Described as a self-made millionaire and current life coach, Tony Robbins is one of the longer running advocates of motivational speaking and self-awareness. At 59 years old, he has had his supporters and detractors over the years, making him somewhat of a controversial figure. Recent events have made him a target of women’s rights groups and the #metoo movement after allegations of repeated sexual misconduct involving women have surfaced. Based on the current cultural climate, this is likely to spell doom for his book sales and speeches, which bring in a tidy sum of money for him.
When accusing someone of being a scam (artist) you need to have some substantial evidence to back it up, especially when considering that Robbins has a few million dollars to pay for lawyers (or settlements). This reality may become very important in the near future, as some of the recent accusations have him selecting women from the audience that are invited to meet with him personally after his motivation talks. Time will tell how much these recent events will impact his marketability, so for now we should just let sleeping dogs lie.
But Robbins troubles aren’t of recent vintage. People were calling him a scam artist decades ago, and for various reasons. People may fail to get any benefit from these motivational speakers, life coaches, and others in the burgeoning Personal Development industry. However, in the vast majority of cases you are seen as the problem behind the problem of being unsuccessful. Often you are encouraged to buy another book (of which Robbins has many) or spend more money to attend another seminar. The underlying idea behind Robbins’ scam of “If I can do it, you can do it too” is that if you fail to make it, you are the problem.
It is worth noting here that even major, reputable publications have gotten into the act, supporting Robbins’ approach to success and wealth. Forbes, calling him “a major jerk” maintains that people should still listen to him. This article was published just last year, and starts by telling the reader that they can go on to YouTube and “will uncover clips of him speaking the ‘truth’ to his fans about all their negative qualities—the ones that keep them single, poor, and ordinary.” Remember this is Forbes magazine, a media publication with alleged financial content. The article notes that people in the audience are willing to pay $400 to burn the skin off the soles of his feet.
In the realm of scam artistry, the first question that comes to mind is why would someone think that burning the skin off the sole of someone’s feet somehow benefits them? The second question is who would pay $400 for the “honor”? It may be that the long history of Robbins financial success has raised him to guru status despite the fact that he has left a trail of unsuccessful people behind. Before “It’s not you, it’s me” became standard cultural humor, Robbins was performing the “It must be you” shtick.
If one is going to accuse someone of being a scam artist, they should have a working knowledge of how the scam works. Opinions and failures are not actual evidence since it really might be the person’s fault. Here we can look at one person who actually took those Tony Robbins books and seminars to heart and found himself looking foolish – to himself. As it turns out, the person is an experienced Professional Developer himself. We will use other examples later, but for now we can lay a foundation for which to examine those other claims of Robbins being a scam.
Jason, presumably not his real name to avoid further embarrassment, wrote a blog detailing his personal experiences with the Tony Robbins approach to success. He succinctly sums up three levels personal developers take to set up their followers for the scam to come. Remember that these levels don’t apply to every life coach or personal development guru, but are worth reading about so at least you know what to look for in the future. The basis of the levels according to Jason, is personal and emotional deception.
The first level is what Jason calls “the blatant lies.” If you are wondering how people can fall for such an obvious tactic and be completely oblivious as to what is coming down the road, continue reading. Part of the set up occurs on the Internet. Back in Robbins’ early days he was limited to books and free seminars to lay the foundation, but modern technology has made his task even simpler. If you’ve ever seen a .pdf file that is willing to tell you a secret trick for free, you have seen level one in real life. The scammers will simply lie to their audience, and bring on someone who is willing to give a personal testimonial to back up the blatant lie.
Once the scammer has you believing them at the beginning, you have already been set up for the next step. After all, why would someone lie to me? When you have bought into the most obvious lies, everything after that becomes easier for people like Robbins. But the victim has psychologically gone past the point of no return, which is: if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Now there is nothing that sounds too good to be true when it comes from the mind of the scammer.
Level two is more subtle. While the victim now believes that whatever the guru says is true, the scammer needs to take the foot off the accelerator lest he draw too much attention to his wild claims. So level two involves mixing in the truth with the foundational lies. This gives the victim room to ask questions and get feedback from friends and family, and defend their devoted following of the scammer by stating truths. While Jason lists a number of these truth-lie combinations, only the critical ones will be mentioned here.
Learning to leave your comfort zone – How many times have you heard this phrase? The obvious problem with this is whether you are looking before you leap out of your comfort zone. The idea may not be a complete leap of faith, but whatever path you redirect yourself to will require an equal amount of time – or longer – to return to should the new zone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But understand the underlying tone here: trust me.
Aligning your actions with your desires – The suggestion here is that your current lifestyle isn’t aligning your actions with your desires. If you want to make a lot of money, a desire many people who are listening to professional life coaches have, it just might be the wrong thing to do. It is only the scammer who wants you to follow his instructions because their egomania demands that you can do what I do if you do what I tell you. If you are wondering if they really believe what they are saying, it is a fair question.
Improving your social skills – The presumption here is that you may not be meeting or networking with the right people. Improving your social skills will move you from the “lower” company you have been with and get elevated to the people who have the money and power to make things happen for you. Of course, asking why these people would want to associate with me to begin with is a fair question. Ask yourself if millionaires and billionaires spend any time honing their social skills.
The truth is, all these areas and the ones not listed are true – up to a point. We can improve in many areas of our lives and we don’t need someone to tell us something that is obvious. But as was mentioned before, it’s all about the combination that will get you to defend your guru because what he is telling you is obvious. Now the direction of things has turned from listening to what they are saying to how you think of yourself. From outward to inward, and once you take this step your focus will be on applying what is being said rather than what is being said. There is no reason to question anything because you trust them.
At the third and final level there is the manipulation that will cost you money, time, and much more. You have arrived at the point where you are hopeful, and as the guru becomes more assertive in their speech and actions (the idea of implicit trust) so now comes a technique that you should immediately recognize. The guru asks a question that shifts your focus away from yourself. This is a set up. Jason uses the example of “who do you love the most?” with the answer likely being “anyone but myself.” Part two is to get you to point back at yourself by telling yourself you should love you the most. What follows is one of those stories that tugs on your heart strings, designed to get you to stop thinking and turn back inward to yourself. When the initial question is asked again, the answer is obvious.
Now Jason uses several specific examples of how being mesmerized by this approach can affect a person’s behavior. Citing from Robbins own documentary video, Jason uses the example of how he got a woman to take the stage in front of 2,500 people, call up her current boyfriend, and break up with him. The fair question to ask here is what person in their right mind would listen to the advice of someone who they barely know, if at all? The follow up question is, does acceding to the wishes of another that can adversely affect your life make any sense at all?
If your best friend told you that you need to get rid of your current spouse, would you just go and do it? Would you do it in front of 2,500 total strangers? Most people would scream “no” yet this event actually took place. When a person can exert that much control over another, it’s time to call them out for what they are – a scammer.
Returning to the Forbes article, it states that, “The most successful cult leaders, revivalists, revolutionaries, and business gurus in history have been using it [Robbins’ approach] for ages.” What you cannot miss for any reason is the types of people contained in that list: cult leaders? Revolutionaries? Calling out the inclusion of the cult leader is an easy one, but “revolutionaries” deserves separate consideration.
As a matter of history, not all revolutions, or revolutionaries, were good ones. In fact, history is replete with examples of how entire nations were led astray by the manipulation of others. Adolf Hitler comes to mind. For anyone to call Hitler successful in any sense of the word is borderline insanity. Yet no one denies the power and influence he had over an entire nation. To extend the thought a bit further, it is worth noting that people who were not buying into his manipulation – the nations he invaded – only saw him for what he was. What is interesting is that there are people today who defend his actions, as many who also defend Robbins.
For the record, we are not equating Robbins with Hitler. What is being said here is that the three levels of technique that were used to create an unwavering support for Hitler’s attempt at world conquest are the same ones applied by Robbins. In the operations of a scam artist the only thing that matters is if they can get others to buy into (financially or otherwise) what they are selling.