If you’re looking for inspiration, everyone from Bill Clinton to Oprah Winfrey will tell you, Anthony Robbins is your man. As far as inspiration goes, Robbins not only teaches it; he is it. The most famous self-help author and inspirational teacher in the world sat down with Haute Time to share his journey to the top, the passions which drive him, and stories from his famous clients.
Haute Time: Tony, your story is a true rags to riches story. Can you tell us about your experience growing up?
Tony Robbins: We grew up poor financially, although very loved. There were plenty of times there was no money or food. I didn’t have a lot of role models. I had four different fathers—three that I knew. My frustration and my desire for deeper, lasting relationships drove me to be really hungry, just wanting to know the difference in the quality of people’s lives. I wondered, “Why do some people seem to be given everything?” I wondered why other people – you know, the Oprahs of the world – who have been stomped all over by life, somehow they still make massive contributions to society. They’re incredibly successful in the deepest sense, and contribute beyond themselves. I realized that the most successful people were not lucky; they had strategies. So I started reading. I read over 700 books in a 7-year period, and I took a speed-reading course. I started out with biographies; I wanted to read about people’s lives, and experience their lives for myself.
HT: Nobody was forcing you to study, read – you did it on your own?
TR: I was hungry, curious. I wasn’t the popular kid in school – I was trying to figure out why that mean kid was popular! I couldn’t find the answers from my peers in school, so I figured the great men and women of the world were the ones to learn from. That’s how I started educating myself, and I became obsessed.
HT: What are some of the books that inspired you early on?
TR: Emerson’s essays was one of the first that grabbed me, but then I read some of the fundamentals. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen became a favorite that I read over and over again. I would just immerse myself in the worlds of people overcoming great odds and become inspired.
HT: Many of the most successful, driven people seem to have rags to riches stories – yourself included. Why do you think that is?
TR: In the modern world self-education is the ultimate edge. If you look at Presidents of the United States, top athletes, business people, what is the common denominator? Hunger. These are people who don’t let their hunger disappear. Some people are driven until they find some small success; then they stop. But people at the top of their field have been doing it for decades. Anybody can apply themselves for a few years, but when you can sustain it decade after decade, being at the top, then obviously that hunger hasn’t gone away for you. And that hunger to give, learn, be the best that you can humanly be, that drive has never ceased. My hunger is to light people up.
For example, a big driver for me was a dream to create an island lifestyle where my family and friends could live. Having lived in South Central LA, the idea of an idyllic tropical ocean environment seemed like an ultimate dream. That’s how I found myself living in the Palm Beach area right on the ocean, as well as finding my own island and building Namale Resort & Spa in Fiji. When I was 24 I used to play racquetball with this very wealthy self made guy, who was retired at 40 years old and his goal was to see every island group in his lifetime. He would leave every month and go for a week and tell me about the Seychelles or Bora Bora, and then he came back from Fiji and said it was so over the top. I asked if it was that much prettier than those other places and he said, “No Tony, all islands are beautiful. It’s the people.” He said the people there are so happy…you drive down the street, people jump up and yell “bula! bula! bula!”, which means welcome, be happy, we love you. You drive back there five minutes later and they’re at it again! No one is paying them to do this – happiness is in their nature. I rented a seaplane and checked every major island group over 4 years before finding my paradise in Namale.
I took over this small little backpackers resort and built it up over 25 years, and now it’s the #1 resort in the country. I ended up expanding to 525 acres and 3 miles of ocean frontage because the rainforest was being cut down for the immense value of the wood. I converted the rainforest with all its waterfalls, animals and lush ecosystem into a nature preserve that will never be touched. We have 152 staff who take care of a maximum of 40 guests with a level of service that has won us every major international award in our category and brought the top celebrities in world to us as clients. We are not only the #1 resort in Fiji but we are now rated as one of the top ten resorts in the entire South Pacific. For me today it’s a place people go and just being in this loving, nurturing and happy environment changes their life. It lights me up that even though I’m not there, people’s lives are transformed by what I helped to create.
HT: Time is an integral part of your teachings. Why is time so important to you in business and life in general?
TR: We all know that money isn’t the most scarce resource, but time certainly is. Time is the one factor we cannot control; we never know how much time we’re going to have. So I want people to think about, “What is time?” If you ask somebody, how long is a ‘long time’, it’s very subjective. For example, what is your gut reaction answer?
HT: Uh…a couple of hours? [laughs]
TR: See? Some people would have said a couple of decades. Some would have said centuries and some people would have said two minutes. We all live our lives based on our perception of what time is. So
I tell people, you know – if you’re having a good time, time flies. But a minute can feel like an eternity if you’re miserable at what you’re doing. Time is emotion, but most of us trying to manage our time don’t realize that it’s really about getting what you want out of life. That’s how I look at time – I make sure that time serves me, and I don’t serve time. I don’t look at my to-do list, or the time it took to complete a task.
I look at the outcome, the result. You can’t get caught up in the ‘how to’ – I tell people, there’s a tyranny to ‘how’. If you know the target and you know why you want it, then the ‘why’ is enough. If you have good reasons, you can do just about anything. So many people are caught up in the ‘how’, but when your brain and your heart are ignited, you get insight you would never reach when you’re stuck on, “oh god, how do I pull this off?”
Time is emotion and life is finite duration, so it’s amazing how long a minute can feel, or how short it can feel – and it’s all based on how much enjoyment you extract from your life.
HT: Speaking of enjoyment – you’ve become a connoisseur of the fine things in life. Some people collect art, watches, or cars to show off, while others use it as a reward to encourage more strong work. What’s your take on this?
TR: I’m not into just the ‘reward’ side of life, honestly. Rather, I’m all about quality; I try to deliver for people. For example, in the 48 hours you have in a weekend, most people won’t even sit down to a threehour movie. I’ll take those same hours – 48 hours, a weekend – and give people an experience that’s beyond their imagination. So whether it’s an extraordinary suit or a watch that someone has put their vision into, it’s a beautiful reflection of the people behind it. I don’t look at it as just an object, but rather as a whole series of people that have put their genius, energy, creativity, and love into something. You don’t get that when you buy something off the rack.
HT: Oprah, who famously said she never sits for more than two hours, did a 12-hour session with you and said it was one of the greatest experiences of her life.
TR: She is amazing and she was blown away by the experience. When you deliver an experience that goes beyond expected, you’re able to build a brand that lasts. That’s why I’ve been around for 36 years and that’s why I look for that same level of craftsmanship, that same level of quality, that same obsession with creating something that’s the very best in other things that I surround myself with. It’s just a reflection of how I like to live.
HT: What is the first watch you ever purchased?
TR: The watch I wanted when I was a kid was a gold Rolex. So that’s what I bought. When I got it, I felt I had really accomplished something.
HT: I can just imagine how excited you must have been the day you purchased it.
TR: I was out of my mind – I had been obsessed with that watch as a little kid. It was crazy. But through the years, my taste has also changed. I’ll give you an example. My son Josh went to school at the Institute le Rosey in Geneva, Switzerland. He developed a taste for luxury there, because of who he was surrounded by – the King of Oman’s son was his roommate, and he had a different watch for every single day of his life! [laughs]
So my son told me, “Dad, we have to go look at watches! We’re in Geneva!” That was the first time I saw an Audemars Piguet, and I remember my son said, “Dad, this is the greatest watch.” It was $52,000 – which I thought was insane for a watch. I didn’t understand why you would ever spend that much money on a watch. But now I have a dozen of those kinds of watches, because over the years they came to represent a sense of surprise and fun. I look at it as a fun reward, but it’s also about the detail, the amount of time and energy that went into its making, the sense of perfection, effort, and commitment to making something so exquisite.
HT: What is another passion besides watches?
TR: I’m a helicopter pilot and a fixed-wing pilot. When I travel domestically I fly on a gulfstream, but I also fly helicopters and jet helicopters for fun. My favorite thing is to take the doors off and swoop down to do what I call ‘helicopter surfing’. When the doors are off, the surf is rushing right below you – the other surfers don’t like it, but I love it!
HT: Do you find it hard not to change, to continue doing what you do best? Some people try to reinvent themselves, and forget their core values.
TR: Well, you can’t just do the same thing – I never do the same thing. What’s the same is that I always deliver. I’m fortunate because the people who seek me out are extraordinarily hungry; they’re looking for an edge. I’ve spent the last 36 years of my life working with more than 50 million people through my educational audios and videos – I’ve had 4 million people at my live events in 100 different countries. I’ve seen every challenge you can imagine, ranging from someone with 52 split personalities, to the President of the United States, to Serena Williams and Hugh Jackman. So in that sense it’s different every time.
HT: Hugh Jackman came to you when he did Les Misérables, right? I read in the Hollywood Reporter that he said you changed his life in that session.
TR: Hugh has done so many successful films over the years but he felt uncomfortable – even at times fearful – during close-ups. He felt he needed to free himself of this before taking on the role of Jean Valjean. In live stage performances the man has no fear, just unbelievable power and the certainty that he can move anyone in his audience. But the camera is a different thing altogether. I had to help him find that same state, to bring the psychology and capacity he has onstage in front of the camera, and be able to trigger it at will. To see him perform at his best and be nominated for an Academy Award was very fulfilling.
I also work with some of the top people in the financial world. I’ve been coaching one of the top ten financial traders for 21 years, and every day he emails me. He pays me 7 figures and a piece of his upside to be able to do that, but he’s not lost money in the 21 years I’ve worked with him. Again his intelligence and skill are amazing but he believes I have been a significant edge in helping find the way to victory year after year.
The biggest misconception about me is that I am a “motivator”.
This financial trader doesn’t need motivation; it’s all about strategy, that’s what gets consistent results. But when people see a news report on an event of mine and they see people “rocking”, they assume it’s about motivation. It’s not – it’s about energy and enjoyment. I know that killer education is not enough; people have to be entertained in the world we live in today, because if they aren’t having a kickass time, they’re out.
The diversity of what I do is constant. For example last weekend, I met with a young man who was a victim of the 2012 Ohio shooting – he’s now in a wheelchair and paralyzed. I flew in a woman who has been through so much; she too had watched her daughter shot dead in front of her in that Aurora theatre. Her boyfriend left her and she was shot in the stomach while she was pregnant, so she lost her unborn child. She herself was left paralyzed. To take her from being suicidal, help her rediscover a reason for living, have her train to be a coach who helps others – that has a level of satisfaction beyond words. So my life is diverse!
Along the way I get to see so many people transform and become friends along the way. I remember when Marc Benioff, the CEO of SalesForce, came to my weekend program almost 14 years ago. He left his job with Oracle right after that and started building SalesForce. His original goal was to build a $100 million company; this year they will do $4 billion. I have watched him become such an extraordinary philanthropist on top of being one of the most innovative CEOs in the world. I’ve had the privilege to have Steve Wynn as a dear friend and watch him literally transform the face of Las Vegas with his extraordinary vision, creativity, and passion.
So I get to see the best of business, sports, entertainment, the most challenged people, the most successful people, and I get to think up strategies that make them be able to get through their pain and be more successful for anyone else. The core of it is that I am that person that gets you the breakthrough. The breakthrough is that moment in time where everything that seemed impossible not only becomes possible, but you do it.
HT: You’ve been doing this for 36 years, so I wonder if you still get excited when one of these high-profile people approach you for help?
TR: I do pinch myself. I learn more from these people than they learn from me! To be in an environment with people who are the best in the world and be able to learn from them is the greatest privilege you can imagine. I take everything I learn from them and I apply it to the mass audience, and every other peak performer looking for an edge.
HT: Who is one person in particular who really impresses you?
TR: There is nobody like Steve Wynn. He is truly a genius – an artist and a businessman wrapped into one. There is nobody that has done what he has done in Las Vegas. I went with him to the opening of the Macau Encore, and when we got there I saw he knew every inch of the hotel. We walked around the hotel, and he took me to the private VIP gambling area, the Baccarat room. I watched one player lose $10 million in under 20 minutes, and I felt so sorry for this person. But he looked at us, and he goes, “Oh my god, it is you…can I take a picture?” I thought he was talking about me, so I said sure, no problem. But he goes, “No sir, not you…Mr. Wynn!” He just lost $10 million, but he was more impressed by the opportunity of getting a picture with Steve.
HT: Another truly important person you speak about a lot is your wife, Sage.Can you tell us how you two met?
TR: I met her at one of my events. I used to bring people to Hawaii for a 10- day, 10-night program. Sage is a nutritionist, phlebotomist, and acupuncturist. So she was there to help us with part of the program, where we take people’s blood at the start of the ten days, and again at the end, to show the impact of our dietary and fitness changes.
I walked into the room and I’ll never forget – I walked over to her and it was like it was in slow motion. I told her, “You are so beautiful, and I mean beautiful on the inside.” It wasn’t a line. I asked her what her name was, told her she was a beautiful soul and that I hoped our paths would cross again. Didn’t ask for her number or anything, and I walked away.
About a week later I bumped into her and we soon became friends. I didn’t date her. I was dating all these other women. So she was like my coach! I’d ask her, “Why do women want to marry you on the first date?” she told me, “You don’t know anything about women, do you?” I said, “I clearly don’t!” So she would laugh and tease, and we did that for six months. And then one day I said, “Why haven’t we gone out?” she told me, “We don’t have to go out for me to love you.” I felt like – boy, I’m a dumbass! So, we went out, and we’ve been together ever since. Today we’re inseparable.
HT: What role has she played in your success?
TR: My wife is my life. My mission is huge for me – changing people’s lives is what I’m made for – but I was made to love that woman first, and she feels the same way about me. We’ve been together fourteen years, and people still come up and ask us, “Are you guys on your honeymoon?” It’s great to have love and passion – that intensity of desire for each other. We’re almost never apart, and we travel together around the world. I go to 15 or 16 countries a year, and she’s with me everywhere I go.
HT: So what is next for Tony Robbins?
TR: I feed 2 million people a year. We are going to grow that to 4 million people. I like doing events and audio, things of that nature. But I haven’t written a book in around 12 or 13 years. I’ve been frustrated with what I have seen since 2008 in the financial world. I have clients that are multi-billionaires, and they all know how to do well. I personally do well myself. But, I see the average person does not know what to do. So, I’m working on a new financial book that is going to expose the ten biggest lies on Wall Street and give people the truths that can help free them. I am interviewing 35 billionaires, basically identifying their strategies and finding out what they do to be successful. I just started this project, so it’s something I will come out with in 2014.