Lessons from Tony Robbins UPW

July 15, 2020
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I attended Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within (“UPW”) four day seminar in Los Angeles. It was powerful. The title of the seminar is not an exaggeration. I left feeling emboldened, energetic and happier. Although I showed up sceptical, I left convinced there was good in his methods. I believe and hope the learnings and new habits will stick with me. After all, he did manage to get nearly 15,000 people, including myself, to walk on fire and not get burned. How is that possible?

I’ve never seen someone perform like Tony Robbins. I’ve never experienced sustained intense energy like what I witnessed at UPW. It did not stop for four full days. Tony would speak to the crowd of 15,000 people for 12 straight hours. No meal breaks. No bathroom breaks. No water breaks. Nothing but sustained raw energy. He does not use prompts. He’s just on….and stays on. There is no pause, no stutter. Nothing shakes him from his message. He keeps the crowd engaged with his high energy discourse weaving in stories, life lessons, insights, provocative one-liners and lots of high energy music, dancing and lights. UPW is part rave, part self-help and part understanding why you do what you do. Tony is not a guru or motivational speaker. He describes himself as being obsessed with understanding peak human performance. He’s been at it for over 40 years and has worked with millions of people including some particularly noteworthy clients such as Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, Mikhail Gorbachev, Serena Williams and Andre Agassi. From all of these experiences, he’s drawn inferences about how to optimize human performance in many aspects of life with the ultimate goal of living a happier more fulfilling life.

As part of my keen interest in personal development and growth, I had become familiar with Tony’s work. I read one of his books, listened to podcasts where he was interviewed and watched YouTube videos of him and the documentary I’m Not Your Guru. I figured that there must be something worth exploring. I, like many people at UPW, ended up at UPW through someone else’s encouragement. My girlfriend, Anne, had attended Tony’s Date with Destiny seminar. Informed by her experience and knowing me, she thought I would be interested and would benefit from UPW and she generously made it happen. She was right.

Although I was somewhat familiar with Tony’s work, I didn’t know what to expect from UPW. There is purposely no itinerary. We’re notified when the doors open, but there is no mention of when Tony will start. You never know what’s coming next nor how long it will run. On the first day, the UPW dancers came on at noon; there are go go dancers to hype up the crowd. What follows is a 30 minute dance party that amps up the crowd. Then Tony comes on stage and the dance party gets taken a whole other level. He encourages the crowd to shout louder and jump higher. The place erupts, 15,000 people going nuts; it’s deafening. It’s the strongest entrance I’ve witnessed. Once Tony started, he didn’t stop and I didn’t leave until past 1:00am after I had walked across 6 feet of burning hot fire embers in my bare feet.

I learned a number of things over the four days at UPW that I chose to outline in this post in order to i) memorialize these learnings ii) keep myself accountable to what I learned and decisions I made and iii) share these insights with others. The following is me paraphrasing from Tony and adding in my own interpretation and realizations.

Peak State

You can condition yourself to achieve a peak state in a heartbeat. For me, a peak state is an overwhelming sensation of happiness, gratitude, love, optimism and confidence. We often feel down for no apparent reason. But why is it harder to feel phenomenal for no apparent reason? Too often we play the victim. Tony’s tough love approach, jars you out victimization and encourages you to take responsibility for the quality of your life. Motion creates emotion he preaches. That’s why throughout the seminar there is non stop energy; we’re dancing, jumping, shouting and hugging. As we did this, I could feel myself getting happier and more excited and confident.

Three things can change your state: 1) physiology, 2) focus and 3) language. Physiology is the easiest to change; jump, scream, dance, hug, do whatever works to shake yourself up. Changing your physiology will excite you. Motion creates emotion. From that state of positive emotion, shift your focus. Instead of focusing on negatives, such worries and fears, focus on positives; specifically visualize a desired outcome. Third, use affirmative language to bolster that focus; for example ‘will’ instead of ‘should’. For four days this was ingrained in me. I conditioned myself to turn on and go; no more negotiating with myself.

The first day we spent 8 hours changing states and noticing the physical and emotional differences between various states. The culmination of which was a peak state where I was focused, determined and confident on the desired outcome. In that state, I was able to walk across 6 feet of red hot fire embers in my bare feet and not get burned. I barely even felt the heat. Nearly 15,000 other people did the same. It was mind blowing and a clear physical example of what’s possible in my peak state.

Taking it a step further, I learned to end suffering by 1) deciding not to suffer no matter what, 2) anticipate what initiates suffering and 3) end that suffering shortly after it arises. Most suffering arises from expectation; trade those expectations for appreciation. Disappointments will undoubtedly arise; discipline those disappointments.

I don’t need to hope for a great day nor allow my surroundings to dictate the quality of my day. I can condition myself to have a phenomenal day for no apparent reason. And from that peak state, I’m energized into my best self. Peak performance doesn’t come from time management, it comes from energy management. The more time I can spend in my peak state, the more I can get out of every moment the more fulfilled I can become.

Six Human Needs

There are six human needs that we all share 1) Certainty, 2) Variety, 3) Significance, 4) Connection and Love, 5) Growth and 6) Contribution. However, a paradox exists between the need for connection and significance and the need for variety and certainty. Although we all share these needs, we act differently because we value these needs differently. We all find a way to satisfy the first four needs in a positive, neutral or negative way. It’s the fifth and the sixth needs, the need for growth and contribution — the spiritual needs — that are more challenging, but lead to fulfillment. In this TedTalk, Tony outlines these needs. Understanding these needs has helped me understand the choices I make and my emotional pattern as well as observe how others act as a result of their own needs.

In retrospect, throughout most of my life, my top two needs were significance and variety. I experienced significance through achieving top grades at school, athletic achievements, the job I had, the income I earned, proving I was right and the places I lived. I experienced variety through living in multiple cities, meeting new friends, travelling the world and investing in different industries. But achievements don’t lead to fulfillment. Eventually, after each successive achievement I thought “so what?” Perhaps my desire for significance had been met to a certain extent and, or, I realized that significance alone was not going to lead to fulfillment. Variety brought me constant stimuli and motivated me to hop from one thing to the next. But it also diluted my focus and made it challenging for me to hold on to intimate relationships.

Today my top need is growth followed by significance, with love and connection right behind. Personal growth was one of the most powerful motivating forces for me leaving my prior job and taking a hiatus from New York. I have felt more fulfilled as a result of my growth journey than from the ‘significance’ I previously sought. The importance I place on growth is also motivating me to be entrepreneurial. Significance is still a need, but a less dominant one and I’m aware of how it can manifest itself in a negative way.

There is no right or wrong hierarchy of needs and you evolve through them. Certainty is the need I value the least. But that’s firstly because I was born in an incredibly fortunate circumstance with loving parents. I’ve never had to worry about basic human needs of food, shelter and affection. Secondly, I value variety highly, which is at odds with certainty. At some point, I suspect my need for love and connection will eclipse that of significance. I think that eventually my top needs will be growth and contribution. I believe that through growth and contribution I’ll be in my best state to give and receive love.

Understanding the science of achievement is fairly straight forward. We focus on our desired outcome, take massive action and encounter luck. There is a formula to follow. But the art of fulfillment is more nebulous. Countless people have mastered the science of achievement, but yet are unhappy and unfulfilled. Robin Williams and Michael Phelps were used as examples of satisfying the first four needs, but failed (so far in the case of Phelps) to meet their need for growth and contribution. They failed to master the art of fulfillment.

Three New Decisions

In peak state I’m emboldened to make decisions to better my life. To achieve success in those decisions I learned to first know the desired outcome; envision it repeatedly. Second, know the reasons why; the how comes second. Third, raise my standards and take massive action. In today’s competitive world, there is a mismatch between the effort put forward and the outcome. Poor standards and effort yield pain. Good standards and effort, yield poor results. Excellent standards and effort yield good results. But outstanding standards and effort, which is a tiny bit higher than excellent standards and effort, yield more than excellent result. It yields a disproportionate outcome. Fourth, assess if I’m getting closer or further away from the goal and course correct.

To make decisions last, it must change now — don’t should all over yourself. I must change this now — start building momentum immediately. And I can change now — stop looking backwards at past failure. The past does not equal the future. Fear is the common thread that held me back from these decisions previously. Progress comes from breaking patterns.

My three new decisions are:

  1. Show up emotionally in relationships — No longer hide behind the guise of not being an emotional person. Be vulnerable. Express myself emotionally. Be willing to give and receive love.
  2. Be an entrepreneur — know that it is going to happen.
  3. Transform myself as needed to run a 3 hour marathon — don’t just attempt it, believe that I can do it.

The shared ‘why’ for all these decisions is my need for growth, significance and love and connection.

Replacing Limiting Beliefs with Empowering Beliefs

On day 3, over a period of 10 hours Tony guided the group to the depth of an emotional low and up to a euphoric high. This exercise identified limiting beliefs that stymie living to our full potential and replace them with empowering beliefs. These limiting beliefs are subconsciously adopted over time. They may serve as barriers to protect, but they are imprisoning. Verbal cues, music, lights and probing questions draws the audience to a dark corner of the mind to surface limiting beliefs and their consequences. From there I was guided to forecast what my life would look like in 5, 10 and 20 years from now if I kept living by these adopted beliefs. The exercise catalyzed a visceral reaction for thousands of participants. Men and women collapsed in tears and shrieked in horror. This went on and on relentlessly. From the emotional trough, we snapped out of it and, with the help of different cues, music and lights, and got in a state of cheer joy. From that peak state, I was guided to devise empowering beliefs to replace my limiting ones. I then envisioned my life in the future living by these new beliefs and experienced how great it felt. The pain and fear that came with envisioning a rock bottom state and the euphoria of a peak state serve as leverage to break the adopted limiting beliefs.

The three limiting beliefs and associated consequence I uncovered were:

  1. My success is defined in the eyes of others — The consequence of this belief is that I rarely feel successful. I do what I think others will perceive as successful. I mastered the science of achievement, but lack the art of fulfillment.
  2. People like me because I am successful — The consequence of this belief is that I can be insular. I worry about what people are trying to get out of me rather than what I can contribute to them. I fear failure because I’m concerned that people won’t like me if I don’t succeed.
  3. I’m not that smart and talented; it’s a fluke that I’m here — The consequence of this belief is that I’m incredibly hard on myself. I second guess myself. I don’t love myself as much as should.

The three empowering beliefs I espoused are:

  1. I define my own success.
  2. People like me because I add value to their lives.
  3. I practice hard to be here.

These four lessons made the four day seminar valuable. I believe I can take these forward. Getting into peak state to enact change is easier with 15,000 people cheering and supporting me. However, I can go a long way in reproducing that myself. This post is intended to make me accountable and continue to implement what I have learned.

The four days were intense; emotionally and physically. But I never felt drained. I walked home every night energized. I sprang out of bed in the morning excited for the new day. I would recommend Tony Robbins to anyone who wants to grow, has an open mind and is willing to be uncomfortable. There were some aspects of the seminar that didn’t sit well with me. At times there was too much emphasis on material possessions accumulated as a result of participating in Tony’s seminars. Tony and his team would get the audience into peak state, encourage participants to take action. One of those actions was to buy admissions to another seminar. It is big business after all. Some people also worship the ground Tony walks on.

I want to extend a special thank you to Jay Hamilton and Anne Mahlum. Jay and I have both been going through our own life transitions and experiencing UPW together deepened our friendship and our resolve to make a lasting change. Anne was the catalyst to make UPW happen and has engendered continued growth for me since we met. Also thank you to all that encourage me to write about my experiences!

I have videos from UPW on my Instagram story.

Samuel Andrew

Sam is an adventurer, learner, lover and challenger. He questions why things are the way they are, especially in his own life. He uses his own experiences as a lens into personal growth. He shares these raw and honest experiences in order to be of service to others.

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