Tony Robbins: Unleashing the Power

UPDATED: December 2, 2008
PUBLISHED: December 2, 2008

Tony Robbins has coached U.S. presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, sports and entertainment superstars—all seeking strategies to reach the next level in their lives and careers. People often call upon Robbins to help remove barriers holding them back and to inspire them to take action. This master motivator is equally adept at keeping a crowd of 10,000 people on its feet for hours. He's also addressed the World Economic Forum, British Parliament and Harvard Business School.

Robbins' message goes beyond positive thinking; intelligent thinking is what drives him. He understands that when people are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and fearful, they're rarely capable of brilliant analysis and decision-making.

"Confidence and competence is not the same thing," Robbins tells SUCCESS, following his return from a recent seminar tour through Australia and India. "No one should go into their garden and chant, "There are no weeds. There are no weeds. There are no weeds." For people to be true leaders, they have to first see things as they are, not worse. Then see it better than it is, and then make it the way you see it.

"The bottom line is that people have within them a force that is so powerful, there is nothing that can keep them from doing, being, sharing, creating and giving whatever they envision in life," Robbins continues. "My entire life is helping people unleash that power. Nothing drives me more than to see someone or an organization transform and begin to pursue goals with a purpose that inspires them, and gives them a greater sense of meaning—in not only what they do, but who they are."


Harnessing Emotion to Fuel Change

As economic uncertainty continues to shake Wall Street and Main Street, many success-minded professionals are being put to the test. Robbins' work is particularly relevant now, when people can call on his tools to keep their heads together and develop what he calls "emotional fitness."

"If you're psychologically strong enough, you can not only survive, but you can thrive when tough situations occur, as opposed to letting the environment control you and take over," he says. "It's really about mastering strength within yourself so that you can conquer the outer world around you."

Robbins continues to attract thousands of people to packed arenas all over the world, seeking to take their lives to the next level. The human spirit is what inspires him. Human potential actualized is what drives him.

But momentum wasn't always on his side. The 48-year-old Robbins vividly remembers the days when he was living in a stark, 400-square-foot apartment in Venice, Calif., and reduced to washing dishes in the bathtub. He was 30 pounds overweight, had a dead-end job, and in relationships that weren't working.

"I was extremely unhappy and couldn't stand who I was because I knew I had the potential to be so much more," he says. "I think there are many people who can relate to what I was experiencing—the pain of being in a rut and feeling like there's no way out.

"There are many people who live in what I call 'No-man's Land,' a place where you're not really happy, but you're not unhappy enough to do anything about it," he says. "That's a dangerous place. It's a place where people numb themselves to their dreams. It's where they dismiss hope and accept what's in front of them instead of driving toward what they really want in life. I lived there for a time, but I eventually hit rock bottom, and I'm glad I did because it forced me to take action. My only option for survival was to dig deep—to summon my courage, determination, faith, compassion and commitment to transform my life. I learned so much from that experience because I used those negative feelings to fuel my change. For me, I had no choice. I had to change."

Breaking Through Limitations

That change has resulted in big business for Robbins, who serves as chairman of five companies all geared toward his creed of improving the quality of life for people around the world. Robbins Research International Inc., based in San Diego, stages more than 100 events a year, offers professional coaching services and a variety of multimedia programs, including his best-selling The Ultimate Edge and Personal Power CD programs, which have sold more than 35 million units worldwide. He also created the award-winning Namale Resort and Spa in Fiji, where he also spends a few months each year.

But none of the success he enjoys would ever have happened if he hadn't been able to find a way to break through his own limitations. He had to get clear about what he really wanted and harness the fuel of human emotion to force himself to consistently take action to make his dreams a reality. "I was my first client," he says.

Robbins has worked directly with more than 3.5 million people from more than 100 countries. And he's as active as ever, often spending more than 15 hours on stage per day for a four-day event. That may sound crazy to some, but for Robbins, it's just another day at the office.

"I'm obsessed with finding what makes the difference in the quality of people's lives," Robbins says, "I'm always reading, interviewing extraordinary individuals, studying their patterns and experimenting on how to integrate what I've learned to make a difference in peoples' lives. The energy that comes from connecting and helping to make a difference with thousands of people at once, or one-on-one, is the juice of life for me. When you're giving everything you have and those you're working with are throwing it back at you five times as hard, it's absolutely incredible. It's an extraordinary experience, so powerful that I get swept up in those magical moments. Sometimes I come off stage and I think it's 8 at night, and I'm reminded that it's 1 o'clock in the morning."

His business of helping others help themselves didn't grow overnight. When he started 30 years ago, Robbins was a pioneer in personal and professional development—which is a $10 billion industry today. Along the way, Robbins says he probably failed more times than he succeeded. But he looks at failures simply as results or outcomes that he learns from each time.

Science of Achievement

"Unfortunately, we're programmed to fear this thing called 'failure,' so we try everything we can to avoid it, which is pointless," he says. "Failure is often necessary for real learning to occur. But the answer is simple. If you didn't get the results you want, learn from the experience so that you have references about how to make better decisions the next time around. People who fear failure internalize their mistakes, and when they try to go after something in the future, they might think, "Well, I tried to go after a dream before and look what happened." This is what keeps people from taking the very action that could move them to accomplish their goals. Too many people want to avoid any hint of a problem. But overcoming obstacles is what gives us psychological strength—it's the very thing that forms character."

Over the years, Robbins has noticed patterns in what makes people succeed or fail, what makes them feel happy or sad, and what it is that creates a life of meaning and fulfillment versus a life of frustration and despair. He saw it early on in his own life, and he sees it in the people he spends time with today—whether it's a hungry entrepreneur, a seasoned corporate executive or a mid-level manager.

"I can tell you, after working with millions of people for more than three decades, success is no accident in any environment," Robbins says. "There are rules of the game that, if followed, will lead to consistent success. There are logical patterns of action, and specific pathways to excellence that I call the science of achievement. But none of that means much without the art of fulfillment. I have seen business moguls achieve their ultimate goals but still live in frustration, worry and fear. What's preventing these successful people from being happy? The answer is they have focused only on achievement and not fulfillment. Extraordinary accomplishment does not guarantee extraordinary joy, happiness, love and a sense of meaning. These two skill sets feed off each other, and makes me believe that success without fulfillment is failure."

The father of life coaching answers some questions about failure and success, and everything in between.

Q: How did you go from living in a small apartment, practically broke, to the successful and fulfilled person you are today?

Anthony Robbins: I took advantage of my intense pain, and I turned it into the fuel for action. When you're living in a 400-square-foot bachelor apartment, cooking on a hotplate above your trash can and washing your dishes in the bathtub, you have to start looking at yourself. On top of that I was 30 pounds overweight, had a job that was going nowhere, and I was in relationships I hated. What changed me? I had a series of experiences with frustration at myself, and moved into unbelievable humiliation. I began to realize that who I was as a man—how I was living mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially—was far less of a man than who I really was inside. When I hit that threshold of pain, I didn't know at the time what I was doing, but I decided at the very minimum I was going to go on a run.

You have to understand; I hadn't run or exercised intensely for probably three years. But at the peak of that physical intensity, my nervous system was wired. I had made radical changes in my body. So I grabbed a journal there on the beach, drew a line in the middle of the page, and on one side wrote everything I would no longer stand for in my life, which was virtually everything I was living at the time. And on the other side I wrote everything I was now committed to. But I didn't yet know how I was going to make the change. I knew what I was going to change and why. This is the day that I turned my life around. It unleashed me. I began to search for the answers, but instead of just reading about them, or hearing them, I began to apply them. And I changed everything in my life. I lost 30 pounds in a little more than 30 days. I transformed emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. Within a year, I had begun to live the dreams that I once thought were impossible. I'd tell anyone that if you're going to change your life, you have to:

Decide what you will no longer stand for and what you'?re committed to. Clarity is power.

Take massive action. You have to be willing to do the things you don't want to do. You have to build a momentum that consistent action produces.

Notice what's working and what's not working. And when it's not working, change your approach. And keep changing until you finally achieve what it is you're committed to.

Q: You talk about people living an extraordinary life. What is your definition of an extraordinary life?

AR: I think the answer is different for everyone. Ultimately, an extraordinary life is life on your terms. For some people it might be creating their own business or starting a nonprofit foundation. For others it may be making several million dollars. For someone else it might be the ultimate satisfaction of raising a son or daughter to be an extraordinary soul. It could be creating a garden, writing a poem or just truly enjoying every breath of life. I think the most important thing is for you to defi ne what would be an extraordinary life for you today because it changes as our lives change. We don't want to be living off an old script. Otherwise, you may fi nd yourself with one of those insane moments where you actually achieved your goal and then your brain says, 'Is this all there is' There's no worse feeling in life. Take a moment to update your wish list and ask yourself, 'If my life was truly extraordinary, if it was magnificent, by my own definition, what would my life be like today: physically, emotionally, with my family, in my career, in my level of happiness?' Set the standard for yourself so your brain, body and soul know what you're committed to creating.

For me personally, an extraordinary life is living what you were made for. For me, that means, first of all, giving and sharing love, and I'm truly blessed to have that kind of love in my relationship with my wife, Sage. But an extraordinary life for me is also finding a way to make a difference for others to grow and love. The driving force in my life is to help make a measurable difference in the quality of life for people everywhere. It is my greatest joy to share the tools and strategies for creating a life of meaning and fulfillment. Nothing stokes me more than to see someone or an organization transform and begin to pursue goals with a purpose that inspires them, and gives them a greater sense of meaning—in not only what they do, but who they are.

Q: How have you learned from your past setbacks and failures?

AR: Like most people, I've had as many, if not more failures than successes. But what's been helpful is that I've worked hard to learn from these mistakes so I don't have to repeat them. I realized along the way that if we can learn from our mistakes, we can create shortcuts that can help us to make a measurable difference for other people in their lives. When you recognize a pattern for failure, you can avoid it. And when you recognize a pattern for success, you can take the on-ramp for what you want much more quickly. I call these 'Pathways to Power.' And my life is truly about sharing those strategies, those pathways, those shortcuts that allow us to save ourselves time and pain. Ultimately, what I've learned, though, is that life is not about success or failure; it's about meaning. It's about the interpretation we give to each event in our life—and not the event itself. Meanings are shaped by what we believe and what we value.

Just remember, two people can have the same circumstances, but they pull different meanings from it, and therefore a different set of emotions, actions, and a different life.

Q: You are sometimes referred to as a motivational speaker. Is that an accurate description?

AR: My work has never been about motivation. It's true that when people see news coverage of my seminars they see 10,000 people jumping or celebrating. I just understand that in order to get peak performance, you have to get people in a peak state. What we do is based on the state we're in. And training people's minds and bodies to be at their best is exciting and rewarding.

But ultimately, who I really am is the 'Why' guy. If somebody says to me, 'I don't need any motivation,' I'll say, 'That's obvious. You're already motivated. What I want to know is: What is your motive for action? I want to know, for example, why you claim that you want to lose weight, yet each day, you seem to be motivated to eat things that cause you to gain weight.' The ultimate question is 'Why?' And when you can answer this question, you can change your life forever. Part of my job is to help people uncover the inner conflicts that hold them back, to find the conflicts in their motivations. When you can uncover these conflicts and shift them, you can change anything in your life.

Q: It seems there's more uncertainty in the world now than ever. What do you say to people who are uncertain about their future?

AR: It's true the world has changed dramatically over the last few years, and it's going to continue to change. The pace of change is more rapid than ever. But one thing is constant—there are seasons in everyone's life just as there are seasons in nature. There's a passageway that, if you see it, it will pull you out of the uncertainty and guide you on how to maximize this time in your life. The transformation of the quality of life for early humanity came when seasons were recognized. Until then, man had to wander as a hunter and gatherer, moving from place to place. But once we understood the seasons, we knew when to plant, when to protect, when to reap. And man could have roots. He could have sustainability. He could have certainty for his future.

These kinds of seasons not only shape our personal lives, but there are seasons in history as well. Every 100 years has roughly four primary seasons in it. If you're a student of history, you know there are economic cycles, and cycles of war. You think things are tough today? If you were born in 1910, what was happening in the world by the time you were 19 years old? It was 1929 and the Great Depression occurred. In the next major cycle in life, around 29 years old, World War II broke out. And yet this generation faced these incredible challenges—this financial, emotional and international winter if you would—and by fighting through it, they built a psychological and emotional muscle that makes us still call them the 'Great Generation.'

The secret to life is threefold. It's to understand what season of life you're in, to understand what season the world is in, and to figure out how to take advantage of it. I teach everyone in my seminars how to find the season they're in, which is different for everyone, and to take advantage of it. That's the secret to experiencing an extraordinary life.

Tony Robbins is a #1 life and business strategist, #1 New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.