A few days ago I returned from a four-day Tony Robbins event in London that a good friend invited me to. It took him a few weeks and many conversations to finally convince me to join him and book tickets.
By default, I’m somewhat of a skeptic. I hazily remember seeing those late night infomercials that didn’t quite vibe with me, and having skimmed one or two of his books — some of the ideas came across as pseudo-science with loose logic. However, I was also aware that many top sports teams, presidents, entrepreneurs, and high-performance leaders have done work with Tony, so… with my wife’s support, I pulled the pin and said yes.
Playing Full Out
Before flying out, I made a commitment to let go of any judgements, keep an open mind, and play full out. No holds barred. If I was asked to jump, I would jump. If we did a visualization, I would fully commit to immersing in the guided story. If we were asked to walk across burning coals… I would do that too (and did!).
In 2018, I went through coach training with CTI, and as part of the curriculum we were pushed out of our comfort zone, so we can be of better service to our clients. There was laughing, dancing, miming, and crying. The instructors do all that within a safe and confidential environment, because as a coach you can only take your clients as far as you are willing to go. This is to say that I’ve had some experience with what I thought was going to happen in London.
However… Tony ratchets it up 10X. From the first few minutes when he steps on stage, until the end of the last day. His energy and influence are palpable. It felt like a group coaching session with 12,000 other people. You’re jumping to music, laughing with a meditation, high-fiving and hugging strangers, going really deep into pain, and then back to jumping again. For 14 to 16 hours a day. For four days.
Overall, my experience was very positive. There was definitely some selling, but I managed to miss most of it by accident. I took about 60 pages of notes and walked away with lots of practical insights. Tony’s methodology connects behaviour, human needs, feelings, physiology, beliefs, language, focus and results (and probably a few more I missed).
Here are three major themes that resonated with me, and my take on them.
We live in uncertain times. So much so that businesses have dragged out an early 2000s military phrase to describe the current economic environment: VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). All of us naturally seek certainty in order to understand things, predict what will happen, feel in control, and sustain our safety. This need is present in our personal and professional lives.
What I took away is that certainty is not something you find, get, or discover. Certainty is something you BE. It comes from within, and it’s reflected in your physiology, language and focus.
Think back to some of the leaders you worked with.
Have you ever worked with someone who hums and haws about making decisions, slumps their shoulders when they speak, and uses a lot of “maybe” language? On the other hand, have you worked with someone who boldly sets a crystal-clear vision for the company and your team, uses powerful language that motivates you to keep going even after you fail, and someone whose presence is felt when they walk into a room? The latter example is operating from a state of certainty.
To get into that state, we visualized times when we felt excited, proud, successful, and when we achieved a big goal that seemed impossible. We stacked those memories on top of each other and amplified the feeling. Using an approach reminiscent of Amy Cuddy’s power of presence, we then connected this feeling into a physical stance to anchor it in. It was a powerful experience, and one of my favourite takeaways.
Knowing how to tap into certainty at will is an incredibly useful skill for any leader or entrepreneur.
Part of the reason we don’t follow through on changes we want to make is because we don’t have enough leverage on ourselves. Here, Tony leans on Freudian psychology and identifies pain and pleasure as our two major motivators. People seek pleasure and avoid pain. Challenge is that we want to avoid pain much more than we want to pursue pleasure. So his approach is to leverage perceived pain to make change happen.
For example, you wouldn’t be too motivated to swim through a sewer, climb over barb-wire fence and into a burning building for a $10 bill. You’d probably say no if someone offered that to you.
But if you imagine for a moment that your loved ones were inside of that building (your parents, your siblings, your kids, or your very best friend), you would be much more likely to jump into action because the pain of losing them versus the pleasure of gaining $10 is vastly different.
In fact, the next day after coming back from the seminar, I used a version of this in a coaching call with an entrepreneur. He felt down and discouraged. He was ready to give up the business and start looking for a job, and that felt even more disheartening. We hopped on a call, and inside of 15 minutes he was ready to own the day and revitalize his business. Within 24 hours, he had a new contract in place and was in conversations to lock down more.
Leverage is a powerful motivating force if you wield it intelligently.
Art Of Fulfilment
Extraordinary quality of life is different for everyone. Most of the people I connect with are driven, high-performing professionals and leaders. What I’ve noticed over the years, is that there is often something missing. They have the cars, the houses, the vacations, the titles, the accomplishments, and money in the bank – all possible markings of success. But… it’s somehow not enough.
I’ve experienced it myself. After reaching all the goals I set out as a 20-something, speaking at TEDx was the cherry on top. A few minutes after stepping off stage, I was left wondering… is this it? Now what? There was a void that real or perceived success couldn’t fill.
That void is one of the reasons I started researching meaningful work in 2013.
Tony breaks down an extraordinary life into the science of achievement (which most of you will have a good handle on), and the art of fulfilment (this is where meaning and purpose come into play). Here’s a great clip on the concept.
This idea resonated with me and validated many of the findings from my research. For me, fulfilment and meaningful work are interconnected and necessary to tackle complex problems, tap into high performance, and lead positive change. It scales from an individual (entrepreneur or executive), to an organization (via corporate culture), to the world at large (via meaningful marketing). It took me years to understand it and hearing it explained this way absolutely made sense.
In Tony’s words: success without fulfilment is the ultimate failure.
There you have it! Those were a few of my main takeaways, and I hope you found them helpful.
So, should you go?
Well, I wouldn’t recommend the experience for everyone. Here is why, and what I suggest to get around it.
First, you need to be aware that there are going to be a few sales pitches, sometimes in unexpected places. This rubbed a few people the wrong way, and they felt it took away from the experience. I somehow missed most of them and filtered out the rest.
If you think this is all cultish pseudo-science, and you don’t let go of judgements, go in with an open mind, and commit to playing “full out”, you’ll “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. I would focus on what you find valuable, take lots of notes, and process later.
If you are apprehensive about connecting with, hugging, and having intimate conversations about your limiting beliefs with complete strangers. Everyone has a different level of depth they came to an event like this with, so try and find people with similar values to partner with.
For me, it was a valuable use of time and I’m grateful for my friend’s invitation. Without him, I would have never gone. I gained the confidence to go deeper with my coaching clients, resolve my limiting beliefs, and I got to meet some exceptional entrepreneurs.
I’m happy to answer any questions you may have as well.