What’s left to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? Dumpster fires and train wrecks think it was a bad year.
When viewed through the narrow prism of work, it was a nightmare for companies big and small, for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, employees, freelancers, members of the gig economy, and everybody in between.
Maybe for you 2020 was bad enough to prompt, or even require, a reimagining of your work, your focus, or your dreams. Tony Robbins feels your pain. He knows, understands and shares in what you’re going through because he went through it, too
A life and business strategist, No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Robbins spent decades traveling the world speaking in front of thousands of people, and all of that disappeared seemingly in an instant. But did the end of large gatherings forecast the end of Robbins? Nope.
He looked for solutions; finding them took time. The low-hanging fruit fix—speaking via Zoom—didn’t appeal to him. He dreamed bigger than that and eventually landed on an innovative and expansive way to use video—think of it as a worldwide, interactive video call on steroids. And now what once seemed like a disaster for his lifelong purpose of helping people could enable him reach more people than ever. He plans to speak to a million or more viewers for one gig in January.
He wants you to reach new heights, too. It won’t be easy. But what fun would it be if it was? You are probably nervous, timid or afraid. All of that, Robbins says, is natural. The key is not to figure out a way to not be afraid or pretend those fears aren’t real or valid. They are. The key is to forge ahead anyway, in the face of your fears. It’s not courage, Robbins says, if you’re not afraid.
“Courage is a muscle,” he says. “You have to start using it.”
In the wake of so much change, uncertainty and opportunity, SUCCESS asked Robbins for his step-by-step guide to starting from scratch. Here, he offers tips on how to navigate your life and career in 2021, the year of your comeback:
#1 Be careful how you frame this situation to yourself.
When answering questions about how readers might “start over” in 2021, Robbins pushed back against that mindset. He encouraged solopreneurs to instead see their turnaround (his word) in a different way.
Call it a comeback, Robbins says, and you will feel like the leading character in a powerful story.
Imagine, he says, going to a movie or reading a book that opens with the main character having his or her life figured out. They are successful at home and work, loved and understood by their family and friends, and spiritually mature. They never forget a birthday or anniversary or to take the garbage out. At the middle of the story, nothing has changed. They are still perfect. Life is an unbroken string of successes. At the end, the same. There has been no growth, no catharsis, no epiphany, no change. No challenge has been overcome, no fear has been stared down. Nothing has been learned, either.
“Who’s going to go to that movie? Who’s going to read that book?” Robbins asks “Nobody. We as human beings love comebacks. The greatest stories of all time are comeback stories.”
If you see yourself starting over, you focus on where you used to be. If you see yourself as engineering a comeback that will take you to higher heights than you reached before, that forces you to set your sights on the end, where you’re going, how your new dream will make your life better than ever.
“Everybody is taken to their knees by something,” he says. “The real question of life is not where you are now. It’s where are you going to go? It’s are you willing to create a vision larger than yourself so you can create something even better than before?”
#2 Don’t wait too long.
You are probably asking yourself, How do I know when or even if I should begin my comeback? You might be worried that whatever new thing you try will turn out worse than whatever you are turning away from.
Fair enough. But that’s not a reason to do nothing. Robbins suggests asking yourself a series of questions: If I was not attached to life this way, what could be possible? What could be a new life for me if I really wanted to go for it?
If you wait until you are 100 percent sure you’re ready, you’ll be waiting a long time. Few things in life are certain; one is is that you’ll always face uncertainty, and that’s even more true today. “Ignoring when to start over will probably make it worse,” Robbins says.
Nor is it wise to be a perfectionist once you get your comeback rolling. “You’ve got to try different things. They’re not all going to work. If you’re successful in life, you try new things,” he says. “Most people are trying to wait until something’s perfect. All the greatest Internet companies or tech companies, they all iterate. They get what they think is the best possible thing, but it’s not perfect, and they try it. They test. They see what works. What works, they do more of, what doesn’t work, they change.”
#3 Play the opposite game.
So you decide to dive headfirst into your (admittedly potentially imperfect) comeback. Great! Now comes the hard part (or, rather, another hard part): What should you do?
If you can’t answer, don’t worry. Robbins says he often asks people to lay out their hopes and dreams about relationships, work and life, and they struggle to articulate them. When that happens, he asks them to play the opposite game.
Get out a piece of paper and pencil and make lists, he says. “Describe the relationship from hell,” he says. “Describe who you don’t want to be with, what they’re like, how they behave, how they treat you, how they treat themselves, their bodies, their emotions, their spirits. Or tell me the job from hell. You don’t want to be around people who do what? You don’t want to do what? And once they write the job from hell or the relationship from hell, I say, ‘now do the opposite,’ ” he says.
This is a way to turn anger and frustration about relationships and jobs into positives.
“You can use them. Say, ‘This is what I don’t want,’ ” Robbins says. “Most people know what they don’t want, but they don’t know what they do want. Write the opposite, and you’ll have the relationship from heaven or job from heaven.”
#4 Don’t stress about being afraid.
And don’t be afraid of stress, either. “How could you not be [afraid] in the middle of COVID when every day you turn on the TV and they project more deaths?” Robbins says.
Fear and anxiety may seem ever present now. But it’s not like they were absent at this time last year or the year before. You were just worried about different things. Far too often, people hope for a stress-free life. Not only is that impossible, it wouldn’t be good for you, even if you had it. “The real secret in life is not to avoid stress,” he says. “It’s what makes you stronger, if you learn how to use stress and not let stress use you. You don’t want to pray for no problems. You want to pray to be bigger, stronger, better.”
The way to defeat fear is through action.“Humans are incredibly resilient. We can use fear to turn on itself, where you’re more afraid of doing nothing than to try something and fail.”
#5 Train your mind.
Early in his career, Robbins studied under Jim Rohn, the author, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. Robbins quotes Rohn telling him, “You can miss a meal, but don’t miss reading a book 30 minutes a day.”
Robbins reads voraciously and encourages solopreneurs to do the same. “Pursue a book that will give you new strategies, new insights, new philosophies,” he says.
The library is full of books about comebacks, and Robbins likes biographies in general and autobiographies in particular. To be worthy of a biography, a person is almost always successful. Their roads to the top were never easy. “You’re reading their words, you’re thinking their thoughts. You begin to think and feel like them,” he says.
The benefits of reading go far beyond giving you ideas or motivation to launch your comeback. It will make you stronger mentally, period. “Every day, I’m going to train and strengthen my mind,” Robbins says. “I’m going to stand guard at the door of my mind, like my teacher Jim Rohn taught me.”
#6 Train your body.
Every morning, Robbins jumps into frigid water. Every morning, he doesn’t want to. Every morning, he does it anyway.
“I walk through the snow in the winter and I jump in this 38, 39-degree water,” he says. (That’s when he’s in Idaho; when he’s in Florida, he jumps in a cold pool.) “It’s intense. There’s never a day I’m looking forward to it, ever. I don’t let uncertainty get in the way. I don’t negotiate with myself. You can train your body by the way you use it.”
#7 Ask new questions, have new conversations and seek out new perspectives.
When the shutdowns closed big gatherings, Robbins was forced to come up with a new way, or new ways, to reach people. He thought movie theaters or churches might be good substitutes, but soon those closed, too. “What the hell do we do?” he asked himself.
“I’m not going to do some freaking webinar,” he told himself. “I need to get some perspective.”
He found some people using Zoom to reach large groups. He looked into that, but wasn’t excited by what he saw, and it’s easy to understand why. Zoom maxed out at 1,000 viewers; he routinely spoke to groups many times larger than that.
One day he visited a production company in North Carolina. They set up a studio with a curtain and a stage and a bank of screens. He walked onto the stage, which was maybe four feet by four feet. Again, he was discouraged. “I can’t do this,” he thought to himself.
In his old way of doing things—speaking at stadiums in front of tens of thousands of people—bursting through the curtain served as a trigger for him. Even on days when he felt terrible (he suffers from mercury poisoning, which often leaves him drained), invariably crossing through the curtain awakened his body. After 10 or 15 minutes on stage, he would feel physically rejuvenated and be able to talk for hours.
On that small stage in North Carolina, with the screens in front of him, he felt triggered again. He started riffing, brainstorming out loud, about what his comeback might look like. Somebody recorded his thoughts as they poured out of him for an hour. He envisioned a live, interactive experience. He wanted to be surrounded by 16-foot high, 50-foot wide screens. He wanted to be able see 3,000 people at a time, swipe, and see that many again.
He hired six different companies to turn his vision into reality. They told him it would take nine months. “I told them, no, we have nine weeks. And we did it in nine weeks. It was insane,” he says. “The result was we had the biggest event we’ve ever done of this type.”
He reached 35,000 people over the course of a four-day event. None of that would have been possible if he hadn’t forced himself to pursue new ways of doing things. “By getting around these new voices and having new conversations and asking new questions and getting new perspectives, I was able to create, not just survive where we were,” he says.
#8 Analyze your habits of focus.
To illustrate this point, he tells the familiar story of a Thanksgiving dinner when he was 11. His family was poor and couldn’t afford a big meal. As his parents fought, he heard a knock on the door. Young Tony answered it. A man was standing there with bags of groceries and an uncooked turkey.
Tony summoned his father, who angrily told the man he wouldn’t accept charity and tried to slam the door. The door hit the man’s foot. He tried to persuade Tony’s father to accept the food. He said he was just a delivery person, that the donor was anonymous, that nobody even knew where the food came from. Tony’s father again tried to shut the door.
This time, the man blocked it with his shoulder. He again pleaded with Tony’s father to accept the food. “He said, ‘Sir, please don’t make your family suffer because of your ego,’” Robbins says. “It was one of those moments you never forget.”
Veins bulged out of Robbins’ father’s head. He was as mad as Robbins had ever seen him. His father grabbed the groceries and slammed the door shut. This time, the man allowed it to close. His father never said thank you. “I was flabbergasted. How could my dad not be happy?” Robbins says.
It took Robbins years to understand what happened. He gets it now. He said people are controlled by three decisions, often made subconsciously. They are, what am I going to focus on, what does it mean, and what am I going to do about it?
“My dad focused on the fact he had not fed his family,” Robbins says. He didn’t want to accept charity and was ashamed, apparently, of the fact somebody thought he had to. That meant he was unable to provide for his family. What he did about it was get angry.
“What we focus on, we feel,” Robbins says. “Even if it’s not true.”
The application of that is obvious for the solopreneur. “If you think something is terrible, you’ll find ways to prove it’s terrible,” he says. “If you think something’s great, you’ll find what’s great.
“Your mindset is the most important thing in a turnaround.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by © Joseph Seif