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    You can be Tony Robbins!

    How’s this for a reality show:

    You can be the next Tony Robbins!

    Now the question is: Is this a show about becoming a self-help teacher or the freakiest makeover show ever on television?

    Then answer is actually… wait for it… motivational speaker.

    And this isn’t just an idea. This was a real show called “The Messengers.” It, thankfully, didn’t get much traction so you’ll have to hunt for it (and, frankly, being in traction would be more entertaining).

    I only watched one episode, but it left quite an impression on me (and almost left a permanent vomit stain on my couch), and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit (and wondering how Dante would have envisioned Hell were he writing today).

    The gist of the show is that they took a collection of wannabe moto speakers, most of whom already had careers in the biz, put them into some sort of “life situation,” and then they had to whip up an inspirational speech which they delivered to a panel of, uh, experts.

    Side note: I’m trying to imagine what makes you an expert who can judge a motivational speech, or what the criteria are for rating such a speech. Sure, I know that Toastmasters and the National Speakers Bureau have something set up for this, but their list of “what’s good” is probably a bit suspect. I’m betting there aren’t categories like:

    • Made me think “I can do it” for no good reason
    • Made me cry after hearing about a touching moment that he probably didn’t see first hand and even more likely never happened at all
    • Made my testicles retract just thinking about how painful that must have been
    • Made me want to lose a limb, get caught in a fire, and become disabled so that *I* could make a living talking about what happened to me and how if *I* could overcome *this*, just imagine what YOU could do!

    Speaking of “If *I* can do this…” let’s go back to the show.

    On this episode, they split the wannabes into two groups. One group was put in wheelchairs and spent the day with a guy who had been paralyzed (I can’t remember how, but it must have been something perceived of as heroic and not something like, “My shirt was wet and I wanted to dry it, but I forgot to take it off before I put it in the dryer, so while I was spinning around, well, you get the picture.”), and the other group had their eyes bandaged and went off with someone who had become blind (again, probably not from, “I was juggling Ginsu knives at Hooters one night and, well, you can probably guess the rest.”).

    Now, I’m not much for suggesting that Quantum effects — which are only descriptions of events that take place an sub-atomic dimensions — manifest in the macro world, but if there were ever a demonstration of Quantum Entaglement (where you separate 2 particles, affect a property of one, and notice an instantaneous change in the same property of the other), this was it.

    Both groups, without any provocation or communication, kept harping on the same philosophy.

    For you die-hard Quantum Mechanics geeks, I know that if this were a perfect example of entanglement one group would be doing the opposite of the other. But ignoring that for the sake of the story (in the same way that people who suggest that “Quantum Physics says that everything is energy,” when it says nothing of the sort)…

    Each group kept fawning over their leader, in tears about how brave, courageous, powerful, resourceful and good-looking they were.

    Okay, okay, the group with the blind guy didn’t say that because they couldn’t see him. But they may have said something about his “great energy.”

    Each time the sycophants, I mean, contestants, tossed out one of these saccharine-mixed-with-Splenda-Aspartame-Agave-and-Stevia laden compliments, it was received with a look of confusion and disgust, like, “Ummm… dudes, I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but whatever you think I am, I’m not.”

    Then at the end of the day, every single one of the future remainder-bin-book-writers spoke about how amazing and inspiring it was to spend the day with someone who had clearly triumphed over such an unthinkable obstacle.

    And while some of the judges became genuinely ferklempt (you say “verklempt,” I say “verklempt;” let’s call the whole thing off), everyone seemed to be oblivious to reality — typical on a reality show — and miss the real point.

    First of all, they succumbed to a classic cognitive bias: they imagined what they *thought* it would feel like NOW for them to become paralyzed or blind and then projected that SAME feeling into the future, imagining it would continue forever. Obviously, our own life has some, if not many, examples of painful events from which we thought we would never recover… except that most of us have recovered from most of them and some of us have even noticed that these events were great boons.

    In “Stumbling on Happiness”, Daniel Gilbert discusses how when he asks people to imagine how they would feel in 2 years if they lost a child today, the (annoyed, since he often asks this question at dinner parties) respondents talk about how they would be destroyed. Yet, when you ask actual parents who have lost a child, they function MUCH better than they ever imagined they would. Sometimes they have bad days, like we all do for other reasons, and most of the time they don’t.

    And, secondly, they totally missed how the REAL message is not how these two people were special, but how we ALL are, how most if not ALL of us will rise to some challenge, will roll with the punches (or ear bites if you get a Mike Tyson-level whoopin’), will find a way to thrive in what *seems* like an insurmountable event (to those who are not LIVING it).

    This reminds me of all the goal-setting workshops where nobody thinks to ask the teacher, “Did you set a goal of giving goal-setting workshops? Or did it just sort of happen, but you ran with it?” Or the better question (because it addresses the counter-proof): How many good things have you gotten in your life that you never planned for, or that you didn’t set a goal for, or that were accidents or freak events or, if you believe in things like this, fate or luck or grace or chance?”

    Setting goals, ironically, is limiting. Because it’s not that we can be/do/have anything we want. It’s that we have no idea what we’re really capable of and, odds are, we won’t find out until the proverbial poo hits the proverbial spinning device.

    12 Responses to “You can be Tony Robbins!”

    1. Stever Robbins Says:

      Hey, Steve,

      Just to be contrary (perhaps I’m Quantumly Entangled with Tony Robbins?), I like to give DE-motivational speeches. My theory: if my audience can overcome the effects of my speech, they can overcome anything. And if my little speech can discourage them, well, they wouldn’t have gotten far in real life. It’s better they know NOW and start to pursue that job in Fast Food.

      One of my favorite demotivational stories is that Goal Setting Is Of Dubious Usefulness. I did the counter-proof on my last X0 birthday and discovered, much to my shock and horror, that virtually EVERY major positive event and life change I could remember was unplanned, un-GOALed, and unpredictable.

      In fact, when reviewing my goals a decade or more later, I shudder to think what life would have been like if I’d actually managed to “manifest” such horrible ideas. The ten-year-ago “me” really had no clue. Why I ever let him choose my life direction is beyond me. (Of course, as you point out, if I actually *had* manifested them, I would feel fine about it two years later, so…)

      Hmm. Maybe the moral here is: no matter what you do, there you are. And it’s all good, or bad, depending on your spin.


      Stever Robbins

    2. sashen Says:

      I don’t think you’re Quantumly Entangled with Tony… it’s that he’s so massive that gravity effects appear 😉

      I love your demotivational speech idea… of course, when you do it, and people misinterpret your contrariness as an excellent application of “reverse psychology,” you’ll be hailed as a great motivational speaker!


    3. Ed Says:

      Interesting. I kinda wonder about people who *want* to be motivational speakers. Isn’t that in the category of “those who can’t, teach?”

      Along those same lines, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own ‘goals.’ In my 40 years, I’ve only had three things that I wanted badly, worked very hard to get, and failed to achieve. Of course, the caveat there is the ‘worked very hard to get.’ I’ve been wondering how often I quit because, hey, I wasn’t going to get in anyway, so why bust my ass? 😉

      Similarly, the role of dumb luck in achieving my goals is hard to see sometimes. If I do the equivalent of pulling the slot machine handle a few thousand times (and working up that sweat, even if it is just on one arm) and then hit the jackpot, can I really credit my ‘hard work’ in continually pulling that handle? I certainly can’t see the opportunities that I missed. Perhaps I should have been playing poker for *real* money, but instead I walk out all proud about being a ‘winner’ and all the work I did to win. 😉

      So perhaps not working so hard is the way to go. Of course, perhaps I’m happy now because I achieved my goals. More fun to believe it was me than luck anyway. 😉

    4. sashen Says:

      One of my big goal/achievements was becoming a high school All-America gymnast.

      Now, granted, I put in a lot of work to do that, but it’s impossible to overlook the HUGE number of random factors that led to this event:

      1) I happened to have quit my previous sport, diving just a few months before discovering gymnastics
      2) My parents picked a house in a certain school zone where my 7th grade GYM TEACHER was the 9-time national and 3-time world tumbling champion… and a brilliant coach and teacher
      3) The school board allowed the coach to work with students in high school, even though he didn’t teach at that high school.
      4) My grandfather was a gymnast (something I discovered 30 years later)
      5) I could flip well but not twist well (this allowed me to focus on some rare tricks which raised the difficulty of my routines)
      6) I met an Olympic team member who told me I sucked… and I vowed to prove him wrong
      7) The first book about Sports Medicine came out and the doctor who wrote it was in my neighborhood, so I was able to see him for treatment of my injuries (oh, he told me that, given my flat feet, I shouldn’t be able to tumble… I wanted to prove him wrong as well 😉 )

      I could continue with the list for quite a while, but the gist is that after I made All-America, and people came up to congratulate me, I remember being a bit confused by the attention.

      On the one hand, I thought, all I did was follow a plan that took 4 years to accomplish, so there was nothing special about it. And on the other hand — and this wasn’t lost to me at 17 — I couldn’t take it personally, given the vast number of factors which were out of my control that allowed the situation to play out the way it did.

      And don’t get me started on the weird constellation of events that led to my meeting and marrying my wife!

    5. Stever Robbins Says:

      In my personal experience, getting where I want to go is a combination of luck and hard work. I *want* to overemphasize the hard work and underemphasize the luck, so I can take the credit. When I try to get objective, though, it seems like the luck is huge.

      Luckily, I happened to be one of the 5% of human beings born in America, to white middle class parents, just when we had the best schools, global economic dominance, and were entering the most rapid period of technological growth in human history.

      Furthermore, America has so perfected INTER-dependence that I have been able to grow up putting all my concentration into my school and work, while thousands of other people keep the infrastucture running to allow me this great freedom. Sometimes, I forget they exist and pretend my success is “self-made” (a popular American myth). Then my sewer main breaks for a week and I discover quickly that independence is an illusion brought about by really good technology.)

      So where does the luck end and the planning begin? Hard to say. The older I get, though, the less I believe in plans(*) and the more I believe in luck and taking advantage of opportunity I did little or nothing to create.

      (*) I *do* believe in plans for highly deterministic processes. For example, getting an M.D. is an umpteen-year affair that has a defined path and can be planned for. Meeting one’s spouse? Not so much…

    6. Stever Robbins Says:

      P.S. I wanted to be a motivational speaker for a while, as an outlet for my frustrated acting aspirations. After doing it a few times, I discovered that I’m very good at it, and find it utterly empty. I like giving practical, useful solutions to real life problems. That’s not really what people want from motivational speakers. So now, I teach and produce educational content. Not as lucrative or sexy as doing Rah Rah in a 20,000-person stadium, but it feels much more meaningful to me.

    7. Matt from new zealand Says:

      Wow lucky the contestants didn’t have to work with the survivours of that horrible plane crash in the Andes where the survivours had to eat those that perished in the crash. I can picture it now, of to the local morg…..out with the knives and forks. The survivour informing the contestants on the prime cuts. So much for reality TV. I just witnessed a man the other night that was born without arms or legs and travels the world speaking about how great God is and the fact that he feels blessed to have had this challenge bestowed upon him. Wow imagen you are god and you can part the red sea, create the universe and all that jazz but for oneday you thought na….I’ll just give this guy no arms or legs…..because I can. It’s a good selling point for religion, it’s the classic if this guy can so can you pitch. Which is true if your THAT GUY andd if not…. for just a small sum of money we transplant his attitude……but you can still keep your limbs. I quess the big message is that you can profit from your misfortune…..if your smart enough….and if your not smart enough, how unfortunate (I might run a seminar on that!!!)Theres plenty of suffering to be had stand in line!!

    8. sashen Says:

      One of the jokes at our house is that I’ve said to my wife: “If I ever lose my limbs or get locked in syndrome (where you can only blink your eyes), call an agent who handles motivational speakers! I’ll blink out a few punchlines and tell people ‘If I can be happy, so can you,’ and make them weep at my inspiring example of the resilience of the human spirit, and we’ll be MILLIONAIRES!”

      (Just a reminder for certain readers: please re-read the 4th word of this comment… this is a JOKE that we have… in the same vein as: “Buy our motivational speaker’s success kit, complete with giant, too-white caps for your teeth, hackneyed untrue stories, and 20% off coupon to have your critical thinking skills removed.”)

    9. Matt from new zealand Says:

      Even if you could not even blink someone would say that you were communicating telepathically.There would still be an audience I’m sure. There was a guru in Australia that was communicating with dolphins (and sleeping with his devotees…of course). When asked what the dolphins were saying He let out a series of squeels, blips,clicks and other such strangness. I guess he just couldn’t translate. I think the dolphins were probably saying something profound like “wheres the fish” or even “look out for the Tuna net”. So there you have it folks….if you can make strange sounds……you can be guru or motivational speaker…….no need to loose any limbs.

    10. Stever Robbins Says:

      Please understand that I’m communicating with the Steve Sashen in the alternate quantum universe in which he did become paralyzed and can only blink his eyes.

      In that universe, he goes simply by the name “Sashenanda” (he changed it to give it a more marketable flair). He wants everyone reading this blog to know that he comes in peace. If you send me $100 in small, unmarked bills, I will ask Sashenanda to convene with your spirit guides and insure you complete success on the spiritual plane.

      Act now! Sashenanda says he will only be able to contact this spiritual dimension for a limited time, so act NOW!

      (For an extra $19.99, Sashenanda will also bless any of your children under the age of 7. Older children must, of course, pay the full blessing.)

    11. Fred Dinkus Says:

      simple question for this reviewer: what have you created that has helped and benefited millions of people? what legacy will you leave behind besides being a critic? Tony Robbins and his approach is for those people who want to create and proactively participate with their lives – not spend the day criticizing the efforts of others.

    12. sashen Says:

      Ironically, that’s not a simple question.

      It implies that what Tony has done has, in fact, “helped and benefited millions of people,” an idea that is highly debatable. What about the people who spent money with Tony who weren’t helped and benefited (and you can’t argue that they don’t exist)?

      Does the reviewer get credit for not taking money or wasting the time of those people?

      Do we know which group has more people? Well, no, since no serious follow-up study has been done.

      You also imply that the reviewer does nothing other than criticize others. That seems uninformed. You don’t know what s/he does or doesn’t do with his time.

      Or, more, it implies that criticism is, in and of itself, something to be avoided. And, yet, you just spent your hard-earned time criticizing the reviewer (which doesn’t sound like creating and proactively participating in life). If it didn’t take much time for you to criticize, maybe it didn’t take much for the reviewer to write his/her post either.

      Oh, and I forgot the obvious… for all you, or anyone knows, the reviewer has, in fact, helped and benefited BILLIONS of people! The myriad cause and effect interactions that we all engage in are so complex that it’s impossible to tell, especially in the limited time window of our life — or of the time it takes to write a blog post/comment. For all we know, when 1,000 years have gone by, some tiny action undertaken by the reviewer will have rippled into a tidal wave of help and benefit. And, maybe, all of Tony R’s good works will have been long forgotten and invalidated.

      Who knows.





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