanted and never found.

Zen Tools logo

This website and all the material on it, is my attempt to put something back.

This is my attempt, in some small way, to offer the guidance and mentoring that I always sought and never found.

Over the years I have learned much about myself and I now have a healthy understanding of my many flaws and weaknesses and I also know my strengths and know that I am:

  • Bright enough to understand complexity and simple enough to be able to interpret it and communicate it in an understandable way.
  • Able to translate complexity into actionable chunks for others to put into practice.
  • Blessed with a mind that always and automatically takes the holistic view and sees the bigger picture.
  • Able to see connections between seemingly disparate and unconnected ideas.

I have been blessed with these qualities, it is just how my mind naturally works, and over the years I have come to realise that this is not how most people think.

It is this mind that I have brought to the subjects covered on this website.

Introducing - The Balanced Toolkit

The Balanced Toolkit

The overarching purpose of this site is to show you how to cope in tough times, and to provide you with the tools to do this successfully.

The way we do this is by adopting a balanced approach and providing the "toolkit" of information and resources to enable you to do this.

I call this approach the "The Balanced Toolkit".

  • The toolkit is the resources, the information, the tools and techniques contained within this site.
  • The balance is achieved by adopting a holistic approach.

The human mind is a complex system of many inter-connected parts. It is difficult to achieve lasting change without having a basic understanding of these parts, and knowing where and how to apply the skill sets that will deliver that lasting change.

Unlike so much of what you will read about personal change and development, in my experience:

  • There is not one cure-all solution
  • There are not many quick fixes
  • Lasting change seldom happens quickly

However, there ARE some quick fixes that will bring you peace of mind and ease your stress if you are going through a tough time right now:

My objectives with The Balanced Toolkit approach are to:

  • Highlight some of these main inter-connected parts
  • Offer some practical guidance on the key themes 
  • Point you to articles and resources that will help you adopt that holistic approach

The Balanced Toolkit is based on the following core values:

  • Taking responsibility - To paraphrase Mark Twain, you can blame your parents and your early life circumstances until you are aged 25 but after that - you and you alone are responsible for your life.
  • Playing the long game - there are few quick fixes in life - real change and real growth is the result of sustained effort and application over long periods of time.
  • Balance and the avoidance of extremes - take the middle path and learn to live with and accept uncertainty.

The Balanced Toolkit (c)



  • MASTERING MENTAL MODELS - A mental model is a high level overview of how something works.  Mental models help you think effectively. A large part of the balanced approach to thinking is learning how to apply the many and various mental models.

  • NOT THINKING - To really learn how to think effectively you have to learn and master the art of not thinking. A quiet mind is an insightful mind and a resourceful mind.

  • THE POWER OF HABITS - The human mind runs on deeply ingrained and habitual patterns of thought. Learn how to achieve remarkable results through tiny changes by applying good habits.

  • DO IT AGAIN BUT DO IT BETTER - Renew your mind with practices, not beliefs, that will have a profound and positive effect on your life. Become aware of what is going on in your mind and particularly that which is going on outside of your conscious awareness. Here are some initial practices and resources for renewing your mind.


  • YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS - Learn that what matters is not the content of your thoughts but your relationship with your thoughtsI have found that there are four stages: awareness of your thoughts; understanding your thoughts; accepting your thoughts; and, living with your thoughts.

  • DEVELOPING A GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR MIND  - The key to developing a good working relationship with your mind is to have tools, techniques and resources that work with all levels of your mind. The objective is to have them all working together, moving you in the same direction, and at the same time!

  • UNDERSTANDING HOW YOUR HARD WIRING WORKS AGAINST YOU - It is helpful to understand that your brain is hard wired for immediate gratification and this explains why you struggle with delayed gratification.This article offers some simple but powerful proven strategies for addressing this.

  • UNDERSTANDING HOW THE SOFTWARE IN YOUR BRAIN WORKS AGAINST YOU - So often the reason for your failure to achieve a personal change goal isn’t the result of a lack of will-power, it’s your "emotional immune system" trying to protect you. This is known as immunity to change and there is a simple and powerful approach to dealing with this 

  • UNDERSTANDING AND APPLYING THE LAW OF RESPONSE AND OUTCOME - Forget the "law of attraction" as its usually presented. The outcomes that you experience are determined by your responses to the events in your life. The insights and techniques in this extended critique and re-evaluation of the Law Of Attraction will empower you to change and transform your life in ways that are sustainable.  As you might expect from The Balanced Toolkit approach, this extended article is holistic and contains a wide range of proven practical tools and resources to achieve this.


  • LIFE IS MORE RANDOM THAT YOU THINK - Having awareness of the role of chance, uncertainty and high risk consequences is important. I do recommend that you gain a lay person's basic understanding of some of the core principles of statistics in relation to these uncertainties in the mental models referenced here. You may find, as I did, that some of this material will seriously challenge the way you approach these uncertainties.  These insights and techniques can be extra-ordinarily empowering. Nassim Taleb explains much of this in a series of books [Black Swans, Antifragile, Skin In The Game] that are featured and referenced in this article together with extensive resources.

  • RE-VISITING AND MASTERING MENTAL MODELS -  I found the study and writing of these articles to be very instructive. Some of the mental models are rooted in general life principles and philosophy of one kind or another, some are focused on productive thinking, and there some which are rooted in science and statistics and specifically the The Fat Tail Fractal Factor, Regression To The Mean, Inflection Points, Compounding, Probabilistic Thinking and Living Antifragile. It is this latter category which are especially useful when making decisions in situations of chance, uncertainty and high risk. In my view, the study and application of all of these mental models is some of the most powerfully transformational material on this site.

  • EXERCISING DISCERNMENT AND GOOD JUDGEMENT - Is based on good thinking skills, mental models, analytical thinking, independent thinking, and an understanding of cognitive biases and distortions. This article lists the six elements of good judgement, explains how to apply them and provides the resources to enable you to achieve this.


  • THE BALANCED APPROACH TO BELIEFS - is a utilitarian approach that sees: (a) a belief as there to serve a purpose and to be released when that purpose is served; and (b) a belief as a guidance rather than an immutable certainty.

  • NO BELIEF HAS A MONOPOLY ON TRUTH - Yes I accept the paradox in that statement! But I do "believe" that it is wise to be wary of any belief system or view of life claiming a monopoly on total truth. But it is foolish to ignore the insights and partial truths within that system.

  • ATTEMPTING TO ADDRESS THE BIG QUESTIONS  - Without adequate and sufficient proficiency in thinking skills is like trying to grasp a bar of soap in a warm bath in the dark! As a useful start point and foundation, the Stoics offer practices of thought and behaviour that can ease your tensions and sufferings and enable you to become the best you can be.

Questions & Answers

# There is lot of material on this site, how can I access it in a way that is going to be most helpful to me - where should I start?

Initially people visiting this site are going to arrive here as a result of an online search or by referral from someone else. For many visitors that initial visit satisfies their search and they move on.

However there is another group of people who make repeat visits to the site and view multiple pages.

For repeat visitors, the key question which could determine how you use this site is this:

"Is your interest situational or developmental?"


    There are 2 typical situations that you maybe experiencing:

    1] You Are Experiencing A Crisis

    You are in bad shape and experiencing a really hard time. I recommend  Zen Thoughts For Tough Times. This was originally in the form of an email series of 50 messages spread over 2 months, but now presented here in the current format for wider access.

    It is written as a conversation with a friend who was going through a tough time, the messages you see here were my responses to my friend and all based on painful personal experience. Each piece is linked to relevant helpful material on this site.

    2] You Have To Make A Decision

    I would suggest the The Law Of Response And Outcome is the best place to start. This addresses the key themes relevant to making an important decision and is linked to extensive further resources.

    For a narrower focus on the decision making process I would recommend the following:

    Finally, go to the Site Index and review the sections on Mental Models and Productive Thinking

# Are you aligned with any particular faith or belief system?

I was raised in a Christian family and spent many years aligned with an exclusively Christian orientation. In mid-life I was deeply involved in Buddhism and very specifically mindfulness practice for many years.

Now, whilst I value and cherish these experiences and have learned much from these traditions I prefer to not label myself as being affiliated with any particular belief system.

#There are countless blogs and sites out there covering similar ground to yours - so what's different about this site?

The short answer is indexing and resonance!

Firstly, one significant difference is in the actual structure of the site.

This is a website and not a blog. A blog presents pages in reverse chronological order i.e. newest content appears first whereas a website is static in nature and pages are indexed in a hierarchical structure.

The easiest way of thinking about this is to view a blog as a published journal and a website as a book with an index and chapters.

Personally I feel that the indexing offered by a website is a differentiator.

A second difference is the voice of the writer. This will not be apparent to the casual visitor to this site who is searching online for one specific topic.

But to the smaller number of repeat visitors there will be a level of personal resonance and alignment with my personal style of writing and presentation of material.

# I have a question, a point of clarification or something I wish to discuss with you -  can I contact you and will you respond personally and promptly?

Yes of course! I welcome messages from visitors to this site and you can reach me via Contact Me.

I welcome and respond to all genuine messages, and do so normally within 24-48 hours.

The Balanced Life

The Balanced Life

The balanced life is one where you recognise the full spectrum of possible responses and consistently choose the right one for the situation you find yourself in.

Walking The Talk

Walking The Talk

An ongoing series of articles about living with, and applying, the extensive materials and resources on this site with key point takeaways.

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