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An Interview with Tony Robbins

Advice on success in career, weight loss, resiliency, and public speaking.

Courtesy, Tony Robbins
Source: Courtesy, Tony Robbins

Four million people have attended Tony Robbins’ self-improvement workshops. 50 million have bought his books and recordings. He has been a consultant to Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Oprah, Mikhail Gorbachev, Princess Diana, and Nelson Mandela. And he’s the subject of the just-released documentary, I Am Not Your Guru.

He is today's The Eminents interview.

Marty Nemko: A majority of Americans are overweight and, despite dieting, gain it all back. Indeed, a study of 14 contestants on the TV show, The Big Loser, found that despite getting world-class guidance, 13 of the 14 gained all the weight back. What advice would you have for the 13?

Tony Robbins: If you’re going to solve a weight-loss problem—or smoking problem for that matter—you must address both the psychological and physiological.

Regarding the psychological, your goal must not be “I need to lose X pounds” but “I’m going to regain my identity,” whether as an athlete, a conservative, a sexual being, a together person, whatever. The goal of becoming more consistent with your core authentic self is a much stronger motivator than “I need to lose 30 pounds.” So ask yourself, “Who is the person you’d more authentically be if you were thinner?”

Still on the psychological: For many people, food is a source of comfort, connection, and control. How control? “You can’t make me lose weight. See?!” You must find a more empowering source of comfort, connection, and control than food. perhaps a creative outlet, helping others, becoming active in an organization, whatever.

Regarding the physiological, when you go on an extreme diet, your body’s self-preservation mechanism responds by burning calories as slowly as possible. Of course, that makes it much more difficult to lose weight. And if you do extreme exercise to lose weight, you’ll usually soon stop because you get injured or because it’s simply too rigorous to do for a lifetime.

And weight control does have to be for a lifetime or you’ll be yo-yoing. You’re far more likely to lose the weight and keep it off if you lose slowly, perhaps ½ to 1 pound a week, exercise moderately, and find that replacement for comfort, connection, and control. That’s a doable long-term plan.

So now you can see why almost all the contestants on The Big Loser gained back all their weight. They had temporary big-time motivation to lose weight because they knew they’d be on TV. So they ate very little and exercised a lot, something that simply isn't sustainable for the lifetime after the cameras stopped rolling.

One thing that’s a little less mainstream but I believe in: Some people’s weight loss is impeded by an impaired thyroid. So I think it’s worth testing that at your next physical exam. If it’s off, sometimes, that can be caused by excess metals, such as mercury or cadmium. A qualified M.D. can help you cleanse your body of those.

MN: What would you say to someone who, in life’s first nine rounds—school, work, or relationships—got beaten up, so they’re tempted to not come out for the 10th?

TR: We want to avoid pain and have pleasure, so if our early attempts to achieve our dreams fail, we want to avoid the pain of future failure and rejection, so we stop trying and write it off with a broadbrush, “I’m just not driven enough, not well educated enough, not attractive enough, not smart enough."

You must find something you want to live for that’s bigger than yourself—a mission—whether it’s your children, a business, a non-profit, whatever. That pulls you to achieve, which is far more sustainable than to push yourself to. You can only push yourself for so long.

It’s not enough to have a strategy for success. Great strategy is available for free online for everything from career success to meeting Mr. or Ms. Right. You must also tell yourself the right story. The “I’ve tried everything” story ensures failure. You must create an empowering story that recognizes that everyone has failed a lot but successful people have found a way to rebound until they succeed.

The third element of success is your state: You must replace a default state of pessimism or anger with one of determination, of will, of generosity, of curiosity, of gratitude. The more we can put ourselves in such beautiful states rather than suffering states, the more they become habits of being and we end up making better decisions. It’s natural to sit down but the human spirit within us can make us get up.

I want to say all that in a more specific way. I’ve taken these steps myself and taught them to millions:

1. Unless you feed your mind, those suffering states will take over. Read no less than ½ hour a day or listen to audiobooks while in the car or cleaning the house. Biographies of great people taught me, as I said, that even eminent people fail but keep getting up.

2. Do something physical every day, even if it’s just five or ten minutes of fast walking a couple times a day. That tends to replace fear and anger with determination and courage. It can change your identity, your momentum.

3. Find a great role model, perhaps someone who struggled and only really succeeded when older. Their biography and what they’ve done differently from you will help you. If such a person is willing to mentor you or at least allow you to work around them, great.

4. Take massive action. So many people wait until they have all the answers. When you feel you have good although incomplete expertise, start trying things. If it’s not working, try something else; maintain an experimental mindset.

5. Find someone worse off than you and help them. It will put your life in perspective. My organization has fed millions of poor people and we’re aiming for a billion.

MN: You urge people to take control of their emotions, for example, to choose action over anger or sadness. What would you urge a long-time angry or sad person to do?

TR: We all have an emotional home that we keep coming back to. Even if a foundationally angry or sad person has a good job and good family, they return to their emotional home, especially when experiencing life’s inevitable setbacks. I don’t believe in waiting for great feelings. I need to wire myself for positivity and gratitude. I need to build a highway to those.

To do that, I take ten minutes every morning. First I do a little deep breathing. Then, I focus on three moments in my life I’m grateful for, really feel them. Next, I ask my body to be strong so I can serve others. Finally, I think of three things I want to accomplish that day—my Three to Thrive. Then, boom, I start my day. By doing that every day, I naturally end up looking for things to be grateful for. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel angry or fearful but because I’m wired for positive emotions, net, I end up treating others and myself better.

MN: You talk about the differences between wantrepreneurs and entrepreneurs. What's a key difference?

TR: The big one is to focus on execution rather than just the idea. There are millions of business ideas out there but only a tiny percentage of businesses succeed. Focus on executing to give maximum value to your customers. That means learning everything from financing to producing to marketing. The best way to get trained is to get mentored—live or by reading or watching videos by masters. That way, you start executing based on lessons from the best.

MN: A new documentary on you, I Am Not Your Guru has just been released. You have an unsurpassed ability to inspire people, to influence them. For aspiring public speakers, do you have any advice on how to go from a good speaker to a transformational one?

TR: It comes down to this:

1. Make your goal to do a tremendous amount to improve your audience's lives.

2. Take the time to understand your audience's concerns.

3. Solidly know content you feel passionate about and that your audience needs to know.

4. Have good examples and stories to drive home your content.

5. Tap into people’s emotions. We’ve all been put to sleep by a speaker who just gives the facts. You must tap into people's feelings. For example, I go up to audience members and ask them emotionally powerful questions.

6. I have an outline but never use a teleprompter. That kills the connection.

7. Get into “the state:” Conquer fear by stopping thinking about yourself and instead, focusing 100 percent on how you can best serve your audience.

MN: At your events, you invite the audience to walk on hot coals. At one in Dallas, it was reported that a number of people’s feet got burned and had to go to the hospital. What happened?

TR: It was no different than any event I’ve done for 35 years. There’s usually 0.5 percent or 1 percent that get a blister or hot spot on their feet. It’s like if you run in a marathon--you know there’s a chance you’ll get blisters. Of course, I feel bad when anyone gets hurt but all attendees know there’s that small risk. In fact they have to sign a document in advance that says they’re aware of that. And it’s voluntary. Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) sent a reporter to check out the story and verified that, in fact, no one was hospitalized.

The Fire Walk's benefits are significant to almost all who participate—it helps people overcome fear and take action. So we’ll continue to offer it because it’s a tiny but helpful part of helping people grow. And that is my undying mission.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available on Amazon. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at