Here's What We Learned From Netflix's New Tony Robbins Documentary
Behind the scenes with the world's premier life-hacking guru
by Aaron Gell www.InsideHook.com
Tony Robbins is one of the world’s most successful personal-improvement gurus, helping thousands of everyday schlubs — as well as prominent figures from Andre Agassi and Bill Clinton to Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones — to find happiness, become their best selves and generally “crush it.”
Recently, he invited a film crew helmed by Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) to document the proceedings for a new Netflix documentary called Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru. InsideHook got an early look at it — here’s what we learned.
A really deep voice has considerable authority.
Tony Robbins has the voice of an angel — if that angel were a drill instructor with a jackhammer lodged in his windpipe. It’s deep. And gravelly. And very, very persuasive. If this guy tells you go get your sh*t together and connect with your ultimate purpose in life, you’re going to want to accommodate him.
A mini-tramp is a kind of wonder drug.
One of Robbins’s time-honored warmup techniques is to spend some quality time with a mini-tramp. He’s a big dude, and seeing him bounce up and down on this small piece of fitness equipment is somewhat comical. But it certainly seems to do the trick. Before each appearance, he jumps up and down for a while, then steps off of the device, does a little fist pump and quickly executes a flawless James Brown-like twirl before plunging through the curtain to greet his adoring fans.
Motivational speaking can be a very lucrative line of work.
The self-help guru allows Berlinger’s cameras access to his palatial estate in Malapan, Florida. Built on spec and sold for $24.75 million in 2013, according to property records, the two-story neo-Georgian beachfront fortress boasts six bedrooms and 16,000 square feet of living space, and it’s situated on a two-acre parcel with 171 feet of ocean frontage. It’s also got an infinity edge pool, a 58º plunge pool, a well-appointed home gym and media center, a wine cellar and a bunch of comfy if generic outdoor furniture that looks better suited to one of the many resorts in the area. But why quibble? Clearly Robbins is doing something right.
A well-deployed F-bomb has its uses.
“In every culture there are taboo words,” Robbins tells Berlinger, explaining his apparent love of profanity. “And when you use them, you’re able to interrupt the noise in people’s heads.” F*ck yeah!
A lot of people are dealing with some very harrowing s*it.
Attendees at Robbins’s seminars are asked to share information about their personal struggles, and his staff is always on the look-out for participants whose issues can serve as case studies for the group as a whole. Robbins then works with them directly — his approach shifts from tough to tender, depending on the situation — to bring about a cathartic transformation. Meanwhile, fellow attendees, most of them in tears, watch the counseling on a set of large monitors. In a group of 2,500 people, he seems to have no trouble finding a handful who are dealing with serious crises (including two who are suicidal). They wind up serving as examples of courage and strength for everyone else.
Do not join the Children of God. Or any religious cult for that matter. But especially the Children of God.
Perhaps the most moving testimony in the film comes from a woman named Dawn, who grew up in Brazil as a member of the notorious Children of God religious community. She describes a twisted environment in which the sexual abuse of women and children was viewed as a spiritual practice. Her honesty and strength convinces Robbins she has what it takes to be a motivational figure in her own right, and he promises to set her up with the guidance to follow in his footsteps.
Even a superstar life coach can harbor some pretty sexist views.
When one couple, Tammy and Lance, acknowledge some frustration about their relationship, Robbins (who is 6'7" and has a chest that could be pressed into service as an aircraft carrier) places a big meaty paw on Lance’s shoulder and tells a long story about a lion cub who is raised by sheep and behaves just like them until the sheep are attacked and eaten by real lions, one of whom then challenges the wussy sheep-lion to stop going "Baa" like a little bitch and instead let out a mighty roar. The implication is that Lance has become feminized and needs to reclaim his God-given masculinity. Robbins then commands him to roar, which he does, filling the hall with a enormous (and heavily amplified) cry of masculine affirmation.
That night, Tammy later reports, they make wild and passionate love.
It’s good to be a celebrity.
Julianne Hough was a champion of Dancing with the Stars (as was her brother), and she eventually became a judge. She also starred in last year’s live version of Grease and dated Ryan Seacrest. Hough is a Tony Robbins superfan and she seems to get special treatment at the seminar, turning up in a private counseling session with Children of God survivor Dawn.
A really bad childhood can be empowering.
Robbins was not always an uber-mensch paragon of human potential. As he confesses to Berlinger in one scene, he grew up with an abusive, unstable mother who was addicted to booze and pain medications and often refused to leave the house. Sometimes she became violent. Occasionally she poured liquor down his throat. “It made me become a practical psychologist,” he says. “I had to figure out how to keep her stable. And it produced in me a drive because I had to find a way to have a life that wasn’t going to be like that for my family.”
In other words, Robbins fought hard to overcome his circumstances — which is why he knows others can do the same. (Then again, it probably didn’t hurt his self-confidence that during high school, he suddenly grew 10 inches in a single year, a spurt later attributed to a pituitary tumor.)
Robbins’ self-help seminars are full of cheesy platitudes and trite affirmations, but they probably do help a lot of people.
As cynical as we tend to be, we found I Am Not Your Guru deeply moving at times. When a participant experiences a breakthrough, and her fellow attendees burst into tearful applause, and the music swells, and Tony Robbins flashes his giant grin and raises his arms to the heavens, it’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in the emotion on-screen — and attending a seminar in person would undoubtedly be a moving experience. If you can hold onto that feeling of inspiration for awhile, maybe you can really change your life for the better!
Don’t take selfies while walking on hot coals.
Actually, we didn’t learn this from the documentary. Spoiler alert: There is no coal-walking in the Date With Destiny seminar. That happens at another event, called Unleash the Power Within, during which attendees make a beeline across a walkway of embers as a way of demonstrating to themselves that they have the strength to overcome any obstacle. Recently, a bunch of them burned their feet, and a few were even taken to the hospital. According to a local news report, what should have been an orderly dash was slowed to a near standstill by fellow attendees taking selfies of the festivities.
In other words . . . hot-footing it across properly prepared coals: no biggie. Standing on them: hurts like hell.
Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru is on Netflix and in theaters July 15.
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Read Aaron Gell’s original article on InsideHook.com
AARON GELL is the executive director of Maxim.com. Previously, he served as deputy editor for features at Business Insider, the editor-in-chief of The New York Observer and of Hemispheres magazine, executive editor of Radar and senior features editor of W. He has been a contributor to numerous publications, including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, New York, GQ, Elle, Details and WSJ, and is the author of Friend of the Devil, Longform.org’s “most clicked” story of 2015. Visit his website here.