The Real Problem with Tony Robbins

by Dan on August 14, 2009

I wrote a bit earlier about the limitations of Eckhart Tolle, so I thought I’d follow it up with my take on Anthony Robbins.

Tony Robbins has been an awesome “access point” for many people into the world of personal development. He’s a guy you know loves you even if you’ve never met him. You feel his passion radiating through his books’ pages, and if that weren’t convincing enough, his stage presence absolutely electrifies you.

What’s more, he has that special speaker’s quality that Eckhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer lack, making you feel very uncomfortable to listen to him if you’re not taking action. You can be listening to Personal Power, and if you didn’t do your assignment from the night before, he’ll call you out on it. In the end, you can physically keep listening, but you know you’re just being a coward and that the blame lies on you.

Even better? He gives you techniques to actually get shit done. He shuns “will power,” and thinks it’s ridiculous to expect yourself to do something you don’t have a real passion or motivation to do. Instead he works with the “leverage” principle, discussed at length in Personal Power, Get the Edge, and Awaken the Giant Within.

This concept, labeled Neuro-Associative Conditioning System, works based on the pain/pleasure duality. The premise is all of us are motivated by two forces, your aversion to pain and your attachment to pleasure. If your room is a mess, it’s because you associate more pain than pleasure to cleaning it. Or maybe you have pleasure living in a mess, and not enough pain about the disaster area in your apartment.

Tony Robbins has a lot of cool ideas, but the basis of his system is making life feel bad enough to change it, or making your goal feel sweet enough to keep pursuing it.

A favorite exercise of Robbins is the “Dickens Pattern,” based on the three ghosts of the story “A Christmas Carol.” Suppose you’re 30 pounds overweight. You look at your past and see how much the extra weight has sabotaged your health, relationships, and happiness. You make yourself feel awful. Then you look at the present and look at everything that sucks about your life because you’re fat. Then you look at the future, maybe 5 years later, 10 years later, or even 50 years later, and see what a miserable waste of life you’ve been because you’re a fat mess.

When you finally open your eyes, you’re suddenly all guns blazing as you throw the ice cream out of your house and lock yourself in the gym.

While Robbins’ ability to inspire action has always amazed me, something never quite felt right about using the pain principle so directly. Increasing your pain felt intuitively wrong, but I could never justify why until now.

It wasn’t until I discovered the more holistic spiritual methods of EFT, Sedona Method, and the Release Technique that I realized that avoiding pain and striving for pleasure actually create more problems than they solve.

You don’t solve an unhealthy set of attachments and aversions by adding more to the pile. The only way to correct the imbalance is to eliminate the ones that don’t suit you. I’d even go as far to say that it’s near impossible to go overboard with letting go of your pain/pleasure drivers.

Let’s look at the messy room example. For my whole life, I’ve lived in a mess, cleaning only when guests arrive. With Tony’s help, I fantasized about how much more popular and happy I’d be if I had a clean room. I also imagined how embarrassed I’d be to have a date drop by unexpectedly and be disgusted by the piles of dirty dishes.

Did this help? Just for a little while.

Under Hale Dwoskin’s guidance, I let go of my attachments/aversions to not only having a dirty room, but having a clean room as well.

This means I let go of the pleasure associated with a clean room, as well as the pain. Then I let go of the pleasure of a dirty room, as well as the pain.

Letting go of these neuro-associations made life a lot easier. Now my room practically cleans itself. It’s natural to clean up after yourself, and you only have resistance if you have built up a ton of junk in your mind.

Now how about long term goals like weightloss and wealth?

While applying Tony’s principles can get you far in terms of dieting and working hard, I think they cause you to miss a lot of shortcuts and easy opportunities. It puts emphasis on taking big efforts to get things done, and not so much on just going with the flow to allow what comes. I don’t think an analysis has been done of the cumulative net worths of Tony’s customers vs. Larry Crane and Hale’s, but from the testimonials I’ve seen and heard, I think the Sedona/Release Technique customers are making a lot more money and with a lot less struggle.

Aside from what I’ve just mentioned, I think that the outcome dependence of Tony Robbins’ work really creates barriers to enjoying life and having fun with the process. You’ve committed your life to being painfully incomplete unless you get your goal, so how else can you feel?

The idea that you won’t take proper action unless you feel bad is a myth. You’re not fat because you love cheesy puffs. You’re fat because you are resisting your natural state of health. Maybe you do have pain associated with dieting, and pleasure associated with overeating. However, instead of counterbalancing it with more unhealthy feelings, why not get rid of the problematic states to begin with? You may find this hard to believe, but with a clear emotional slate, a red delicious apple is a heck of a lot more satisfying than a chocolate chip cookie.

Your natural state is rich, happy, successful, and healthy. Whatever Tony has helped you with, he can’t get you the rest of the way.

Consider the other options available.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Angela Hartman August 23, 2009 at 10:08 am

Dan well said and definitely something to think about. I’m going to give Sedona Method a second look.

2 Lennart Bjurstrom August 27, 2009 at 5:38 am

I found your article interesting. Unfortunately you choose to put them as opposing methods, while I believe they are truly complementary. I have had great use of both Tony’s work, Tolle and the Sedona Method. I find that the central theme of Tony’s work is the power of emotions and the state we’re in. For instance, if I feel afraid, I shift my physiology and my focus on what I can be grateful for, and my fear dissolves. By the use of Sedona Method, I acknowledge that I have this fear, and by letting go I become relaxed and feel good about myself. Same result, a better emotional state, but with different processes.

For taking action, however, I find Tony’s method more usable in real life, both for myself and people I coach. We usually need to create leverage to take action. For some of us, we have a pattern of being triggered to take action because we want to avoid pain, for others we are more triggered to feel pleasure. Just by lettting go, we feel better, but not necessarily take the actions we should. And then the results come back to us and make us feel bad again… So, my point is, don’t knock a great methodology just because there is another great methodology. Use anything that works!
Peace, Lennart

3 Dan August 27, 2009 at 11:27 am


Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. Definitely keep using whatever works for you. I do think, however, that once you get sedona/releasing working for you, pain stops being a motivator, and things just flow with natural harmony. Dr. Wayne Dyer is also big on this idea as well. However, I was a big Tony fan at one point, and I may revisit his methods in the future.


4 Rose February 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

I would definitely go with Sedona method! I see what Dan is saying it’s the rotten apples in the barrel principle and adding more on top of them. The changing physiology to shift emotions never worked for me I just felt a failure each time I tried Robbins approach more cognitive and now I just release and let go of the failure feeling which was the real holdback

5 Frozen Flame October 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

Dude I started reading some Tony Robbins’ stuff and begun realizing the problem you mentioned here, so I searched for some more detailed explanation and found this blog! Great stuff man.

6 Mykola Latansky January 22, 2011 at 4:26 am

Thank you Dan!

Completely agree with you!

You have articulated the thoughts I had since visiting Tony two months ago and Hale three weeks ago.

Great job!


7 neil April 25, 2011 at 6:10 am

you make the often echoed claim in your piece to the effect that,’you’re fat because you’re resisting health’ . .balderdash . .most people are ‘fat’ simply because they’re BUILT that way. It’s not easy for anyone not built that way in fact,TO gain weight,as many a ‘method actor’ from De Niro to the hysterical ‘Russell Crowe’ has found. If you have the adipose cells in sufficient numbers,they will quickly and greedily engorge and swell after magically converting that zappy sugary stuff you just ate to sludgy – but still highly powered – slabs of conveniently located FAT.

8 Nathan Kellert June 11, 2012 at 12:14 am

Hey Dan,

Loved the article and the discussion even though I’m almost a year late.

Loved the article. I haven’t been one of these people that have been using methods for years to learn “peace and happiness.” My personal experience with all these things just began this year out of desperation of a person who cringed to his own personal comfort zone and lived in fear of the rest of the world.

I started with “the secret” several years back and looked a bit into it. I Never really believed it and never really put much thought into it. However, it always stuck into the back of my mind.

I had a DUI back in 2009 that i put off and put off. My car broke down last semester. I was going to school but had no job. This was all stuff that came crashing down on me and I little ways of dealing with it.

Recently my life has improved tremendously. Just in the last few months. I have to say I’ve used a bit of all these methods. To me they explained “the secret.” However, its not what this movie makes it out to me. Tony Robbins said it best when he said “Your mind will always find whatever its looking for.” Its the law of attraction…but not this big “mystery of the universe” kind of thing. Instead its training your mind to find what it is you want.

I use several things from everything you mentioned. For the sedona method I found out how to release my negative emotions. this allows me the freedom to focus on what I want and to change my “state” using tony Robbins method…and to come aligned with a universal purpose using several teachings from eckheart tolle.

Now I think that if you stared at the picture as a whole…and tried to fully peruse each one of these individually… you’d come away even crazier than when you started. How I choose to view it is that, in life, we are all just a compilation of our own personal truths gained from multiple sources. As individuals we can not define ourselves as a copy of just one persons beliefs. If we do this, we are no longer an individual. furthermore, I find it IMPOSSIBLE to copy the mindset of someone else. We as humans desire the ability to be individuals. We will not allow ourselves to be just like someone else or what they think. When this does happen they have a name for it….brainwash.

I think that we all pull away something from tolle, or robbins, or the sedona method. Even though I find tolle personally to be crazy, it doesn’t mean that part of what he said isn’t true or cant be applied. A great man once taught me “If you hear something that is true, does it matter the source that it came from? Truth is true, right? So if a homeless crazy person ran up and screamed at you, but said something found something you found to be true, does it really matter that he is a crazy homeless person?”

I guess what I’m getting at is that we all are going to find good and bad in everything we hear, see, and experience. It is ridiculous to think that only one system works or is the best way. I’m not even talking from person to person. Im talking as an individual, you yourself should not think that “this is the way to do things for me. This is the system that works and I’m going to follow it and only it”. You don’t have to choose!!! In fact your mind doesn’t want you to choose!

You can use the sedona method to clear your mind, take a lesson from tony about how to motivate yourself to purpose with use of emotional focus, and get your spiritual awareness from teachings from tolle. that’s what makes you a individual, a leader, and the “creator” of your own personal universe. When I say personal universe….it is all this. Its the world through your eyes, not in terms of like the secret just to be clear. Its your beliefs, how you shape the world around you by how you interact with it. Its not those thoughts or beliefs of just one particular thing. We are imperfect beings, and therefore will not allow our minds to believe in a singular perfect system.

9 Spencer August 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Tony Robbins also teaches how to collapse and anchor, or change a limiting belief into an empowering one…not just about adding new neuro-associations.

10 mutu September 29, 2012 at 7:47 am

hi dan ,

motivational gurus can only help you to a certain extent bcause they at best surface level behavioural modification techniques.

often with time you see yourself revert back to old self because of your own unconciouse mind.

guru osho has talked about this , you may want to read why things like law of attraction,postive thinking,the secret are bound to fail here ,

11 daedalus November 26, 2012 at 10:45 am

A cute story about how ‘positive thinking is crap’ … meanwhile,
if/when one actually looks at what Napoleon Hill said

then you won’t need to lean on guru O

each to their own

12 deb December 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Wow, this is awesome Dan, VERY much appreciated as I read this nearly every word and phrase hit home for me. I too, have benefited somewhat by Anthony Robbins and have found some inspiration but not for long and something also did bother me that I could not place my finger on. Upon reading this however, I just actually realized that I think I did catch a glimpse of something “not right” something I figured out, but honestly, I lost it and have not recalled it ever since , I think I got a brief glimpse of something or on the verge of discovering what it was, but not sure, just stopped watching him instead. Thank you so much , this makes perfect sense to me and feels good to hear it said in a way that makes so much sense. Quite satisfying to read this to say the least as I said it was kind of frustrating to not be able to place my finger on what was going on there. Not sure if I came away with the same thing but I never finished formulating what it even was. Soon as something begins to bug me about someone like this, I tend to move on before I can totally figure it out, because I don’t want whatever it is, however vague, affecting me any longer. Take what I got and go. Refreshing to read your entries Dan.
Glad to have stumbled upon your site.

13 deb December 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Curious about the Sedona Method, having never even heard of it before, intrigued at bit to learn more about it.

14 William May 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I trained with Tony in 1984, NLP Certification with John Grinder, Ph.D. In New Port Beach CA. Tony was in the class before me and John used Tony to teach some of our classes. Tony was just getting started. The Fire-walk Experience evolved from John asking Tony to -model some activity which is accepted in another culture but is not an accepted part of our culture. NLP evolved from the modeling work that, John, Richard, Leslie, Robert and Judith, on Fritz Perls, M.D, Milton Erickson,M.D. and Virginia Satir. Call it what you want, they change the names of NLP to fit the current generations. NLP is NLP is NLP! I have used the model in a family business, an educator teaching college and public speaker successfully for over 33 years. An excellent read is Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Volume I The Study of the Structure of Subjective Experience by the pioneers of NLP: Robert Dilts, John Grinder, Richard Bandler, LeslieC. Bandler, and Judith DeLozier.

15 Agim April 15, 2015 at 6:56 am


I was curious and intrigued by your article, so I did check out the Sedona Method and the basic principles are here:

Step 1: Focus on an issue you would like to feel better about.
Step 2: Ask yourself one of the following questions: Could I let this feeling go? Could I allow this feeling to be here? Could I welcome these feelings?
Step 3: Ask yourself the basic question: Would I? Am I willing to let go?
Step 4: Ask yourself this simpler question: When?

I have to ask you: Who are you to say this is better the Tony Robbins’s methods? Because I don’t see it.

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