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‘Growing and Giving’: An Interview With Anthony (Tony) Robbins

by Marianne Schnall:  You may know of Anthony (Tony) Robbins as the high-energy speaker and best-selling author who awakens people into their own personal power to achieve their life goals.

AwakenDuring his sold-out events all around the world, Tony is known for his “tough love” approach to help ignite the passion inside of participants. Something you may not know, though, is Robbins is also a generous philanthropist. He is already in the holiday spirit–giving away a new free e-book edition of his best seller Awaken the Giant Within, and also launching a new campaign with the charity he works with, Feeding America. Robbins’ work with Feeding America, as he talks about in this interview, grew out of a life-changing experience he had as a child. When Robbins was 11 years old and living in poverty, his family did not have food to celebrate Thanksgiving. A stranger knocked on their door and brought them groceries. Robbins never forgot the impact of that stranger’s kind gesture, and it led to a personal crusade to do the same for others. Through his foundation, Anthony Robbins Foundation, he now has given away millions of meals to people in need across the country. Robbins says, “It’s a part of my life coming full circle.” He has found that “life is calling all of us to be more than just about ourselves” and “the only thing that makes you happy long-term is growing and giving.”

With the holiday season approaching, Robbins says it is a perfect opportunity to talk about the rewards of selfless giving, beyond materialism. He says, “What will put life in perspective is if you constantly do something as a ritual to serve somebody in worst shape than you are. There is no greater way to put perspective in your life. When you serve something more than yourself, you are served. That’s the most ironic thing in the world.”

This is my third time interviewing the charismatic Tony Robbins. Each time, I find him not only inspiring to talk to, but he is always very candid, genuine, passionate and caring. He has had a difficult life experience himself–which he always talks and writes openly about–growing up very poor with a hugely dysfunctional and abusive family life. Because of his experiences, the message he delivers now carries even more weight: that it is out of these personal challenges that we experience the most growth, gain the most strength, and experience the most powerful breakthroughs. Robbins says he now “lives to help people create” those breakthroughs in the areas that matter most in their lives, whether it is in their relationships, their careers, their finances or their health. He hopes to plant many of these seeds for readers in the pages of his new free e-book, released more than 20 years after the original Awaken the Giant Within, which sold millions of copies around the world. Robbins states, “It’s really for anybody that’s hungry to make their life better in a measurable way…to provide inspiration, but also strategy.” Acknowledging that many people are experiencing a variety of life challenges, he wants people to know, “No matter how bad things look, you are more than anything you’re facing, you’re more than this moment, you’re more than this challenge and you can rise above it. You have within you this capacity to deal with anything.”

Marianne Schnall: You’ve just released a free e-book version of Awaken the Giant Within. Why did you decide to release this e-book and what will people find in this new edition?

Tony Robbins: Well I did it because it’s the twentieth anniversary of the book and it’s sold millions of copies all over the world. People stop me everyday and tell me stories about how it’s changed their lives. I just met a gentleman this last year at my seminar, Date with Destiny, who helped me to transform a woman who was suicidal. This woman had physical challenges with her face being massively disfigured and she was at her physical and emotional end. I saw this man in the front row that was blind and was really playing full out, so I wanted to show contrast in how he’s overcome his challenges. He shared with the audience that he was not blind in his youth, he went blind and he was also suicidal but was able to get Awaken the Giant Within in braille and read it. It completely changed his life and now he has nine medals from the Paralympics, four gold medals. I’ve heard story after story just like this, so I thought it would be perfect to release for the holiday season. During the holidays, people are always concerned with what they are going to give to people and I thought it would be great to start our season off by giving everyone something that could change their life. They can then pass it on to anyone else at no charge. Plus, the original book was over 544 pages long–I thought the 100-page e-book could be a version that people could read the entire thing in one sitting!

MS: What do you hope people take away from the book and who should be reading it?

TR: It’s really from the best of what I learned at that stage in my life on how to improve the quality of your life physically, financially, emotionally and in your relationships. It’s really for anybody that’s hungry to make their life better in a measurable way. Most people, if they’re doing really well in their career, often don’t have the right intimacy with their partner, or they’re doing great in their home life, but their finances are a mess. So, it’s really designed to help people get underneath not only the strategies on how to make things better, but also acknowledge the things we often do that sabotage it. It’s why we do well in one area of our life and not the other. It’s been really helpful for millions of people. So again, I was hoping just to spread that word even more.

MS: I remember last time we talked; life being this grand journey, I was curious to hear you say it’s an updated version. Looking at it now, do you have a sense of how your own perspective has either changed or deepened since you wrote the first version? Is that reflected in the e-book?

TR: I didn’t try to change it so much. I just tightened it down to the core things I thought would make a difference for people. My sense of life has changed because there’s one racetrack and we’re all on it–there’s a racetrack of aging and with life experience, we see life differently. When I wrote that book, I was 28 years old and I’m 53 today – so there’s quite a bit of difference in your perspective. I’ve unfortunately been through major challenges but fortunately had major victories in my life as well! When you bury a mother and three different fathers; that changes your perspective in life. When you have companies where everything is going well and then the next thing you know you’re near bankruptcy–you need to just be able to turn it all around, this process strengthens you. I went to the doctor for a normal physical because I’m a pilot and the doctor told me, “You have a tumor in your brain.” That changes your perspective. I didn’t have that perspective at 28.

So dealing with those uncertainties, dealing with life from that perspective, dealing with relationships–no one teaches you how to pick the relationships that are going to be ideal for you.

There are lots of great people, but they’re not all going to be ideal for you. Initiating and going through a divorce with four kids can be a brutal experience, but also a tempering one. It gave me perspective and insight to be able to find the love of my life. We’ve been married now for fifteen years. There’s a great and tremendous richness of contrast in my life. In my life experience, I’ve seen millions of people – I’ve got a different level of interaction with others and also some different life experience and I think there’s some reflection of that in this little book.

MS: I was struck by the wording of the title of Re-Awaken the Giant Within – that it’s a “re-awakening.” If the giant has always been in all of us, where does it go? Why does it go to sleep and what conditions tend to awaken it?

TR: Well I know it’s a corny metaphor, but really it came to me because when I was a young man, I watched this movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which was a film about the attacks on Pearl Harbor. There was a critical time where the Japanese had destroyed most of our fleet and so much of the base in Hawaii. Thinking they had inflicted terrible injury to us and some of our aircraft carriers were gone.

General Yamamoto was the most powerful admiral in their navy and basically engineered the whole thing. Instead of being celebratory, he wrote, “I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant.” This is exactly what he did. He had awoken America. America went into battle and history was changed by it. So I think often times, we don’t find our best unless we’re truly inspired or we’re truly challenged. It’s that lukewarm middle place that most of us unfortunately find ourselves. We don’t start out that way; most people have dreams and goals when they’re young that are rather large. But then we all go through massive disappointments; it’s these disappointments that either destroy you or they drive you. Unfortunately, the majority of people in our society don’t have a lot of role models of people that drive them.

Now when I was very young, as I said, I had multiple fathers and a mom that was dear to me but also a little crazy. So when you get chased out of the house with a carving knife, you know your mom is not actually going to kill you, but it makes your life feel pretty brutal in that moment. During those times, things would be put into perspective for me as a reader. I always believe leaders are readers, so you’ve got to read 30 minutes a day of something that’s going to inspire you. I started with biographies usually. Reading put perspective to any challenge I was facing and made me see that extraordinary people usually had extraordinary pain, difficulties or injustices. That’s part of why they have the drive and hunger to do good in the world, to make something happen.

You have two ways you can start to tap into your real ability or the “giant within” one of those is to face a severe enough tragedy that you wake up. Maybe you care more about your kids’ well-being rather than your own or maybe you just hit a threshold and you say, “I’m not going to go through another day like this in this relationship.” Maybe you say, “I’m 50 pounds overweight. I’m sick of my fat jeans. I can’t get off the couch. I’m done with this stuff.” People have thresholds–economic thresholds, emotional thresholds, relationship thresholds, physical thresholds–and then we change. The other way is to become inspired. We surround ourselves with what is better or see other people as role models. You go, “If they can do this, so can I.” That starts to trigger people, as well.

So what I’m trying to do is provide inspiration, but also strategy. If you’re inspired to lose weight and you don’t know what to do or where to start, what are the best strategies for losing weight that are proven through time? What are the best strategies for breaking through in a relationship so that you can really bond together and turn things around? My goal is to bring strategy, along with inspiration, so that people that are in a tough time will pick something up like this and move forward. People that are going to have a great time will move forward. People in the lukewarm middle usually aren’t going to read something like this. It’s if you’re either hungry or you’re starting a new journey, you have a birthday with a zero on the end of it, your kids are grown up and you’re totally successful in what you do and you’re bored; you’re like, “Is this all there is?” So you want more or you’re hungry because you’ve had a real significant change in your life. Hungry people are the people that I really serve.

MS: I recently interviewed Deepak Chopra about his Sages and Scientists Symposium and his Consciousness Project whose mission is to bring together scientists and philosophers to “discuss and unravel the mystery of our own self.” Do you think we need to create this bridge between what we call the worlds of spirituality and self-help and the worlds of science and scientific validation? Because, certainly there’s been enough proof, even in just the effect of your work, do you understand what I’m saying?

TR: Yeah, for sure. Well you know, in my 36 years of teaching, I taught people how to change in physiology and biochemistry. I’ve been doing this for 36 years and helping tens of millions of people, and just last year Harvard did a study and proved that by just changing your body posture, you change biochemistry.

I think it’s fantastic what Deepak is doing and I think bringing consciousness and ways to improve oneself into a scientific scrutiny is wonderful. Positive Psychology has already done a great deal of that frankly, and I support it. But science moves at a glacial rate so my view from the very beginning was if I wait around just trying to validate science with everything, I might be waiting a long time. I can go validate with people’s life experiences–that, to me, is more my approach. Why don’t I just go get people results and let them validate the effectiveness in real world with their own lives! That to me is a more pragmatic approach, but everyone has their own way of serving and they are all clearly very valuable.

I think we live in a society today where most baby boomers, x generation members and certainly Millennials have grown up in a different environment where they question everything and they test things themselves rather than listening to some ivory tower description. They don’t just accept what people have told them. I mean in every stage of scientific evolution we have proven “scientific facts” that under later scrutiny were disproven by a new set of scientists. Everything from the structure of the universe to the structure of atoms. So I’m really more interested in what’s practical. I’m interested in what you can do tomorrow that can immediately test for it’s true effectiveness in your own life experience and I’m grateful that there are sciences that have validated my work. But it really isn’t my focus. My focus is, let’s get to what’s going to change you right now. Getting science to validate what you can directly experience to me is not a waste of time, but it’s certainly not my passion or primary focus. I’ve taught how to change your biochemistry and change your emotional state through movement for 35 years to more than 50 million and last year those Harvard studies “validated” what I have done for three and half decades…If you asked the 50 million people who use this stuff they didn’t need a study to know it worked! LOL. So in the beginning of my career I was focused on pushing to try and get people validate these elements. If I’d waited I would pretty much have given up because as I say, science-especially psychological research can happen at a slow almost glacial rate.

Here’s what I care about: breakthroughs. I live to help people create breakthroughs! A breakthrough is that moment in time where suddenly something you’ve been struggling with forever, suddenly it changes–you change in that moment! People say, “It took me ten years to change something.” I say, “No, it took you a moment.” The moment you finally said, “It’s over” or “I do” or “I love you” or “I quit” or “Let’s begin.” It’s that moment of decision in people and that can be triggered by a negative emotion–like being frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, or just hitting your threshold. It can be triggered by inspiration or somebody excites you. It can come from a great conversation, from a book, a page, a seminar, a movie. There are so many ways that a breakthrough can happen. But what’s required is enough emotional intensity where people actually follow through and do something.

Lots of people know what to do, but they don’t do what they know. People who say, “I don’t know what to do,” usually aren’t inspired enough to make it happen. When I say inspired, I don’t just mean pumped-up–inspired means “in spirit.” When your spirit is alive, when somebody has got a strong spirit, they could be on the verge of death physically, and they’ll leak out more life. We’ve all seen it over and over and over again and science can’t explain that. People who are in accidents or physically ill and there is no way they should be able to hang on, but somehow they do for months or even years. How do you explain when the doctor says there is no way that man or woman should still be able to breathe and yet they do? It’s hard to measure spirit, but it is something that you can feel if you’re a human being and you can feel when it grows. What makes it grow is inspiration. What makes it grow is the sense that you have more control over your life than events have over you. As long as you have a set of beliefs or lack of skills that make you feel you have at the effect of life, you’re going to have enormous stress and the quality of your life will go down.

So breakthroughs happen when the insight comes that I can do something right now to improve things. I am constantly looking to do something right now to provide people with strategies to create those immediate breakthroughs. That’s my mission.

MS: People today are so overwhelmed. It feels like people today have so many inputs coming at them and responsibilities to just get through in their day-to-day lives that it’s hard to look towards those larger goals. How can people learn to prioritize their larger life objectives when just trying to survive and feeling overwhelmed with all the different pressures they face?

TR: Well, it’s true. You know most people major in minor things. If you want to know why you’re stressed, that’s why. If you’re putting the focus of your day in answering 1,800 or 8 or 18 or 180 emails–and the vast majority of them really have no impact in your life. You’re mistaking movement for achievement–that will always leave you empty. People say they are so stressed today–stress is trying to figure out how to survive; or there is a war and somebody could shoot you. What we call stress today is just extension of being busy without meaning. When you do things that are not meaningful to you, just to get the sense of completion, just to feel like you got something done, your spirit feels empty. So, the most important thing for people to realize is that you have to control the flow of information in your life today. If you’re constantly responding to every text, every email, every input, if you’re spending your life constantly evaluating what people are saying about you on Facebook or Twitter, you’re living in reactions of the external world. What you have to do is plant your feet and say, “This is what’s most important to me.” The basic function I have every week of my life is I sit down and I look at all the areas of my life -and I literally categorize them by the role I serve. For example, my role as a father, as business owners in various companies, or as being a force for good as corny as it sounds–or the work I do to make a difference outside of my work.

I look at those and then I say, “What are the most important outcomes for this week?” I will reduce things down to what I call my “Five to Thrive.” What are five things that are the big rocks that I’m going to put in my schedule above anything else, before anything else occurs so that I’ve got significant impact this week? Moving my agenda forward on what I want as opposed to living in a world where I’m reacting to everybody else’s needs. I’ve got 1,500 employees and twelve companies around the world simultaneously. I’ve got four kids and I’m totally in-love and crazy about my wife, I want to spend time with her and I’m an athlete. I’m on stage 50 to 60 hours in one weekend.

So, to be able to do all those things, if you’re not rigorously clear about what’s most important to you, if you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’re going to have to fit in everybody else’s plan. So, it is a conscious decision to ask yourself, “Is this what’s really most important for me?” And to make decisions about what you’re not going to do because otherwise, all of the demands, expectations, hopes, fears of other human beings eat up your life. Wanting to help those people, I live for that, but at the same time, I’m the one who’s in command of my own life. You have to decide what are the majors, not the minors in your life, and you have to put the majors first.

MS: I know aside from all the many people you help through your books and your events, you also do all of this wonderful work with Feeding America. Tell us about that partnership and the campaign this year. How did you get involved with them and what do you hope to accomplish? Why is this such a personal crusade for you?

TR: Well, when I was eleven years old, our family didn’t have money for food at Thanksgiving. We weren’t going to starve, we would have figured something out, but we weren’t going to have the Thanksgiving feast dinner by any stretch of the imagination. My parents were having the kind of arguments that involve saying things you can never take back. It was pretty brutal. I’m the oldest of the three and there was a knock at the door. I went to the door and there’s this tall guy there with a giant box of food and a pan on the ground beside him with an uncooked turkey in it. He said, “Can I speak to your father?” I said, “just one moment.” I went and grabbed my dad who was reluctant to come to the door and I experienced something that really bothered me very deeply, my father saw this guy and started to slam the door by saying, “We don’t take charity.”

The guy was a big guy, six foot plus and was very nice, but he put his foot in the door to stop it from shutting. He said, “Sir, please, I’m just the delivery guy. Somebody knows that you’re having a tough time and wanted you and your family to have a beautiful Thanksgiving.” My dad went to slam the door again and said, “We don’t take charity.” The guy said, “Look” and he put a shoulder against the door and he said, “Don’t let your ego get in the way of your own family’s well-being.” I was standing right there. I thought my dad was going to punch him. But what came out of that initially, he took the food, slammed the door, and we had a great Thanksgiving but he was not happy about it.

I realized so much of life is controlled by the decisions you make. I think there are three decisions you make. One is: what are you going to focus on, that’s what affects everybody’s life. If you focus on what you can’t control, you’re a little crazy inside, angry and depressed. If you focus most of the time on what you don’t have instead of what you do have, you’re going to be extremely unhappy. If you focus on the past, you can’t change the past. People have patterns of focus and my dad’s focus was, at that point, how he had not fed his family. And then the second decision is: What does it mean? He decided this meant that he was worthless, so he shortly thereafter left our family, which at the time I thought was the worst thing in my life, devastating. But, you decide what to do out of these things.

I had the same experience that day, but my focus was that there’s food–what a concept. What it meant to me was that a stranger cared and that changed my entire life. I still don’t know who did it. It was delivered anonymously to my family. But I swore that day that I was going to find a way to do this for others. So when I was seventeen, I fed two families that were deeply in need and I delivered the food as the delivery guy. I was careful to just wear jeans and a t-shirt and had a little note that said, “This is from a family who loves you, who wants you to have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Someday if you can, do well enough to do this for one other family.” It said, “With love. From a friend.”

It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I decided that the following year I would feed four people and the next year, I would double it up to eight. When I got to sixteen, I was exhausted and realized I could use some help. So, I went out and got a bunch of my friends and I said, “Let’s have Thanksgiving together, but let’s fill these beautiful baskets with food and deliver them to the homeless before we have our meal. Then we’ll come back and share what we’re truly grateful for because Thanksgiving should be about being grateful and what you’re giving thanks for, not just eating a turkey.

So we did it and that became my tradition for a few years and it grew and I got my employees involved. Now, through the foundation, we feed two million people a year and then I personally feed two million people a year myself individually. During the holiday season, people typically ask themselves, “What do I give somebody for Christmas?” A serious number of people say, “I want to give something that has a lasting impact, something that could change their lives.” They will invest in one of my audio programs or seminars. So what we’re doing is arranging for people that when they spend $100 on anything, for themselves or someone else, we’re going to feed 20 individuals.

I’ve been doing this for many years. This year, for example, I’m coming to New York November 7-10th for a four-day seminar and we’re going to feed a half a million people out of that; because what I did is for every person that comes, I’m going to also pay for a hundred meals locally there. So I wanted to find the right partner to deliver this stuff about a year ago and I want somebody where all the money really went directly to the food for people, not for administration expenses and that’s why I picked Feeding America. They’re impeccable! We work with them all across the country and we’re able to get the most meals per person out there through our donations. It’s just been a part of my life coming full circle. Somebody took care of me way back with my family and so now for the last 36 years, I’ve been taking care of other families, it’s tens of millions now and these additional promotions that we do now.

MS: That’s so wonderful. Do you feel like there’s a new paradigm emerging to propagate that sense of interdependence and responsibility – that we are one human family and to promote more acts of kindness towards each other?

TR: There is no question that is what the world needs and I think there have always been people of that nature. Everywhere you go there are people of that nature. I used to do this and never mention a word about it. I wasn’t looking for brownie points for ten or fifteen years. People would say, “Why don’t you talk about what you do with the foundation?” I would say, “I do at the events because I enroll those people.” My mission is to let them know that ultimately, the only thing that makes you happy long-term is growing and giving. If you stop growing, it doesn’t matter how many companies you have or how much money you’ve made or how many people respect you or love you, how many perfect children you’ve got.

Everything in life either grows or dies and if you’re not growing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically or in your relationship, you’re going to have pain in your life. Most people manage pain by eating, drinking, smoking, distracting themselves, working harder. That’s just managing pain, the pain that comes from not feeling fully alive from not growing. But then, the most important thing is contribution because the secret to living is giving. If you catch on to that you start realizing that there’s nothing you can get that comes close to what you can give. Life is calling all of us to be more than just about ourselves and that is when we get that spiritual hit. Happiness is in the mind, experiences of joy or pleasure should be found in the body; but ongoing joy, pure unadulterated joy, that feeling of bliss for no reason comes when you feel like your life matters because it matters to more than yourself (this is found in your heart). For some people that comes with parenthood; for some people it comes when they start to get involved in something in their community. But whenever somebody reaches above their own limitations — I always tell people, the best time to go give is when you have nothing.

I can remember when I was completely broke, a real turning point of my life. I was living in Venice, California in this 400 square foot bachelor apartment. I would wash my dishes in the bathtub. I was working hard but struggling. I was at a poor period in my business and I literally had $19.10. There wasn’t going to be another check for two weeks and I’m thinking, “How the hell am I going to survive?” I decided to go to a place for dinner in Marina Del Ray at this place called El Torito, a place on the water. I went to this place because they had an all-you-can-eat taco bar. So I went there to load up for the summer, basically. I ate everything–I ate more food and was so stuffed. I figured it would last me for a few days. I think it was like six or seven dollars, something like that. I’ll never forget this beautiful woman walked in the room. She sat down and her young son, like seven years old, pulled out a chair for his mom with such care. I was just so touched by the love and respect he had for his mom, it was really moving.

I became so inspired that I went up to this young man and shook his hand to introduce myself. “What’s your name?” He told me and I said, “Listen, I just want to compliment you on the way you treat your date.” I said, “You are a man of such total elegance and respect to her.” “I know she must feel so respected.” “She is my mom.” “Really?” I said, “I’m even more impressed. Taking her out to lunch like this, your own mom?” He goes, “I didn’t take her to lunch. I’m only seven.” He goes, “But I will in the future.” I said, “No, you will right now.” I took out all the money I had left and put it on the table. I didn’t do it to impress her. I didn’t even look at her. I just said, “Yes, you did.” He said, “I can’t take that.” I said, “Yes, you can.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Because I’m bigger than you are.”

I walked to this place because I didn’t have my car, but I walked out of this place and skipped, jumped and bounced on my way. In the middle of my deepest scarcity, something inside me got inspired. Ironically, there was a guy that had borrowed about $1,500 from me maybe four years before this and he never paid it back. I reached out to him a million times when I needed it and that very next day he shows up with the $1,500. I don’t know if that means anything, but I decided I want to just call it karma, right? That’s the best piece. Why not believe that? It’s a very empowering belief. I’ve just never forgot that.

I think the best time to plant your seed is when you have almost none left, go give them away at that point. One of my toughest times, I found somebody who was in a worse place and helped them. Suddenly, you realize you have no problems. For example, before the seminar next week I’m flying up to Newtown, Connecticut to visit with some of the families there that lost loved ones in the shootings. I’m taking a young man with me, Nick Walczak who’s nineteen. When he was seventeen, just two years ago, he was shot in the Ohio school shooting. I don’t know if you heard about this, this kid came in and he was just crazy at the trial, he had this tee shirt on and he was basically saying screw you to all the families. He was just a brutal, psychotic guy. So, Nick was shot and survived, but he’s paralyzed for life.

So I took him, and I’ve got another young lady named Ashley Moser who’s just an extraordinary soul also. Ashley was at the Batman premier in Aurora, Colorado when that insane man came in and shot everybody. She witnessed her six-year-old daughter being shot right there in front of her and killed. She was pregnant and her boyfriend fled rather than protect her and left her there. The shooter shot her in the stomach and killed her unborn baby as well and she became paralyzed for life, and was suicidal as a result. I found out about her story, so I flew her to my Unleash the Power Within seminar and Nick as well. I thought they would be great for each other and make a great team. They’re so transformed. She’s not suicidal anymore and the two of them are now studying my work that I do with therapists. We’ve trained a hundred thousand therapists through my partnership with Cloe Madanes, one of the top ten rated therapists in the world for the last twenty years by her peers.

So, they are now going through the training and becoming professional coaches. I said to them the reason is, think about this, “Out of this much horror, at this level of injustice, at this much pain, some extraordinary good must come.” I believe people have gone through extraordinary spiritual pain. Spiritual pain is a level of injustice. I mean it’s not just physical to have your child taken from you right before your eyes, to lose the child in your stomach, to become paralyzed for life–the only people that have this depth of spiritual pain have true spiritual strength I believe at the deepest level. When you have had this experience, you can touch somebody else. So I’m building this kind of SWAT team to go in for when these things happen in the future. We’re going to Newtown as one of our first trips here and the two of them are going to help me work with some of the families there by coaching them. You can imagine Ashley saying, “Look, you know, I lost both of my daughters, my unborn daughter and my six-year-old daughter. I’m paralyzed personally for life, but I can still find a deeper and higher meaning and I’m going to find a way to make this serve.” That’s very different than someone else coming to them, like me, who has not lost their child and saying, “you can do this” – It’s like, “that’s easy for you jerk.” But, when you have somebody who has been through something as extreme as yourself or greater and they make it through, it shows people what’s possible. So that’s the breakthrough SWAT team I’m building. There’s one gentleman right now that I’m meeting in Newtown who has the same desire. He lost a daughter in the shooting and wants to show people how you can turn things around. So, hopefully he’ll join our team.

And in addition to that, I’m always looking for breakthroughs, right? There’s a young man named Easton LaChappelle. Easton, at 17 years old, met a little girl who was born without an arm. He’s been tinkering with things his whole life, since he was 14, he’s a bright kid to say the least. He was interested in robotics so he actually built a robotic hand from Legos and fishing line and the model actually worked–he won like third place in the Colorado Science Fair when he was like 14. But, when he met this young girl without an arm he was so moved and inspired because he found out it would cost $80k to get a prosthetic arm that would actually function, I’m not talking about a hook. He thought, “That’s insane, there’s got to be a better way.” So this young man has built, through 3D printing, he actually showed it off at the TED conference –originally the hand itself cost $50k, even through 3D printing, but this young man is so creative that he has now built a functional, successful robotic arm that can do anything a physical arm can do. It’s powered by a person just wearing a band on their head–a brain wave head set. So the whole thing, how much would you guess it costs?

MS: I have no idea. It sounds like millions of dollars.

TR: $250. Yes. $80k to $250. So I reached out to him, he mentioned that he saw this other child that was paralyzed and he wants to build an exo-body device that can actually walk. They do exist, the military uses them and they are unbelievably successful. So I reached out to him a few days ago and he said that I’ve inspired him and I told him that there are two people, that the injustice that they’ve gone through is just insane and if they had the ability to walk again it would be incredible and that I will help fund this, whatever it takes if you are serious about making it happen. So he and I are meeting next week to try and figure out how to move forward on this component, but my goal is to get these people to a point where they’d eventually be able to walk again with an exo-robotic device.

But, that’s what’s possible for people today. We live in a world where if you get outside of yourself, there is a world that’s so exciting. Most people’s hearts are there, but it’s just that they get caught up in making a living and forgot they can design a life. Part of what I do when people come to me for a weekend, is I get them away from their normal life and in 40 or 50 hours of total immersion, people that wouldn’t sit for a three-hour movie that someone spent $300 million on will be sitting there and saying, “This is incredible.” Oprah came to the seminar and she said, “I won’t sit anywhere for more than two hours period.” Her team said, “She’s leaving in two hours. She won’t be able to stay more than two hours. She never does.” She came and told me personally, “I’m only here for two hours.” Twelve hours later, she is standing on her chair and she said, “It’s one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”

So we found a way to get people to connect to what’s most important in their life. When you’re enjoying yourself, time disappears. A minute feels like an eternity when your life has no meaning. But when what you’re doing is meaningful and alive, your time flies. So that’s a big part of my mission.

A long way of answering–I really believe that everyone has in them the desire to make a difference and not everybody realizes they can. If you can get someone in an environment where they do something, even just the simplest thing, if you get a child to come with you and feed the homeless, it will affect that child forever because they get this tremendous love and gratitude they see in the eyes of these human beings and no one cannot be moved by that. My son, when he was five years old we went out and started feeding people and he had an experience where this man grabbed his hand, he was lying on the floor of this toilet, a public restroom and he was sleeping and woke up and grabbed my son’s hand. When he did, my son let out a scream and I jumped ten feet, but he pulled my son’s hand to his face and kissed his hand. My son now is 30 years old and his entire life is focused on contribution because he has been shaped by that experience.

So, my hope is that with the holiday season coming up, instead of thinking about all the things you’ve got to get done and all the people coming to your house and all the gifts you’ve got to give, maybe the greatest gift is to go give something unselfishly and it’ll be a gift that you will be giving yourself because it will remind you what your life is really about.

MS: You know, talking about the fact that you’re doing that work, and just thinking about preventing future Newtown’s or all these mass shootings we’re hearing about – and I don’t know if it’s because I’m more aware of them or there are more of them – we of course tend rightfully on the plight of the victims and talking about gun violence, but as somebody who understands the psychology of people, do you feel that we also need to spend more time reflecting on the roots of the suffering or mental illness that are producing these behaviors and are causing people to commit these horrible acts? Because it feels like it’s happening more and more and when you find out about the people who perpetuate them, there were signs. I’m just wondering if you have any perspective on conversations that maybe should be taking place that aren’t.

TR: I agree a hundred percent. Just the other day I was on Piers Morgan and I said, “It really troubles me that no one has looked at the profile. At least no one is publicly talking about it, with all the media attention, who are the types of people to do this? Because if we are able to eliminate guns then they’ll just use another weapon, and then maybe it will be less lethal in a short period of time, but there were seventeen people who were killed in India by a guy with a knife. He went into a classroom and did this.

So, my view is what’s the psychology of the person? First of all, no one is talking about the fact that 98% are men-boys-and they’re in a certain stage of life and it’s driven by a core need, the need to be significance. When they feel insignificant, men/boys, will die for a sense of significance–it’s a human need. If you don’t show them a positive way to be significant then they’ll find a negative way. How many of the school shooters have been girls? That’s not to say girls are better, it’s just that girls biochemically are wired differently, they’re wired for connection. Now, somebody can be an outlier of anything, right? But these are not outliers and the fact they’re happening more often, well actually statistics show they aren’t really happening more often, but they’re happening in clumps. What happens is, when somebody does this, they become a role model for somebody else, the reason to do this again and again.

So there are two pieces. It’s like, “do we continue to provide the rewards for this behavior which is the significance of that individual?” You can be significant one of two ways, by doing something extraordinarily good or doing something extraordinarily bad. Doing something extraordinarily good is very hard to do and you could fail. Extraordinarily bad is easy to do–it’s much easier to burn down a building than to build one. Building one takes decades, it’s a huge risk, and very hard to complete. Burning one down though, you can do it in a heartbeat. So it’s human nature for human beings that are feeling insignificant to try to find some way to be significant. Violence provides certainty that people are going to respond to me if I pull out this gun, and it provides absolute significance. When you put a gun to somebody’s head and they thought you’re a nobody before, suddenly you’re a god to them. In a sick way, it connects you to people.

So it actually meets three of the deepest human needs that we have. I think the piece we’re looking for is how do we show young people a new way to be significant because the challenge today is it’s sports, it’s purchasing, it’s athletics, it’s sex. We’ve grown into a society where people spend their time going on Facebook, managing their image on a daily basis, projecting a life that may not be really true but looking good. So other people see this and they feel like, “My life is nothing like that” and it magnifies it. So there is no simple answer, but I think we’ve got to first identify who are the types of people that are going to do this, what are the triggers, what can we do to prevent it? I don’t know that we can prevent this completely, unfortunately, but I do believe that we can start to ask the kinds of questions that lead towards finding new ways to help young people–especially young males–find a sense of significance when they’re feeling insignificant in a way other than violence.

MS: I just finished the book, What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power. You have obviously worked with so many world leaders here in the U.S. and around the world. What do you think are the key ingredients to be a successful leader and what types of leader do you think the world most needs now?

TR: I think we need leaders not politicians. I think that’s our biggest challenge. Politicians make decisions based on what people think–a leader does what’s right. You want to talk about being a powerful leader, one that had mixed emotions for people, but she changed the country and I had the privilege of spending time with her, was Margaret Thatcher. She did what was right in her mind. Whether you agree with her politics or not, that’s not the thing – that woman was not swayed by the polls.

She took a level of assault that most people would never take in their lifetime, and she did what her moral compass believed was right; she was elected by people who knew that and she did it. She turned around the economy and her entire country. Again, you might disagree with the politics and many people didn’t like her politics at all, but nobody can argue that woman didn’t do what she believed. Unfortunately, I think our model for leaders today is to stick our finger in the air and see where things go and then just suggest that we don’t know anything when something happens. I mean, the most common response from presidents in recent years. It’s been, “gosh, I saw that on the news the same time you did” – in the last few years, everything from the IRS scandal to how we’re doing on healthcare – “I didn’t know.” It isn’t just our present President, it’s not one side or the other, George Bush had the same type of approach.

So, what we need is some leadership. I think women have the capacity, if they’re not afraid, if they’re willing to be fearless, to listen to their gut as well or better than any man will ever do. They have a sensitivity–women read between the lines. Men communicate explicitly whereas women communicate implicitly. So they’re constantly reading what’s between the lines. But I think sophisticated male leaders learn implicit forms of communications, but women do it naturally.

There’s no question that it’s time. I think regardless of your politics, Hillary Clinton is going to be a very, very tough candidate because she’s proven herself in very powerful leadership roles, both in the Senate and the Secretary of State. She’s also been in the White House before. She’s a tough lady with a big heart. I think in the time when she was on a campaign, she showed tears, and it freaked a lot of people out, but I think it also showed people that she was human. So, I’m not endorsing anybody for candidacy, but just as I wanted to see an African-American president for a series of reasons, including just balancing our culture and showing human beings in this country that there is no limit. I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve had that president for eight years. I think at some point there’s got to be a woman in there as well to breakdown that barrier, and I think that a woman by her nature will have a different set of sensibilities than a man. Not because women are better or men or better, just because there’s a different biochemistry that leads them, nobody can deny that.

MS: What is the source of the fuel that keeps you going, doing all of this incredible work that you do?

TR: That’s easy. People ask me that question all the time. The fuel is, people’s lives. I mean, every single day in my life, somebody comes up and tells me a story of how their life has changed. A dozen times a day on average, somebody will come up to me if I’m on the street, walking by, doing anything or I’m reaching to somebody like the young man, Easton, that I talked about earlier. I love and respect him already because you can see his mission is truly to make a difference. He’s got a big heart and a brilliant mind. I go, “Wow!” To think that somehow my work has touched him at an important age, it lifts me, it makes it all worthwhile. I get to see people say, “We’re going to get divorced and we turned it around because of you. Look, here’s our three-year-old child that would have never been born and we owe it to you.” And I say, “that wasn’t me, you guys did it, but I’m really glad I could help.” Or somebody goes, “I listened to your stuff for 20 years, I was struggling, I was about to give up on my business and we’re in Ink’s 100 companies today.” It’s just unbelievable.

Or, Marc Benioff, a dear friend of mine comes to me and says, “Tony, remember that day, fourteen years ago…” because he and I are dear friends. He was the chairman of and he says, “Do you remember when we met?” I said, “Of course I do.” He came up to me in an event, he came to my event three times, and said, “I’m leaving my job at Oracle. I’ve got this vision. You pushed me over the edge. I’m going to start a company that’s going to change the way business runs in this country.” He said, “I want to build a hundred million dollar company.” This year, will be a four billion company and for two years in a row, Forbes named them the most innovative company in the world!

So, to see the impact with people’s emotions and lives being healed, to see Ashley go from suicidal to flying across country to help other people, I mean what could be more inspiring than that? So, of course I get exhausted. I’m on stage for 50 hours, I wear one of these little Fitbits, so I now know how much I do in a weekend. On the last day of UPW, I did twenty-six-and-a-half miles on that day, running, jumping, leaping, doing whatever it takes to get through to people from 8:30 in the morning until midnight or one o’clock in the morning, nonstop. So, of course I’m exhausted, but I’m victorious. I’m victorious because my focus is serving. I really believe that if that’s your primary focus, you will of course succeed; you will of course be rewarded. That’s karma, right? What you put out comes back ten fold. It’s impossible for me to be the giver even though I work at it all the time. The more I give the more I experience, the more I feel the joy, fulfillment, spirit and meaning.

MS: You have so many inspiring words of wisdom that you always share, but what’s the one piece of advice that you find right now really resonates with people, that people seem to be needing to hear, if you had to distill it?

TR: Gosh, there’s so many. It depends on the person and what they’re facing. I think the most important thing for people to remember is, it’s not about you. You think that the person is upset with you. It’s not about you. People are dealing with their own issues, their own needs, their own wants, their own desires, their own feelings that are being deflected or kept from what they want. What will put life in perspective is if you constantly do something as a ritual to serve somebody in worse shape than you are, there is no greater way to put perspective in your life. I call it ‘I have no problems day’. When you go and you do something, you have such a huge problem and you go serve somebody who has no arms. You go take care of somebody who’s lost their child. You go do something simple, just like spending time with somebody who is older and has nobody listening; you’ve got to polish up their memories. You’re asking questions about the great love of their life, about what they’re proud of, about what were some of the funniest moments. Those little experiences require no money, they require nothing but waking up and remembering life is calling you to serve, life wants you to serve something more than yourself. When you serve something more than yourself, you are served. It’s the most ironic thing in the world.

I mean, the last thing I would say to people is just to remember no matter how bad things look, you are more than anything you’re facing, you’re more than this moment, you’re more than this challenge and you can rise above it. You have within you this capacity to deal with anything. There’s no challenge put in front of you that you can’t deal with. What will help you remember that resiliency is if you will read regularly–30 minutes a day–don’t miss reading. Read something that is going to inspire you, a biography, something that’s going to teach you, not just reading crap on the internet, like really give yourself 30 minutes a day. If you feed your mind, if you strengthen your body and if you find some way to serve, even the smallest way outside yourself–If you do those three things, you don’t have to worry about anything.

The last one is, remember, it’s not your conditions that determine the quality of your life, it’s your vision that determines the quality of your life. So if you don’t like your life, change it. How would you change it? You decide. There’s no action without first decision. Decision is the mother or the father of action, and action is what changes your life. So, you don’t like your job? Change it. If you don’t like the relationship, change it. Change you first or you will just end up with the same problem with somebody else. If you’ve done that and it’s not the right one, change the relationship. If you don’t like your body, change it. It’s not a question of whether you can, it’s whether will you draw a line in the sand and say, “This is where I’m going. I’m not going back.” You want to stay in the islands, burn the boats. It’s amazing what people do when they have no way to back out.

So, what I would say to people is we live in a magnificent time where technology empowers us to have access to all the knowledge that exists in the world, but nothing is going to give that to you if you’re not hungry enough to step forward and educate yourself. Warren Buffett said, “The most important investment that you can make in your life is an investment in your own education, investment in yourself.” Forget any other investment, this is the one that no one can take from you and this is the one that will pay you dividends for the rest of your life.

So, I’m on a mission to help people grow and give. The more they grow the more they can give, the more life they build, the greater the quality of their life.

For more information about Tony Robbins as well as a schedule of his upcoming events and seminars.

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine,,, the Women’s Media Center, and many others. Marianne is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51 percent The Women’s Perspective. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women’s web site and non-profit organization, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women. Marianne’s new book is What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power published by Seal Press (November 2013). You can visit her website at

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