December, 2009: It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life – and it happened while I was completely alone. I had just graduated and was trying to start a business. It wasn’t going well, and my confidence was shot to shit. In an attempt to improve myself, I picked up a copy of Tony Robbin’s book, “Unlimited Power.”

In it, he teaches a Neuro Linguistic Programming1 technique, which he claims will rewire my mind for peak performance.

The procedure was simple: lay down, focus on the thoughts that are sabotaging me, and then yell, “WOOSH” while throwing my arms above my head.

Though it seemed ridiculous, I tried it for a while. Something about how Tony writes and how successful he is made me think it might just work.

After 20 minutes of “wooshing” I felt like a complete jackass. I realized that I was chasing the emotional equivalent of a “get rich quick” scheme. My confidence was the worse for wear.

***

I know the personal development industry well. When I worked as a professional speaker, I often found myself coaching individuals, motivating large crowds, and speaking about the limitless potential resting within each human.

More than that, I was a junkie. I attended seminars, read every book, and tried a lot of eccentric stuff.

Today, my feelings about personal development are conflicted. When done well, it can transform a life. But most of the time it’s little more than glorified entertainment, sugar highs, and empty promises. Occasionally personal development can become deeply destructive.

In this article I’ll shed light on the emotional sleight of hand within the personal development industry, explain times when personal development tends to work, and show you how to find more effective avenues for growth.

Understanding the deception in personal development

The biggest problem in personal development is that most people who work in the space, really shouldn’t. Instead of giving life advice to the masses, they should be talking to a therapist in private.

However, since most people in the industry don’t truly understand themselves (and consequently, can’t understand others) personal development is filled with psychological and emotional deception. It happens on three levels.

Level 1: the blatant lies. A shocking number of coaches simply lie to their customers. This includes everything from fake testimonials (you can buy those on Fiverr), PDFs teaching you “this one weird trick,” and charlatans who promise the world but deliver a steaming pile of shit.

In most cases, these deceptions are transparent, so we won’t spend too much time here. As a rule, if something seems too good to be true, it is.

Level 2:  subtle lies mingled with profound truths. Most of the industry rests here. The majority of people drawn to personal development can make small changes that will produce dramatic results. A passable coach, speaker, or author can help you make these changes. They’ll explain the importance of the skill you’re developing, hold you accountable for a few weeks, and cheer you on. Your life will be better. These small changes include:

So far, all of that is legit. The deception comes after the client has begun to get results. The coach will then begin promising things that she can’t possibly deliver. Because she’s already produced great results, you’re likely to trust her. You want to trust her. We all want the easiest path to success possible. If all we have to do is continue paying a seemingly helpful professional, we’d be crazy not to.

This is where whimsical ideas about working four hours a week, manifestation, a seven-minute cure to stuttering, rock hard abs in minutes, and endless orgasms come in. We want these things to be possible, so we surrender to their glaring illusion.

Level 3: deep layers of manipulation masked by truth, hope, assertiveness, and charisma. Imagine for a moment that you’re attending a seminar led by a talented speaker. She says, almost offhandedly, “Write down the names of five people you love.”

Obediently, you write down the names of your parents, your brother, your lover, and your best friend.

The speaker proceeds to tell her dark secret. When she was younger, she battled with depression, alcoholism, poverty, and an eating disorder.

After years of searching for solutions, she decided her life wasn’t worth living.

Just as she put the gun to her head, she had an epiphany: she never learned to love herself. In fact, she realized that for most of her life, she hated herself. In that moment, she felt clarity and relief for the first time.

Since learning to love herself she’s become rich, happy, and successful.

Next, she returns your attention to the list of people you love the most. She asks if anyone in the room has written their own name. No one raises their hand. Suddenly, everyone starts to realize that they don’t love themselves as much as they should. The audience members feel as though they just uncovered the deep-rooted secret about what’s holding them back from the life they “deserve.”

The trainer goes on to teach a few good strategies for self-love and explains that she expands upon them in additional seminars, books, courses, and one-on-one work. The audience is hers.

But did you see what happened there?

First, she asked a trick question. Even folks with dangerously large egos would fail to answer, “Myself” when asked, “Who do you love the most?”

Next, she created huge amounts of vulnerability in the room by telling an intimate story.

Finally, she presented a solution. She explained that she’ll share what she can now, and if you want to learn more about the secrets to success, she has follow-up workshops, books, and courses you can buy.

In addition to hinging on a trick question (which creates a false reality in the audience’s mind), she also implies that the follow-up services will speed up success. In most cases, this just isn’t true. Once you’ve learned the basics, it’s up to you to do the hard work. There are no shortcuts.

But of course, there’s no need to take my word for any of this. You can see for yourself by watching the documentary: Tony Robbins: I am not your Guru.

Why I believe Tony Robbins abuses people for profit

Before we begin, we need to establish a few facts about Tony Robbins, the world famous “Peak performance” coach.

  • He has helped countless people, including world famous athletes, celebrities, and politicians.
  • He is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, or licensed mental health professional of any sort.
  • He is likely less intelligent than he seems. He spent years of his life eating fish several times a day, yet still seemed surprised when he got mercury poisoning (see Robbin’s interview on the Tim Ferriss show, episode 178).
  • He is likely less authentic or self-aware than he seems. In the documentary, he says that he never gets stage fright, yet we witness him going through an elaborate “Priming” ritual before his seminars.
  • His raw confidence, charisma, voice, and tall, handsome, broad shouldered appearance combine to make him nearly irresistible. People can’t help but get sucked into his aura and take what he says for fact. Heck, this happens to me.

But to truly see Tony, you need to observe his actions separate from his magnetic draw.

The documentary, Tony Robbins: I am not your guru allows us to do just that. It captures Robbin’s six day “Date with Destiny” event.

During the event he gets the audience pumped up and teaches them to focus on themselves and their authentic desires. He tells brilliant stories that help people understand our world and their role within it. He teaches people to connect with their confidence and to lean into some of the harder conversations in their lives. All of this is good. He’s providing real value.

He starts to blur the line between reality and fiction when he states that someone’s life can, “Change in a moment.” We all know that enduring change doesn’t happen in a moment; it takes time. Still, we’re so seduced by Robbins and the possibility of fixing our problems that we allow ourselves to be duped.

Throughout the documentary, Robbins goes from telling hopeful – perhaps even innocent – lies, to being a flat out douchebag. He:

  • Bullies a woman into calling her boyfriend and breaking up with him while 2,500 people watch. Spoiler alert: they get back together after the seminar.
  • Encourages a survivor of systemic childhood rape to tell the story of her abuse without preparation (or really, consent) in front the entire audience. He then encourages her to form artificially deep and vulnerable relationships with three random ass dudes from the audience who are supposed to check in on her. She is to refer to these men as her “uncles.” What. The. Fuck.
    If Robbins were a licensed trauma counselor that would be one thing, but he isn’t. He’s a glorified entertainer, and the entire audience watches on as he exploits a young woman for emotional effect.
  • Asks people dealing with suicidal ideation to identify themselves to the entire group. Robbins doesn’t seem to understand the full scope of the mental illness and forgets that suicide can sometimes result from people opening up before they are ready. Robbins then singles out a young man, stands in this man’s personal space, talks to him about his desire to kill himself, mocks his shoes, and then claims that the guy is cured.

Bull shit bull shit bull shit.

Of course, all of this can be quite difficult to see. Robbin’s charisma is blinding. More than that, the deceit, manipulation, and flat out exploitation is infused with genuinely good advice, humor, and overwhelming confidence. It makes it dangerously easy for the line between reality and fantasy to blur.

But what about everyone else in the personal development industry?

I actually think Robbins is well intentioned and gifted in many regards. I also think he’s completely failed to understand the limits of his gifts. If he did, he’d stick to being an entertainer who helps people develop confidence, focus their lives, and master business.

Most people in personal development start off well intentioned. They help a lot of people. They get tons of positive feedback, which – ironically – is often the root of the problem.

Along the way, many coaches get high on their own supply. When this happens clients become victims of the coach’s blind spots.

I’ve seen this happen up close. Over the past few years I’ve watched multiple gifted coaches unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) harm their clients.

A short list of examples includes: encouraging their clients to go into debt to continue working with the coach, needlessly rushing sensitive conversations, mishandling abuse recovery (and often leaving the client worse for it), forcing extreme vulnerability, and taking control of large chunks of the client’s personal and professional life.

How to avoid the con artists

Despite everything I’ve written, I still believe in personal development. Almost every area of my life has been improved by it. The secret to successful personal development lies in identifying the coaches who are gifted and ethical. Here are a few guidelines to help you find them:

  • If you are the survivor of trauma (and a lot of us are…) then work with a therapist, not a coach. Yes, a lot of coaches claim to be able to help you. Don’t trust them. These coaches are failing to understand the limits of their abilities. Coaches have minimal – if any – training in this area. Psychologists, especially specialized ones, have tons of training.
  • Is the person guaranteeing that you’ll get results? Do her claims sound too good to be true? Is she offering a quick fix? If so, she’s a con artist. There are no quick fixes or secrets, and no coach can ever guarantee results.
  • Coaching is filled with people who fail to practice what they preach. Many “health” coaches have unhealthy relationships to food, exercise, and their body image. Many “life” coaches lead vapid, unengaged lives and are quietly self-loathing. Many “relationship” coaches are lonely and afraid of intimacy. Most (and yes, I do mean most) speaking coaches are mediocre speakers who failed to make it as a pros.
  • When you hire a coach, it’s important that she demonstrates that she is a true master of her craft. Don’t trust the testimonials on their site. Don’t allow yourself to be mesmerized by a sales call. Do your research. If possible, get a referral, and in general trust your gut when hiring a coach.
  • Does the coach focus on one specific skill or issue? If so, consider that a good sign. Coaches who are focused on specific areas of development tend to be more aware of their own limitations. In fact, coaching can be an amazing medium for learning discrete skills like: overcoming anxiety, negotiation, public speaking, self-love, sales, confidence, charisma, etc.
  • Certifications mean absolutely nothing in coaching. Seriously. You’re just as likely to find an amazing coach with no certifications as a scum of the earth coach with a dozen letters after her name. Certifications are not like degrees; literally nothing governs a certification board.
  • With both coaches and therapists, you want to look for ones who have high attrition rates. In other words, are their clients staying with them for a few months and then leaving? If yes, that’s a good thing. It indicates that they tend to be effective.

Post script 1: you cannot divorce yourself from human nature

One of the main reasons people turn to personal development is because they feel broken.

I’ll make this easy for you: you’re not broken. You’ve just been misled about the truth of the human experience.

We’ve been sold an idea that it’s possible for us to simultaneously make a million dollars, be madly in love with our partner, have explosive sex, wake up looking like a model, and tackle every single day brimming with happiness and excitement. Worse still, the personal development industry has tricked us into believing that if we aren’t experiencing those things, there’s something wrong with us.

In reality, that’s not how humans are. Humans are messy, dynamic, imperfect creatures with glaring rough edges. There are going to be days when you’re depressed. Your relationships will be riddled with friction. Apathy, lethargy, and ennui will stack up and make you feel worthless. You’ll yo-yo on and off your diet. You’ll get excited to overhaul your life and then completely fail to stick with the program. You’ll be ripped apart by your insecurities. If you have the potential to be truly exceptional at something, you’ll have to sacrifice a lot in order to pursue it.

What is often missed is that this pure chaos makes us beautiful, happy, and effective. We need the insanity that comes along with being humans. If we try to run from it or pretend it’s inessential, we betray our true nature.

Postscript 2: on therapy and psychologists…

A very simple truth that makes many people uncomfortable: if you’ve been into personal development for a while, you probably need a psychologist.

There is no secret hidden in the next book, seminar, or course that will finally “fix” you. There is only doing the hard, vulnerable, raw work of baring your soul to a trained professional. The good news is that therapists tend to be more effective than coaches and less expensive.

If you’ve been dealing with persistent issues in your personal, social, or professional life and a few months of coaching or personal development hasn’t gotten the results you’re looking for, get a therapist. There is no need to deal with more suffering than is absolutely necessary. Your future self will thank you.

 

Footnotes

  1. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a cultish pseudoscience. It’s advocates claim that it allows you to reprogram your mind and the minds of others. Personally, I think it’s total bunk.
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201 Comments Why I’ve lost faith in Tony Robbins (and most life coaches)

  1. David Hazen

    As usual, your assessment is right on. I know folks consider him great, but I have always thought there was some sleaze associated with his work. I get a creepy feeling watching him speak, which is enough for me to stay away. On a side note, I did use some of the NLP classroom teaching techniques and found them to be useful tools for classroom management and some learning. Typically, I could see the results right away. I can’t speak for it as a therapy. I know the techniques in their books are touted as magical, which is reason to be skeptical.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Thanks David, I really appreciate that. I get a creepy feeling watching him too. One of my friends can’t even stand seeing his photo.

      I believe you when you say that NLP worked well in your classroom for both management and learning. That seems like a reasonable claim, one along the lines of operant conditioning. This is very different than the approach to NLP that is closer to magic incantations used to rewrite your brain. And David, I so appreciate having you as a reader. Thank you!

      Reply
      1. Christiaan

        It is interesting that you focus on NLP, where NLP is just a part of the skills used by Tony Robbins. He does use the principles of NAC (Neuro associative conditioning) to help people rewire their brain.

        Reply
      2. Gaby

        Years ago, around 2010, I think, I worked for an online project to promote a “business coaching” plan by Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes. Their joint venture and website was called Business Breakthrough International. In order to create the sales letters, and other promotional materials, my team and I got access to some of their “tools” and “patented methods”. I smelled BS right away, lots of talk, big words and nothing actionable and consistent. Fast forward to 3 years later, I was out of the project and found BBI on the Complaints Board, with lots of angry managers and business owners stating they had to pay thousands of dollars for a bunch of PDFs and videos which did not help them and they did not even get the promised one-on-one phone call with either Holmes or Robbins. The business is now kaput (the key reason brought forward being Chet Holmes’ death) and you will no reference to BBI on Tony Robbins’ new website even in his list of achievements..

        Reply
  2. Orleatha Smith

    Loved this piece – The only thing that I would disagree with is this line “Worse still, the personal development industry has tricked us into believing that if we aren’t experiencing those things, there’s something wrong with us.”

    This trickery is from main stream media — the personal development industry is just riding the coat tails of main stream media which is constantly teaching that we are not good enough. The personal development industry is just one of many who profit off of their lies.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Thanks Orleatha! And actually… good point. You’re totally right. The mainstream media sold us a bull shit idea about what’s possible. Personal development then sold us a bull shit solution about how to achieve it. I never really realized that. You deserve a cookie!

      Reply
      1. michele davies

        Why did you infantasize that last response? because she’s a woman? When you pull apart successful people with criticism you must understand you too will be scrutinized. I think in some ways you are doing the same thing as Robbins or any of those you criticise. Putting out a critical point of view and waiting for affirmative responses so you can feel validated. You will find those who will and then you can move forward with a collective thinking the same as yours, at some point that will attract a reality that will validate it even further. This is how life works. Truth is we create our own realities, sometimes they are singular, sometimes they are collective. This is how Robbins supports people through assisting them to create a new reality. Life can change in a moment, it generally always does. It possibly takes months or years to move in that direction but the change does happen in the moment we accept a new reality we achieve access to a paradigm shift. That doesn’t mean we don’t then fall back into old thinking or habits. This is life, nowhere to get to but an opportunity to explore and navigate a process of creating out of disappointment or grief or hardship or trauma. Working hard on anything to achieve great results is also a myth. When you are really honest and authentic it is evident to see that great satisfying success generally is created through a momentum of acceptance and a relaxed state about things. Relax, enjoy, appreciate and support yourself to offer others the same. Who cares about Tony Robbins or if people are getting ripped off or achieving success. All of it provides opportunity for growth and understanding which then leads to an expansion of who they are. I wish for you the same.

        Reply
        1. Jason

          Michele – which response are you talking about? My response to Hannah Jane? As I re-read that I can see how that may come off as infantilizing. You’ll have to take my word for it though, that I was being sincere in my appreciation of her comment and perspective. Honestly, I feel like I have little to gain by being insulting to my readers, and try to be as respectful as I can. Im aware that I get some things wrong, and I’ve been made aware that this article is controversial. My aim for the people I engage with is to be respectful… Apologies if I missed the mark.

          Reply
          1. Michelle

            I enjoyed the cookie comment and that you thought about her point and agreed. I don’t think it was infantilising and the “because she’s a woman” had me rolling my eyes.

        1. Douglas McKegney

          Jason and Pamela, I agree with you both, and I would take this one further step, to the United States Declaration of Independence which states that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are “unalienable rights” which have been given to all human beings by their Creator, and which governments are created to protect.

          America has been the land of personal reinvention for two centuries and counting. That’s good in some ways but the entire culture has such a simple minded take on human nature that huge numbers of people have no clue what to change and what to just live with.

          Too often we are frightened of normal human experience.

          Reply
          1. Mark Michalica

            Yes, yes, and yes…there’s a fine balance between “working” on yourself and thinking there’s subverting wrong with you that you need to fix…
            Well written!

  3. Beth

    Thank you for a spot on article; it’s unfortunate that the most gullible who really need to read this, will not do so. You’ve really done a service by exposing the b.s. that is endemic in this “quick fix” industry. Legit coaches are undermined by these costly snake oil salesmen. Much appreciated, Jason.

    Beth

    Reply
    1. Jason

      My pleasure, Beth. Glad it resonated with you. Tons and tons and tons of people fall for this stuff (I’ve met a few very influential people who were wrapped around Robbins finger, feeding money and energy). And you’re totally right: there are some great coaches out there, it’s just become increasingly difficult to find them.

      Reply
  4. Emmanuel

    This article seems to be half a personal attack on Tony Robbins. Why did you feel the need to mention the mercury poisoning thing? Why did you feel the need to convince us that his priming is actually stage fright?
    I’ve been a fan of this blog for a while now but personally I think your better than this. That’s all I’ll say about this article.

    Reply
    1. Mark

      I agree. For someone who believes in personal development, this article felt like click bait to position off the status of Tony and let people see you as the star. It feel non-authentic and divisive, which is a media and societal way of doing things vs a true student of personal development and someone who embodies love and respect. We are all welcomed to our opinion and this is simply mines.

      Reply
      1. Jason

        Mark – I totally understand why you feel that way. I totally run the risk of being seen as insincere when I knowingly take on a sacred cow. I would have no way of convincing you of this, but I promise that every word of this article is from the heart. That’s more or less the only commitment I make to my readers.

        Also, while I’m flattered (even though I doubt that was your intent), compared to Tony Robbins, I don’t think anyone would ever confuse me for a star. 🙂

        Reply
    2. Jason

      Emmnuel – from the bottom of my heart: thanks for holding me to high standards. I can’t promise that I’ll always hit them (clearly) but I can promise that I’ll always write from the heart.

      And I feel ya. This article does feel a bit character abusive-y. I don’t think there’s a way to avoid that though. Robbins basically sells his personality and world view. If he were selling some sort of widgets, it wouldn’t matter as much. But since he’s selling himself, I think it’s important to pause and ask, “Is this person self aware? Are they intelligent? Ethical?” You’ll have to come to your own conclusions on those questions, but I think it’s a bit dangerous to dismiss them.

      Reply
      1. CP

        A very good read Jason. I totally agree personal development can become deeply destructive, especially when done by con artists, who don’t even have a degree or years of training. Luckily, I realized this sooner, and I went to a psychologist, who doesn’t fail to practice what she preaches. Moreover, what I really like is that she teaches me where to look, but not what to see. It was a truly eye-opening experience.

        As you said, the education, licensing, professional credentials, referrals should speak for themselves. Now I see why this booming industry, filled with amateurs is dangerously tempting. So I really like the way you put it: speaking coaches are mediocre speakers who failed to make it as a pros; know your worth boys and girls!

        “No need to deal with more suffering than is absolutely necessary” – My future self will surely thank you for that.

        (P.S. don’t even mind the “how could you attack our Holy Grail Tony?!” bullshit. They are lost when you attack the only voice they listen to).

        Saludos,
        CP.

        Reply
        1. Chris V

          Respectfully, I disagree with a few points, CP. I’ll attempt not to defend Tony Robbins in this response as it is not my job to promote him. In full disclosure however, I am a Tony ‘disciple,’ but with enough of a head on my shoulders to keep a look out for what I think he (or anyone else I study) does/says that seems to pass my soul’s test of value. And as a side note, to this vain, I was actively looking for those who oppose Tony’s work (in general) so that I may understand it better.

          The first thing that I personally disagree with is the idea that someone needs or should have a degree in a psychology related field to get into this work and do great things for a s$*t ton of people. In fact, based on what I’ve read from MANY specialists in this field, including those with medical degrees, degrees can actually make things much worse because there is a ton of crap that gets taught through these accredited systems (and I was in one). For example, is it better that one goes through YEARS of traditional psychotherapy to deal with a phobia (e.g., speaking in front of groups/large audiences), when techniques rejected by traditional psychotherapists can do it in 20 minutes?

          I’ve spent WAY more money on traditional psycho and behavioral and cognitive therapists than I have on things like Tony’s UPW and coaching and the results I’ve attained from the latter have already been worth WAY more than the ‘therapists.’ Who’s really the scam? A therapist that will take a client for 10 years at a couple hundred dollars a week without a transformational breakthrough that, yes, might need a touch up once a year…or five years?

          CP, I’m sorry if this is coming off rude. Really, I am. I love you that you wrote what you wrote, because it coming from your heart; I know that. If I’m being honest, i’ll admit that I am sore on this topic because 12 years ago a traditional therapist talked me out of studying Tony Robbin’s insights or going to one of his programs. About a year ago I finally decided to really dig into his “stuff” and, along with some other resources, I have – honestly – transformed my life in so many great ways and I am in high gear to generate massive help for others. And, I’m psyched to say, that one of the ways I will is to bring concepts and practices that Tony and several others teach to the kids of the world so that our future is lead by those who can actually respect their own and others’ feelings, ask much better questions, and focus on how love prevails.

          I’m glad you think that there is no need to deal with more suffering than is absolutely necessary. Tony teaches exactly that. Thank goodness he does because it was a wake up call for me too.

          Am I lost by the comments I read here, as you might suggest I am? Gladly no. I do consciously choose to drink a different flavor Kool Aid than the one I’ve been drinking for so long; a new and empowered one fueled by many, including Tony. Is he the Holy Grail? No. Just like any source of insight, only one is not enough. At least not for me. So I’m glad i’m here on this page, and reading your comments, because again, my job in this world is not to convince anyone that Tony is amazing, but it is to recognize, embrace, and use every effective approach out there as appropriate for those I wish too to help. I’m sure you do to. Perhaps this paragraph is aligned with you in that you state, “…when you attack the only voice they listen to,” b/c Tony is not the only voice I listen too. That said, I’ve listened to so many voices, some credentialed in ways that you value, and most of them say many similar things just in different ways.

          There is a rumor that Tony will run for President of the United States. I’m looking very much forward to that.

          Thanks for listening, and I’m happy to continue this dialogue if you think I’ve been respectful enough here.

          One Law,

          Chris
          http://www.humaniscent.wordpress.com

          Reply
  5. Jamie

    Bravo, Jason. There’s going to be a LOT of pissed off people lining up to rip you for this, but that doesn’t mean what you’re saying is not true.
    Human beings are loss averse, and no one wants to believe they’ve wasted their time and money. The really tricky part of this discussion (as you accurately mention) is how much good advice and motivation disseminated through the self-help industry is sprinkled like fairy dust amongst the bullshit. It becomes a personal calculation of how much ROI we’ve gotten from our self-help purchases—and that can be clouded by ego so easily.
    While my first brush with self-help didn’t solve all of my problems like it said it would, without a doubt it REALLY helped me get out of the lowest low of my life. I was dx with a golf ball sized brain tumor in 2000 that almost killed me, and the subsequent 18 months of chemo put an end to my acting career and left me wracked with side-effects. On one hand the affirmations I listened to on repeat while I slept pointed the way toward positive belief when I didn’t know where to look for it, but when its effectiveness topped out all it was able to do was get me ready for the next tool/product/etc. I used Holosync binaural beats technology for almost ten years, and that definitely had a noticeable, at times powerful, positive effect; but its founder is now a shill for various JV partners that are bullshit. I’ve flirted with other systems, trying out the free samples at times, but it’s all been pretty obviously snake oil.
    Three years ago, I bought Andy Shaw’s books (Creating a Bug Free Mind and Using a Bug Free Mind), and I’m still on the fence about it. He says he’s read a bazillion self-help and spiritual books, and basically uses the concepts behind radical acceptance, conscious creation, and constant mindfulness/reframing to get our minds free of “bugs”; using the analogy that our minds are the most powerful computers ever created and our limiting beliefs are bugs in the system; therefore, any system we study is doomed to failure if we don’t clean the bugs out. Like you, he is very critical of the self-help sector and cites its 1% success rate as pitiful. Like all of the past self-help this one he been more effective for me than all of the ones before. But is it that his system is so superior, or is it that I’m getting more out of it because I’ve put in the effort required for a long-term commitment to working on myself every day? Chicken-and-the-egg?
    Kudos to you for managing to separate yourself from the noise in the self-help space while simultaneously maintaining and boosting your authenticity. I enjoy your honesty and insights!

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Thanks, Jamie! I so appreciate your note. And hahaha, yep, I’ve heard from quiet a few of the people I pissed off (you should see my inbox….). Honestly, I’m honored that people who disagree with me will still consider my opinion.

      You hit the nail on the head. There is A LOT of good to be had in the personal development industry, and it can make a huge difference in people’s lives. It’s helped me a lot. And I’m glad to hear that amidst battling (and beating!) cancer, and giving up the dreams of an acting career, personal development was able to help. That’s beautiful. And thank you for sharing your story with me. People like you make me smile. 🙂

      As far as what works and what doesn’t: I think it really varies from person to person. In most cases, if you feel like you’re getting results and the provider is ethical, consider it a win. If you try something that virtually everyone adores, but doesn’t seem to work for you, let it go. As with most things, there is no one singular path, just what works for you.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        My favorite part of your entire article is your comment that there is no singular path. Take what works and leave the rest. Personally, I consider myself a cross-referencing researcher of transformational paths. If a few paths have the same message, and it works to help me feel more stable, centered, and aware, great! I have one main path, with no flair or magical thinking (the Diamond Approach), that has me more committed to “being with what is” vs trying to fix what isn’t broken. That said, I have also benefited from using approaches that help me move through stuck places a little more quickly. (The Sedona Method, solution focused brief therapy, and EFT/tapping, in particular). I am also a licensed psychotherapist and a certified massage therapist who has done plenty of my own therapy… and I can see the limitations of therapy for some as well. In the end, there may be a few little short cuts, but sustaining change is the work of continuing to choose each and every day the foundational healthy behaviors that we know are important.

        Reply
  6. Gemma

    Some good advice on helping people to find a decent coach in here. It’s a shame the incorrect spelling of ‘neuro linguistic programme’ distracted me from appreciating the credibility I thought the article was going to have.
    It’s worth considering that in judging how effective Tony Robbins interventions were in the documentary that the best people to report on that are those that underwent the interventions rather than those who are outside observers of it. Your judgment may not be the same as their experience.
    I’d also recommend (if you’re interested) the various research project available on the effects of NLP (check ANLP and CfBT websites). These are useful to those who use NLP as a therapeutic/cognitive method as they give evidence of the effectiveness of its techniques, attitude and and methodologies when faced with personal (rather than factual) conclusions that it is a cultish pseudoscience. Actually there are many people using it effectively in ecological ways. However if you’ve had mainly poor experiences I can appreciate that you might not take these into consideration.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Hey Gemma – first off, thanks for the comment. And good catch on the spelling error. I fixed it.

      I kinda sorta agree with you. I would leap at the opportunity to chat with someone who received one of Robbins interventions. I think self-reports matter a lot when it comes to ones mental health. But they aren’t the be all end all. It’s not uncommon for people to confuse love and emotional abuse, particularly when the abuser is domineering and ostensibly well intentioned. But then, something tells me you already know this…

      And a few people have suggested I reconsider my stance on NLP. I’ve only ever seen it advocated by sleazy marketers and pickup artists, but so many people on this blog have suggested that I’m being short sighted here, that I’ll def dive deeper. Thanks for prodding that.

      And thanks for

      Reply
        1. Jason

          Hahaha, whoops. Good catch. Apparently my mind has a block around how the heck that phrase is spelled…. Maybe I actually need NLP. 🙂

          Reply
  7. Graham Joy

    Jason what/who qualifies you to rip into Tony Robbins et al? Are you a qualified Psycholgudt Health Professional of such like? Clearly you are dismayed with TR and the like.. perhaps you need to see a therapist to work through these “deep rooted” feelings of disappointment and rejection in the industry?

    Reply
    1. Jason

      What qualifies me? Eh, assume nothing. Technically speaking I’m better educated than Tony, and we share at least one advisor. But I’m def not a psychotherapist (but then, neither is he). I’m just a guy with a blog and an ok ability with words. I never felt rejected by the personal development industry – many of my friends and mentors work within it (and arguably I do to). Not sure if you read the post in entirety (I’d understand if you don’t) but I ultimately advocate for personal development.

      Reply
  8. Jane

    Thank you! You have managed to put into words why I have always felt uncomfortable with Tony Robbins and life coaching in general. My dearest friend is an avid fan of his and all forms of life coaching, including NLP, and has been a follower and practiser for a number of years. Do I need to be concerned for her, is intervention needed and is there anything I should/can do to help her? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Hey Jane! You’re welcome. Interesting question about your friend. My gut tells me no, you don’t need to stage an intervention. However, there are a few things to think about: 1) If she’s a trauma survivor of some sort, she should be speaking to a therapist and if her coach claims she can help her overcome trauma her coach is probably bad. 2) If the coach is pushing her wayyyy outside of her comfort zone, or shaming her for… pretty much any reason at all… then this is a bad coach and she should leave. 3) If your friend is going into debt, or spending money she doesn’t really have, on the coach, then in most cases, coaching isn’t right for her (there are exceptions here). 4) If your friend has been led to believe that the results she’s getting are because of the coach (as opposed to your friend) or if she feels like she cant walk away from the coach, then that’s a bad sign. A good coach will show people their own power.

      In most cases though, coaching falls somewhere between sugary entertainment, and actually improving people’s lives.

      Reply
  9. Jacquelyn

    Hi Jason , I so needed to read this article. I have has never really paid attention to his work before I saw I am Not Your Guru. It made me question my own results as I don’t beleive things can change in am instant ..I think we do get caught in the emotions after a hyped up coaching session, but these are like sugar rushes as you say. I am classed as both a coach and therapist, studying full time for 4 years , but the title means nothing , when trauma is infront of me I use and work with what ever technique suits .

    I was so confused watching Tony, I can’t say I had a bad feeling from him, as you say its easy to get caught up in it all. But I didn’t like the way he got these deeply traumatized people to reveal their inner most hurts. And yes tell that lady to call 3 men uncles when one was really checking her out ..?? Oh and the one who had to roar like a lion . Highly Manipulative and leading.

    Anyway , I loved your blog – its refreshing to see someone who writes the truth .

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Jacquelyn – I so appreciate this comment, thank you. And I’m thrilled you’ve come across my work. And really glad to hear that you deal with trauma in a responsible way. Your patients are lucky to have you.

      And YES! I noticed that too. This woman who is a survivor of repeated and systematic sexual abuse was now supposed to allow a guy who was leering at her into her inner circle.

      Reply
  10. Moira

    Thank you for this post! I watched the Tony Robbin’s documentary on Netflix and felt uncomfortable throughout. I didn’t really give myself time to process my thoughts on it and then life got in the way and I forgot about it. But your post has summed up exactly my own deep uncomfortable issues on it.

    Unfortunately in the personal development world and also the “spiritual” niche, it seems they take great pleasure in denouncing “negative” feelings and not giving them a place in the world. It is constant “happy happy happy” – and despite trying to get relatives to see sense that other emotions are just as valid and important – they don’t seem to get it.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Moira – YES YES YES! You are so right. The personal development and spiritual development industries have this weird problem with darkness and negativity. It’s actually pretty fucked up. It makes people feel like they are flawed for being human. It would be like faulting nature for thunder storms (which, in their own right are both beautiful, and essential).

      And glad to hear the article resonated with you. That’s awesome.

      Reply
    2. Julie Parker

      Not all coaches please Moira! Not all.

      There are in fact many coaches who are passionate about supporting their clients to work with their shadow, darkness and difficult feelings with an appreciation they can be just as much a teacher as any positive in their life. It’s not all constantly “happy happy happy” at all and there are many who absolutely do get it.

      Reply
  11. Sonia Richards

    Robbins is not the first snake oil salesman and she wont be the last. People need to stop looking outside for the magic wand that will change their lives and inside to face their truths with all of the self bullshit removed. Only then will real change begin form the inside out. I learned this from the Patterns of Chronicity work of Andrew T. Austin. You should look him up, his IEMT and MOM modalities offer insights and tools for remodelling and change, without the need for churning up the past or lengthily psychological dialogues.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Sonia – YES! I am 100% with you. Change needs to come from within. It would be amazing if we could just get someone to fix our problems for us, but we’ve got to do the hard work. In my life, little has moved me closer to truth than silence, meditation, and journalling. I do think there’s a place for coaching and therapy, but they should largely be used as tools to help deepen the individual’s self-awareness.

      Reply
  12. Philip Uglow

    Great article Jason. Thank you.

    I also for years have had a wary “gut feeling” of Mr. Robin’s work. The video was disgusting to me. The way he manipulated people was outrageous.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Thanks, Philip, I really appreciate the kind words and solidarity. It’s stunning how blinding charisma, confidence, and a microphone are.

      Reply
  13. Marcus

    Wow, attack Tony who is the pioneer of the personal development field and buy your stuff and hire you as a coach. Give me a break. You are a clown.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Not to split hairs here, but I’m a magician, not a clown. While there is certainly some overlap they are very different forms of entertainment.

      Reply
  14. Deborah

    hi Jason,
    I just came across this article and first I wish to congratulate you for your boldness to write and PUBLISH something you feel so strong about, risking cumulating a few “enemies” along the way. The world needs more people like you, speaking UP and not bowing down and staying amongst the grey masses…
    I have been in personal development for the past 10 years, and I entirely agree with you that there are so many coaches out there driven by their ego rather than by the concern and humility a truly exemplary coach has when serving others.
    Coaches who say they can help people who need therapists are practising unethically and irresponsibly and it is unacceptable. I have never seen Tony Robbins live, but the few pieces I have seen of him on the screen have often shocked me: Being inappropriate to break someone’s thinking / behavioural patterns is one thing, but he goes way beyond the line and like you say, not knowing what damage he has done to that person once they have stepped out of the room and gone home…
    Alot of people working in personal development think they need to destroy in order to create. I don’t believe that is necessary at all, we shouldn’t “destroy” people’s past but instead build from it. I have recently been at the receiving end with a peer who tried to do that to me and all it did was leave me in tears, and realizing that we don’t share the same values when it comes to how we want to be in service to others.
    Keep writing, keep publishing, thank you.
    Debs

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Debs! First of all, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the encouragement. I’ve gotten a lot of criticism for this article (which, I suppose isn’t surprising), so it’s nice to hear from you, especially since you’re in the industry too. Thank you.

      And yeah, the coaches who take advantage of people at their most vulnerable (and there are a lot of them) are terrible. I actually wish coaching was regulated in the way that psychotherapy were. That would bring a lot of dignity to the industry while also flushing out some of the crappy coaches.

      Sorry to hear a peer tried to break you down and then (likely) remake you in his/her own mold. That sucks. It’s manipulative and irresponsible. I’m glad to hear you’re aware of what was happening. That awareness is powerful. And I 100% agree – we really really don’t need to destroy people in order to build them up. That type of stuff is rarely necessary, and if it has to be done shouldn’t be done by “coaches.”

      Reply
  15. Michael Skirving

    I SO agree with you Jason I know many so called ‘business’ or ‘personal’ coaches who really do fit this profile.
    I have had this view of the Personal Development market for many years now after MY immersion in it, initially through business driven courses ( be a better person and then sell more of our ‘stuff’…)
    I know one Coach who confessed to me he spent more than £25k on courses in a year and was STILL chasing the all illusive course that would link them together . He is a Business Coach who, also by his own confession, makes virtually no fees year on year. Glad he is not coaching ME!
    Thanks Jason, my only wish is that I had written this article!

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Michael – thanks! Glad to hear this article resonated with you. And yeah, the really annoying part is that your business coach (who clearly had no understanding of business) is the NORM! It’s appalling. I wish people would be more honest about where they are in life. I certainly understand the desire to help others, though I think a lot of people miss the reality that in order to help someone else, you have to first take good care of yourself.

      And hahahaha, I’m flattered that you wish you had written this article. I’m smiling here in Denver. Not sure if you have a blog, but if you do, DO write an article about the personal development industry. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Tim

    I understand your intention and commitment for people to carefully examine who they are getting coaching from. This is the case with any therapist, coaches, doctors, etc… No matter what niche or specialty.
    Just like what you said about some of what the coaches teach is good and some of it is bad, your article also contains some good stuff and some bad stuff.
    An example is about lasting change can’t happen in an “instant” or quickly. I believe these kind of change do happen and especially when we have a major event in our lives. I personally have experienced several life changing events and deep emotional change in an incident.
    I used to argue with my mom a lot. Ever since my dad passed away, I realized that my mom might not have much time left on earth. I decided that I want loving memories for the time that I still have with her. Since then, over 5 years ago, I haven’t argue with my mom once. I still disagree with some of her point of view but I am much more compassionate and understanding with her.
    Another example is my negative emotional charge around African Americans. When I was 12 years old I got mugged by these 2 black kids. Ever since then whenever I’m around black people, I have this negative emotional charge inside. I try to ignore it but it never went away. One day I was in a personal development workshop and we were doing this fun and playful exercise, it just so happened I was sitting in a group with a bunch of African Americans. The question for each of us to answer was “What takes you away from being with people?”
    I decided to share about my negative emotional charge and my story about what happened. When I was done sharing, the lady next to me jokingly shooked my arm and said “Now give me all your money!” We all laughed and my emotional charge instantly disappeared. I have not felt any kind of charge around African Americans since. Now that I’m sharing this, I can see maybe the NLP was at work when she shooked my arm and said now give me all your money. It must have greatly interrupted my pattern. Hmmm… I’ve never thought of it that way.
    To some it up, I believe that not every personal development techniques work for everyone nor everytime. It all depends on how coachable we are in that moment. And I also believe that there’s no techniques that won’t work for everyone either. Every techniques work for some people and not for others. So there’s never a definite solution. Human beings are not a one size fits all thing. Kinda like antibiotics I guess. We evolve and so what worked in the past won’t necessarily work now. And the more techniques we know, the more we become immuned to that technique.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Tim – thanks man. This is a really thoughtful (and honestly, generous – I appreciate you sharing you story) comment. I actually agree with a lot of what you’ve written. It is possible for enduring breakthroughs to happen quickly. Clearly you’ve had a few. The thing is, those break throughs are about you and I really admire that. You’ve done a good job of finding modalities that work well for you, and you are coachable, and open. That – unfortunately – makes you fairly rare. While I do think rapid change is possible, I think it’s the exception, not the rule. Any coach who claims that they can induce it at will is being wildly deceptive. A lot of times a coach will use emotional sleight of hand to create the sensation of a break through, without actually doing anything much to help the individual.

      Reply
  17. Marcus

    Looks like you are deleting the adverse comments.
    I supposed you don’t want to hear it. Isn’t this the definition of a coward.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Nope, I’m cool with people who disagree with me. I get things wrong and am genuinely interested what my readers have to say. The reason you (and almost every other commentor) experienced a delay is because all comments are held in moderation so I can personally address them. That’s why they don’t post instantly.

      Reply
  18. Marcus

    Let me see here. You want us to not spend another dime on Tony and subscribe to you and buy your coaching and products.
    Brilliant.
    Making judgements on coaches and other people like your life is perfect? Hire you as a coach who writes and says bad things about other people?
    You talk about Tony’s looks. I can see why you have resentment there.
    I will put my email, but don’t f$&@ put me on your emailing list.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Hey Marcus – I’m guessing you’re a new reader. I’ve certainly never claimed that my life was perfect. I talk about dealing with depression here, and despair and loneliness here.

      I actually don’t want most people to hire me as any sort of coach or consultant. The vast vast majority of people who reach out to me asking for help, I refer to a therapist. And don’t worry man – my email list is double opt in. No one gets on it unless they’ve given me permission to add them twice.

      Reply
      1. Marcus

        Why would someone ask you for help while you tear up others? You reply that you are more qualified than Tony? At what? Putting people down, that you are.
        And to call someone a douchebag in your blog destroys all credibility that you will ever have. I would consider removing the remark. I also would consider contacting Tony’s office to watch the entire intervention before calling him a bully.
        Who is next on your list? Wayne Dyer? Maybe you can go after Deepak.

        Reply
        1. Chris

          Marcus, if you look at the comment thread he’s only saying what a lot of other people believe! And really, if robbins is as sorted as he makes out he is then he really doesn’t need your protection from criticism.

          Reply
  19. Dr Sally Vanson

    I really liked your article and agreed with everything (these people give real coaches huge challenges), until we got to the footnote. NLP is not a science, never mind a pseudo science. It is a trail of techniques taken from the core schools of psychology which are proven through extensive university research – see Encyclopedia of NLP by Dilts and Delozier for the sources of all the main NLP techniques. At worst NLP is copied from psychological interventions and is often used by unqualified individuals who do not understand it. At best it can be exceptionally useful in health, education, business and sport.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Sally – so glad to hear that (most of) my article resonated with you. And yeah, I feel ya – there are some great coaches out there who have dealt with their demons, know their limitations, and truly have people’s best interest at heart. The con artists make it exceptionally difficult for the good ones to do their work.

      You know, a few people I respect have mentioned that I got it wrong when it comes to NLP. I’m certainly open to the possibility that I’m wrong. If you have a few resources (and I suspect you do) – especially peer reviewed studies – I’d love to see them. And thanks for chiming in!

      Reply
  20. Leslie Nance

    Brilliant! Honestly if everyone would approach life with this much honesty with themselves and others the dark would turn into light. Very well articulated and presented. I didn’t even feel like you hated Robbins. I felt like you gave him a fair critique that he should read and heed. I’ve always felt Robbins was well intentioned but he has let the shock and awe take over. But honestly that is what people want…to be shocked as if we are watching the Dr. Phil show in person. We look at the soul that is hurting and think “well I’m not hurting that bad so I must be ok”. I think Robbins knows the power in that. Combine with sympathy for other hurting, you walk away feeling like a rock star! SMH! I encourage people for a living. I encourage them to live a life that cancer hates. I teach them, I am no certified to do this, I am cancer survivor who has a passion for change in our food industry. I try to never use the word coach, mentor, or guru. Anyway thank you for this, I loved every single word. I have a few of the books you mentioned and I could not get past the first chapter in most of them. I’ve stopped reading them now and gone for what my heart tells me…I may never get rich, famous or good PR but at least my heart is pure and I am know I am meant to serve and that is what I’m doing!

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Leslie – whoa! So much good stuff here. First of all, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate the kind words and am honored to hear that this article resonates with you. More than that, I LOVE the work that you do. That’s amazing. Even the language, “I teach people to live a life that cancer hates.” Brilliant! Though I haven’t written about it much on this blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve our world. I think one of the best ways ever is to use your gifts in life in service of others. That’s exactly what you’re doing. Personally, I’ll trade fame and PR for actually getting good work done, and thats exactly what you’re doing. Bravo!

      Reply
  21. Deva Logan

    I really, really enjoyed reading this article. I am just starting my business. I dropped the coaching title from what I do.

    The lack of true real transparency is missing from the coaching world.

    Great article.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Thanks, Deva – I really appreciate that. And I respect your thoughtfulness on how you approach your biz. Good luck!

      Reply
  22. Cheryl Clarke

    Interesting post, I would say the fact that Tony Robbins has got himself to the level of recognition that pretty much anyone coming across this article will know who he is means that he needed to develop into the kind of person that I’d like to learn from. No-one gets to the top without sacrifice, a lot of hard work & personal development.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Cheryl – as I mentioned in the article. Tony has done a lot of good for the world and helped a lot of people. If you study him and his work, I hope it helps you!

      Reply
    2. John

      Agree Cheryl whilst Tony is by no means perfect, who is? he has worked intensely hard to develop a very robust skill set which many people benefit from. Also agree with a few others here that a number of comments from Jason about Tony were not relevant and clearly his own “stuff” and that said many needed and well mentioned things in this post that have connected with the pain and experiences of so many others including myself. A lot of great take always from this post and I think Jason has overall done well to bring this polarity of experience into the light of conversation which surely serves to drive the personal development movement to a higher standard one hopes.

      Reply
  23. Andrea

    Wow, Jason, this post is spot-on! I initially quite liked (the idea of) Tony Robbins since I just can’t stand people who call themselves a guru.
    For some reason I never watched the documentary and have always shied away from actually buying into his stuff, despite hearing great things from his fans. Reading about the things he did (making the woman break up with her partner…) just makes me so glad I stayed away. Wow, just wow. That’s way beyond what’s decent.

    To be honest, I myself had planned to start a coaching business. I’ve successfully overcome “depression” and an “eating disorder” (which from my perspective now sound like utter bullshit, my problem was that I had never learned how to function as an adult and caught up on that with my therapist).
    Over the past few months though, I realised that I can’t do that. I am not a coach. I will keep on writing about my experience and creating products that help with certain areas like productivity or taking charge of your life. But I completely agree with you, most people should really see a therapist. Who am I to try and “fix” them…

    Thanks again and sorry for the novel 😉

    Andrea

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Andrea! So glad to hear that the article resonated with you. And I appreciate your transparency. Honestly, if you write about your life and your work, I suspect that you’ll go on to help A LOT of people. And good for you for resisting the urge to coach before you’re ready. There may be a time and place in the future, and I so deeply respect that you can acknowledge that now isn’t the right time for you. I wish more people considering entering the industry would follow your lead.

      And also, congrats on overcoming depression and an eating disorder. You’re a rockstar!

      Reply
  24. Marjan

    Jason,
    Where is the difference between you work and other life coaches?
    To be honest, i dont know your work. But, i’m corious, what are your ways of works which make a difference?

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Whoa. Marjan. I LOVE this question. First: though I have a sales page on my site, I actually almost never take one on one clients any more. In most cases, people who want the type of coaching I used to offer would be better served by a therapist, and I encourage them to find a good one.

      Second: I think my clients would be better equipped to answer what makes me different than the rest, but since I do have a mens retreat coming up, I want to answer your question to the best of my ability. Here’s what I try to do that most coaches don’t seem to:

      -I spend several hours on the phone with my prospective clients before I start working with them. I only take people who I understand and believe I can help. This means that I turn away over 90% of the people who want to work with me because I don’t feel qualified to help them.
      -After three months of work, I ask that my clients take at least one month off before renewing their retainer with me. I want them to understand that they good things happening in their life are the result of them, not me. If a client feels dependent, I’ve failed.
      -I feel like I’m aware of my limitations and strengths and am quick to take myself off a pedestal when I’m with a client and let them know when I’m not qualified to help
      -I take my client’s privacy insanely seriously. Notice how there are no testimonials on my site? That’s not a coincidence. I’d rather people I work with feel safe and secure, than doing everything I can to maximize profit.

      Do I have my flaws as a coach and consultant and dude? Assuredly. But the measures above (hopefully) enable me to serve to the best of my ability.

      Reply
  25. Brianna McInerny

    Jason, I really appreciate what you’re doing here. It seems to me like you want to protect people from getting ripped off or having a bad experience. (Or worse… significant mental/life struggles that could come from diving too deep without proper supports in place). I can’t help but feel sad though… Wanting to bring more hope and faith into the picture, not less. Big things are possible, even (especially) when you’ve been through hell and back (like the hell that comes with mental illness).

    I’m a speaker/coach/consultant now, I used to work in mental healthcare. I’ve personally gotten help from lots of professionals, licensed & unlicensed. There’s one point I can’t help myself but hammer home here…

    People, this whole personal growth process is about trusting YOURSELF. Having faith in yourself. More than any coach or licensed provider or whatever… While still valuing and investing time/energy/money in a support system that’s a good fit for your needs at any given time. Tune into YOUR guidance and let that tell you who’s right to work with and when. But DO get support that you trust. Just don’t decide out of fear based on false promises. Getting physically present into your body and learning how to read your body’s signals properly is an essential part of this whole “trusting yourself” process… especially if you’ve experienced trauma like I have. Especially if you’ve had bad experiences with coaches/mentors/providers before, like I have.

    Mind (like a mental health professional would work with) + body + energy supports are all important, and I’d bet that’s why Tony Robbins is so effective for some people – his work seems to mingle and value all three aspects of growth and wellness simultaneously. I’m still a fan. I haven’t lost faith in him yet, though I’ve never met him.

    It’s my belief, that when clients come in open-minded and willing, big & lasting change can happen really fast. No, it’s not effortless, but it’s possible and it’s OK to hope for it. It’s even better to relax into it. Regardless, I always appreciate the conversation and learning (mostly learning about myself) that comes with conflicting opinions. So… again…. thank you Jason, and thanks to anyone who’s taken the time to read this, whether you agree or not. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Brianna – I really appreciate this comment and your earnestness in sharing your experience and encouraging people to trust themselves. That’s actually one of the fundamentals I try to return to again and again. And while I have lost faith in TR, he clearly gets a lot right and has helped a lot of people. I just wish he’d reel himself in.

      Other than that, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written and appreciate you sharing it. The one thing I’d add is simply this: when working with any sort of mental health professional (licensed or otherwise) move slowly, and when possible, get recommendations/referrals from people you respect and love, who love and respect you.

      Reply
  26. Duff

    Great article. It’s actually much worse than you write here, at least with regards to Tony Robbins. I attended his Unleash the Power Within training in 2003 in Denver and on the emotional peak of the training, he gave a multi-hour sales pitch for his “advanced” training entitled “Mastery University.” The sales pitch involved many layers of deception and manipulation, but my favorite was when he divided the room into people who were planning on putting down a deposit now (“if you don’t have the money, write a post-dated check and find a way,” Robbins told us) and those who were not planning on attending, the losers who would forever fail at life and money because of their limiting beliefs. Then he had the successful, daring, courageous people verbally mock and humiliate the losers (literally screaming at us). Fun times.

    NLP is great stuff though, that is if you learn it from someone down-to-earth like Steve Andreas or Robert Dilts or Tim Hallbom, someone who doesn’t promise the world but encourages a precise and careful approach to making changes.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Thanks Duff, I really appreciate that.

      And whoa. That’s intense. I’ve never heard that story before (though I have no problem believing it). I have heard of him (and countless like him) encouraging people to spend money that they dont have as long as the coach is the recipient. Pretty gross stuff.

      And thanks for the thoughtful response about NLP (which, weirdly has been one of the most controversial parts of the article, though it’s probably b/c I missed the mark there). A lot of my readers have said that I should re-evaluate my stance, so I’m open to it. I’ll check out Steve, Robert, and Tim’s work. Thanks for encouraging me to see farther. Readers like you are the best.

      Reply
  27. Marcus

    I found this article a myopic, self-serving attack on a man who has helped millions. Your opinions and judgments are simply opinions and judgments.

    Reply
  28. Ley-Ann Clarke Frederiksen

    I appreciate your perspective. Yet I struggle with people denouncing the man and his work before they have experienced it in person.

    I am a soul who attended Tony’s seminars and it has utterly changed my life for the better. It brought me immense personal healing. I also coach for Tony Robbins (as a contractor). I am a good coach. Very. Do I agree with everything Tony teaches? No. I do not.

    I completely agree that all emotions need to be honoured and listened to. Tony’s statements on “beautiful state” come from his dealings with the Oneness community in India. I do not appreciate him saying: Just approach everything with a beautiful state. I think it is silly and ridiculous….perhaps reserved more for the Dalai Lama, etc.

    As an aside, in “I Am Not Your Guru” each of those interventions would have been nearly two hours long. They were not the “clipped” version that was shown on television. The “clipped” version does not give nearly enough information and feels way to “fast” – AND IT IS. This is not how things actually take place when you attend a seminar.

    In the folks I coach (many of which attend Tony’ seminars frequently), many breakthough to levels that they have never been before. Many enjoy the experience and gain a few tidbits. Many walk away with very, very little change. It has always been something that stymied me. How come some people get so much and others walk away with so little? I sense, yet can not be sure, that is has something to do with how badly we want a shift when we attend. If we are hungry, truly hungry, it seems like many of the closed eye processes and questions, help us release our preconceived notions and move to a level of consciousness where we see new answers and possibilities.

    Some of my clients do indeed “drink the KoolAid”. They worship Tony. One said to me: Don’t you think everyone in the world should see Tony, and my answer was “no”. Many would find the situation too loud. Too many people. Too brash an approach. His approach worked for me and I am forever grateful for that. Yet one of the most grounded, beautiful souls that I ever met was a massage therapist that I used to frequent. I asked her what she did to remain so grounded and centered. Her reply was that a few times a year, she took herself off to a “silent weekend”. Complete silence. And in that silence, she found her truth.

    Rather than jump down his throat, why not appreciate that he does some things that are good. Some things, perhaps don’t resonate. It is never so black and white. There is a grey area……one in which we can take what works for us and leave what does not.

    He has worked some amazing magic….with many people. And some, he makes a mess of. So I guess, he is human, like the rest of us.

    I sure know that I am not perfect. How about you?

    Reply
  29. Shari

    Thanks for this article Jason. I have believed that many of these types of people are con artists and haven’t been able to pull the trigger on working with them or attending shows. For me – add many nutritionists to the list who think supplements will cure everything. When they are pushing pills as much if not more than a doctor it is sickening. People will spend thousands on supplements that the nutritionist is selling WHILE getting kickbacks or making a profit on the sale, it is dirty and underhanded. Snake oil salesmen have hurt and damaged people throughout history. I like what you said about checking on the person before buying….

    Reply
  30. Nicole Lewis-Keeber

    If I could hug you right now I would! I am a trained Psychotherapist of 18 years and in the last two, I have had the privilege to work with women in business, around money mindset, inner confidence, and creating a business that they love. I thought I was the only one who did not like Tony Robbins move and his approach. As a therapist, I find his techniques highly shaming and quite unethical. It has been hard to be a therapist doing what we call ” coaching” and being in the swimming pool with such a vast array of types of coaches. I have seen people hurt by coaching gone wrong and it has cost them emotionally and financially.

    My mission is to help women in business a successful business and one that they love, as much as I love mine. To do it in a supportive, ethical, and individualized way. I have a huge tool kit to help due to my training and a high ethical bar due to my license. It is always so refreshing to see someone call out the Guru’s in a smart, researched and empowered way.

    Reply
  31. Nate Mccallister

    Tony Robbins is also in the public eye 24/7. People make the mistake of assuming because someone is abnormally confident that they are full of deceit and any mistakes they make are Ill-intentioned.

    I agree with many of your points, but you seem to be focusing on a few things Tony has done wrong and allowing that to make you “lose faith.” As a life coach yourself, you know no one is perfect.

    Article was very well written though. You are a compelling writer and I will now be following you more.

    Reply
  32. Kylie

    Great article, I couldn’t agree more. Fortunately for me listening to Tony Robbins makes me want to hurt someone, so I’m unlikely to ever buy into that crap. The NLP stuff is such a con, when you understand the principles you can see all the manipulations and become less vulnerable to being screwed over – sadly though, it works on people, and that is the part of all of it that drives me crazy. I just want to call bullshit soooo often.
    I’ll be sharing this and watch the life coaches in my FB feed start arguing the opposite 😊

    Reply
  33. Lynn

    Well I have seen Tony Robbins. I Spent almost $5,000 flying to California and going to his four day conference Unleashing The Power Within, this November. A part of me was skeptical because I believe change comes from holding yourself accountable and making changes. I believe that change is work and you may need to reach out for additional help but ultimately we all have the power to be better if we want. However, I was talked into the trip and Tony Robbins by my fiancé. I went and gave the 4 days 90% probably not 100%. I had an okay time learned a few things I didn’t know, but overall did not get enough to justify the money. I don’t believe you can change your state “right now” or change your life in a weekend. The worst thing is I felt crazy because when you are in a room with 10,500 and they are sold on it you feel a little like something is wrong with you. So I actually came home feeling worse than before only to be bombarded daily by the Facebook feed of the people whose lives were transformed! Really? So I feel a little stupid and thankfully I didn’t buy the coaching contracts, CDs, health products, books, and other stuff people were spending thousands on during the four days. I will take what I learned and move on. I should have known better. I felt that little tug and ignored it. I knew it was “too good to be true” and I went on with going to the conference anyway. I do have a bad taste in my mouth but my hope is that Tony truly cares about people and believes he is doing good. Thank you for this article because it validated my concerns and I don’t feel as crazy for not coming home a new person. I plan on working hard and making 2017 the best year yet!

    Reply
  34. Keithanthony

    Thanks Jason I really connected with your comments because armed with the same knowledge for my public speaking debut in Las Vegas back in 2008 on stage at the Orleans Casino I walked to the front of the stage thinking to myself how easy could it be to be more than Tony Robbins simply by realizing that my audience deserve more that the 500 meters it takes for the Robbins effect to wear off so I decided to on not being Tony Robbins.

    I used him as my blueprint then did entirely the opposite of many techniques he uses, I even cited that I felt they deserved better from me.

    In closing my presentation I reminded them of my opening comments that, I’m not here to impress you that it’s important to be me or have my charisma and if I have I apologize because I didn’t come to impress you but to impress upon you that you are the stars you were all equipped for success before you arrived!” I closed by saying “If I deserve any applause at all let the applause be for all of you!”

    Being my debut presentation from I estimate a 500 strong audience the ensuing standing ovation shocked me but sadly I’m still waiting for a repeat. lol

    Reply
  35. Michael Wormald

    Personal Development has stifled my growth and this article is 100% on-point. Instead of building my company with sales calls and other marketing activities I found myself spending 5+ hours daily on Personal Development. I would consider youtube videos, articles, and books that I read as productive because they were all helping me become a better business owner/leader/salesmen/blah/blah/blah. In reality, I was actually avoiding the tough activities like sales calls or marketing campaigns and wasted an entire year of growth. It’s a mistake I won’t be repeating anytime soon.

    Think about it… You can’t get fit by reading or watching videos on fitness and nutrition. Even if you hit the gym and did everything wrong, you’ll still get more results than sitting at home watching videos. Frankly, you’ll learn more in the gym by watching others as you workout yourself than any video or article you read.

    Reply
  36. Kyle

    Sounds like you want to be Tony Robbins, and the only way you can see yourself getting there is by bringing him down and putting yourself up. Sad!

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Actually, I willingly left professional speaking at the top of my game. I wrote about it here, and routinely turn down speaking gigs. And if I could somehow trade places with someone, I’d kinda like to be Obama – he seems pretty cool. Maybe Greg Gillis. Since I can’t trade places though, I’ll work to be content with being myself.

      Reply
  37. Mitchel

    Sometimes I wonder, do we really have a problem, or are we creating problems because we believe in order to grow we must resolve issues?

    I Think the personal development industrie and professional health industrie both give a lot suggestions that there is something wrong with us.

    I ask myself this question a lot: why do people need rituals to act normal and resolve their so cold issue’s? What’s the underlying principle at work?

    Reply
  38. Linda Guirey

    A fascinating article and so timely for me. I am a speaker & trainer, who has been asked to ‘coach’ heaps of people, but I decline. have been sceptical of TR and many others and am so over all the claims on Facebook about changing your life, your body, your mind, your happiness. I know many coaches who seem like frauds – leadership coaches whose own personal experience of leadership is very minimal if any, business coaches who have only worked for themselves in a very small business, self development coaches who judge, criticise and put others down on a regular basis.

    Yes, I do believe in being able to be more ‘aware’ of your own thoughts and thinking different thoughts that generate different outcomes (eg not owning others people’s crap, if they say something about you, that you don’t like, it’s their thoughts, their opinion, not yours) and that has really changed how I respond to people and it’s influenced my workshops as well.

    But the constant claims from coaches and others that they can change your life, make you rich, make you happy, guarantee you will have the perfect body, have over the past few weeks caused my ‘bullshit radar’ to go bonkers!!

    So 2017 has started off as a ‘declutter year’ where I’m unsubscribing from many newsletters, blogs etc about all this self development stuff, because I want to reconnect with the important things – being with real people, laughing with people, enjoying the outdoors, painting and writing.

    But I did enjoy your article – thank you.

    Reply
  39. Melissa

    Attributing the negative attributes of the coaching industry to “she” is not necessarily “equal opportunity”.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Melissa – are you a new reader? If so, welcome! I’m glad you’re here. You’ll notice that I default to the feminine pronoun in nearly all of my articles, not just this one.

      Reply
  40. Hilary

    Well said Jason, I feel the same about Tony Robbins and others of his ilk.

    I have to say that I have studied NLP. It as one of the therapies I use when working with people to help them to make the changes that they need to make. As with anything, it is HOW you use NLP that is important. It can be really a really useful tool to teach people how to communicate more effectively.

    As a therapist/healer I never ask any of my Clients to do or go anywhere I have not been and done myself. I always teach self help as I believe that it is important to give people skills so that they are able to look after their own well being and not be reliant on a therapist. In other words, I like to do myself out of business.

    I also believe that to really be able to help someone, you have to heal yourself first. It is a shame that most Councillors, Psychotherapists etc don’t work on themselves, if they did they would be more effective.

    Personal development is important for everyone, for if you do not know yourself how can you learn and grow and that, in my opinion, is what we are all here for.

    Reply
  41. john

    I have to mostly agree with what you say. You need a like coach when you dont have the confidence in yourself, and lack people around you to inspire you.

    We all need somebody in out lives to look up to and to try and emulate. maybe all these fake celebs should be better roll models. Maybe our teachers need to inrpire us more.

    Those that can will do. Those that can not mauy need some guidence and that may have to be a coach. But, that needs a postive coach with positibe help, not just words of encouragement.

    From a financial perspecitve, some see a person that fails and has to try again as a more financially rewarding target than those that suceed. The internet marketing inducstry is full of shiny objects that people dream with until the next one arrives.

    Reply
  42. Derek Doepker

    Hey Jason, very insightful and thoughtful article.

    While I love much of what Tony does and am a big believer in personal development, like virtually any industry there’s going to be a lot of half truths and deception – whether intentionally or unintentionally.

    Several years ago I was depressed, and what made it worse was studying a lot of personal development. I felt bad for feeling bad and not having a sense of my life’s purpose. The over-emphasis on positive thinking I had been studying inadvertently led me to feel worse when I wasn’t feeling/being positive.

    One takeaway from working through that experience is “it’s OK to not be OK.” Or in other words, it’s OK to feel bad and experience the darker aspects of life. It doesn’t all need to be sunshine and rainbows.

    I also learned to appreciate we have an individual responsibility to take things with a grain of salt and consider context for any advice given. Nearly anything can be both good or bad depending on the context.

    For instance, breathing (generally considered a good thing) is a terrible thing to do when your head is under water. And not breathing (generally considered a bad thing) will save your life when your head is under water. What can kill you in one context can save you in another and vice versa.

    We must learn to discern when something applies to us, and when it doesn’t. So any good advice can become bad advice for a particular person or situation. And the flip side, because something looks crazy and would be terribly damaging to one individual doesn’t automatically mean it couldn’t be the perfect prescription for another.

    What you’ve laid out here on a bigger level is to not get so caught up in seeing someone (or an industry) as having all the answers by putting them on a pedestal while forgetting about our own discernment.

    I’m happy to see you reconsidering your stance on NLP. It was the one thing about this article that felt off, and to me it’s because you have such a measured and thoughtful breakdown of the personal development industry that doesn’t seem matched when casting aside NLP.

    With personal development you were willing to look at the good, bad, and ugly. With NLP however, it seems you’ve let the shady people using it create a bias. I sense a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude rather than a more neutral approach.

    With NLP, like personal development or psychology, it’s a broad term that encompasses a lot of modalities (and sometimes BS gets in there by particular people). It can be used to do good or harm. And if marketers and pick-up artists use it, then that’s simply a testimony to the fact they’ve probably seen some results from it to influence human behavior.

    If you saw someone dismiss personal development or even therapy because they’ve had a few bad experiences, would you appreciate the validity of their experience while also encouraging them to consider that there could be some good within the bad?

    If so, I’d love to see you take a more neutral and perhaps skeptical-but-open approach to NLP as a broad concept rather than a “pseudo-science until determined otherwise” approach.

    Reply
  43. Asif Dhanani

    Thank you for writing this Jason! One of the biggest things this industry is most lacking in is accountability for claims and transparency in results, and posts like this are a strong push in the right direction.

    As a younger coach, I truly believe in the power of what I do and couldn’t explain why I felt so disappointed after seeing Tony Robbins a few months back. This really helped clear up a lot of the self doubt I was having and helped me establish clearer guidelines for myself in terms of how I can keep myself honest in my work. Keep the great writing coming and I would love to pick your brain about this further if you have the time.

    Reply
  44. Mary Collin

    Interesting article Jason. I respect your opinions although I don’t agree with all of them. It’s all too easy to ‘blame’ others rather than looking at helping people take more personal responsibility for their choices and decisions. I’ve been investing in personal and professional development consistently for the last 37 years – I think of it as continuing professional development to improve my skills and the work I’m able to do for and with my clients. There are many professional coaches who also refer people to therapists as appropriate. And there are some great NLP coaches and trainers. Sadly, for every great coach, trainer or therapist there are some who are drawn to the field of PD to heal their own wounds but haven’t quite made it yet and bring their issues to the client relationship.

    I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though.

    And I find your approach interesting in terms of keeping your options open – you commend Tony Robbins for the work he’s done then slate him in the next breath. We are all on a journey and I do believe the NLP presupposition that ‘we’re all doing the best we can with what we have’. It’s just that as time goes by we have more resources and experience available to us. So I’d hate to judge someone on a couple of edited clips, and I too would not like to be judged on isolated incidents in the whole canvas of life. (‘Judge not, lest you be judged’.) I have personally had great experience attending and later crewing Tony Robbins UPW events. And no, I didn’t buy in to the whole Mastery University although I did buy CDs and found them useful.

    So, you definitely raise some interesting points. Some years ago I ran a course to licence a group of people to go and coach others in a particular area, then chose not to licence them as too many of the group needed to work on themselves more first. I didn’t feel it was right to send them out coaching until they’d resolved their own issues.

    Yes, I’ve seen too many people talking a good game and living and working incongruently. There are plenty of good people out there too, who practice what they preach and hold to high professional standards.

    I suppose the key here is ‘buyer beware’. I personally don’t like politician-type marketing where someone denigrates others so that they can raise their own profile. ‘He’s bad, pick me!’ Interesting approach but not one that works for the more discerning individual, I find.

    Jason I do recommend you take a closer look at NLP, used with integrity it is not manipulative but can be powerful. Sadly I saw lots of people misuse it before I found inspiring people who use it well.

    And I do believe that, sometimes, people’s lives CAN change in an instant. I’ve not become a parent but have seen that as a classic example. As a Godparent I’ve experienced it.

    Thank you for promoting some lively discussion, your thoughts and opinions were interesting. I wish you well.

    Reply
    1. Oyu

      Thank you Jason for the article and Mary Collin, Tim Sparks and Matt for your comments.
      Your words open my eyes in so many ways and encourage me to share my stories for the first time publically.
      Growing up in a far-east, communist country I didn’t know or learn anything about self-help. Soon after my arrival in Europe I faced many challenges mainly on self confidence.
      Thanks to Tony Robbins and his free materials on YouTube I discovered the world of Personal Development. If he hadn’t been there I wouldn’t know how to help myself for the first time. He planted the seed of self-help in my head.
      Naturally, I run into another problems as it’s part of life and human experience. Eventually, his methods didn’t last long to sustain. When it did I was very confused as I bought into the idea that ‘it must work’ but it didn’t but because maybe I didn’t do enough. That self doubt made me feel even less confident than before.

      Luckily I discovered “Why ‘how to’ and shaming others in public doesn’t work” and the work of Brené Brown. Thanks to her I learned about work of Kristen Neff and self compassion.
      It has been a journey of 6 years since went into self help and I became a life coach in meantime.

      Jason, I’m grateful for your article because I was in a stuck place of getting myself out there as a coach since I became a life coach 2 months ago.
      It was a powerful reminder of a message, I heard from Brené Brown for the first time, you got to dance with the one who brung ya.

      I went into coaching because I wanted to become a Daring Way facilitator as I’m passionate about Brené Brown’s work because it resonates with even a girl like me.

      I realize now though I run into difficulties of getting myself out there because I forgot and bought into idea of ‘how to’ again as I was attending all those webinars about ‘how to’ promote my business.

      I would like to say your words on finding the suitable coach and mental health professionals gave me great insight to think about my niche and how I can be authentic about bringing my message out there.

      Reply
  45. Lloyd Shaw

    I do wonder sometimes if he does any due diligence when attaching his name to something.

    I was surprised when he attached his name to a company in my industry that scammed thousands of people with fake product. Hurting lots of business globally.

    All the good ethical people I know left the company years ago, and its problems / practices were well documented. So it does make you wonder where the truth starts and the marketing begins with him.

    Reply
  46. Lloyd Shaw

    I also strongly believe in the “lie down with dogs, get up with fleas ” motto. And wonder if his close ties to network marketers have twisted his once good intentions.

    Reply
  47. Tim Sparks

    Hey Jason, thanks for the great article. I have been hearing so many things about Tony on some of my favorite podcasts I was inclined to change my opinion about him, but when I watched the documentary things just didn’t sit well with me. I grew up in a pentecostal church and his methods are so similar that it really gives me a bad taste in my mouth. Church camp after church camp when I was young all deploy these methods. Strong emotional charge, you feel like your life is going to change forever, it does change but not for long. Once the memory fades then so does the commitment.

    In my own experience, personal development is a deliberate daily practice. Of course, there has to be a starting point but then you have to choose your “new” life every day. It’s a battle and really hard work.

    For the first time in my life, I went to see a psychotherapist but not out of the idea that they would “fix” me but hopefully give me tools that I can use to help align myself with my purpose.

    I guess my point in bringing up the church stuff is that I believe that someone that didn’t grow up with these methods in their face all the time would be susceptible to them.

    Reply
  48. John Powell

    There were many incredibly valid points, and other points I think I’ll need to sit with a little longer to fully appreciate.

    As a life coach, I completely agree there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained. Deliver the help you promise, never guarantee results, and focus specifically on whatever areas you specialize with (generally a topic the coach jas either received special education in or extensive experience with).

    I specialize in helping people overcome anxiety, depression, and ptsd. I do this by carefully helping the person examine their core beliefs and behaviors, identfy ones the person wants to change, and work on each (while teaching them how and why this is important). After a few months (at most 6 months), the person then leaves the nest and flies on their own – with new skills to keep working as they go on their own.

    I even published a book that includes some of the things I coach with.

    I may not be certified though whatever fancy sounding organization, but I genuinely want serve and help people the best way I can. And I will continue to do so.

    My point for writing this is to show people that there are people like me out here trying to make a serious difference in the world. Don’t lose hope in self-development. Like anything else, there are good aspects and bad. Don’t allow the bad to make you blind to the good.

    Reply
  49. Meredith Herrenbruck

    I agree with absolutely everything you said until your footnote. Now, I have heard from many people that many NLP programs are not very complete or in-depth and they come away with frustration and little or no personal change or development. I have personally trained at NLP Marin, am a Master Practitioner, and I will tell you that that is a completely different program and seriously amazing.
    Yes, you can change your brain once you know how it works and learn what is holding the behavior/feeling in place. It’s/they are there for good reason: to keep you safe and loved. But as we get older the info gets outdated, so we need to update the system. I have been doing this work for many years and have had great results with clients. I invite you to look further into it before you toss it’s validity out the window. Tony Robbins version of NLP, I agree with you, is really what is total bunk.

    Reply
  50. Chris

    I just got to the bit in the documentary where he got the woman to break up with her partner over the phone – it made me think of jez from peeps how being the world’s worst life coach and telling his client “if you sometimes feel like doing something that’s definitely what you should do” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lkBX7VwzjM

    I also found his gender essentialism in that bit very saddening, men are constantly taught that we should be cut off from our emotions or else not be a “real man”, and he totally perpetuates that here.

    Tbh, when I see him the first phrase that comes into my head is “douche jock” and his events just seem completely ridiculous and overblown (though that may be partly because I’m British and we don’t really go in for that). He seems to create an environment where disagreeing with him is impossible – I can’t imagine anyone in his interventions would feel able to say “actually no, I don’t think that’s what’s happening here”. And he makes the claim that transformation can happen in a moment (something I don’t believe, it can seem to but it’s generally the culmination of a load of events and thought processes), then creates all these apparent transformational moments as apparent proof but never actually demonstrates any long term sustained changes. Really it seems to be more about producing these peak emotional experiences I people rather than looking at the day to day drudgery of doing the Work of self actualisation.

    Reply
  51. Judy Forbes

    Had this very discussion with a colleague yesterday and we ‘both agree’ largely with your article – also many of those in the replies that followed. Brilliant effort on your part to respond to the vast majority.

    Worry about the cult like figures, around these days (probably always); TR included, and the impact on a generation of young people, along with another generation of ageing people and yet another group of people in our society that are experiencing ‘life changing events’ and are extremely vulnerable.

    I am not an expert nor am I a certified or qualified coach however my vocational and tertiary qualifications along with work and life experience have allowed me to mentor others in areas where I have ‘managed change’ with relative success and supported others (including my children) to move through difficult paths and choices.

    In most of these cases I have done this through employment but in many simply to support, assist and guide friends, colleagues and family. Most of them become ‘self actualised’ by choosing their own pathway not by following my advice, but rather by using objective information, making informed decisions and taking action (eg seeing psychologist, psychiatrists or using well researched dietry/nutrition or exercise/lifestyle information)…and just as many find their own way simply by taking ‘time’, making an effort, or becoming resilient.

    When that happens they are more likely to make progress and have confidence in their own decisions; sometimes forgetting but usually appreciating ‘my mentoring’ – at the end of the day they are responsible for their own actions, happiness, success and failures. It is rarely one person, one doctor or specialist, one book or one guru who is responsible for changing lives – oh and maybe politicians, media, facebook and ‘Dr Google’ 😉

    Reply
  52. Jen

    Great article. I’m in the UK so I’m not sure how popular Tony Robbins is over here but I came across one of his seminars recently by chance and my first thought? Holy cow his voice sounds so deep there must be testosterone circulating his voice box!! That has to be put on – right?

    Anyway, I’m a trained, insured Psychotherapist and member of a professional body. Some of the things these so called “Life Coaches” come up with is and make audience members do is truly shocking, abhorrent and frankly illogical and serves no purpose but to use people for entertainment and effect. To be honest I’m surprised some of them haven’t been sued!! If any of us therapists did that we’d be struck off, hung, drawn and quartered and then set on fire for good measure. The therapists I know use life coaching as part of therapy. We help people work through their issues and help them move on to where they want to be. Most importantly, we do this ETHICALLY.

    Luckily I have 14 years sales experience and so when I come across people like Tony Robbins I can spot immediately what their pitch is, what type of pitch it is, and how they’ll close the deal so they can get people on board. Hence I didn’t just stop watching Tony Robbins’ seminar thingy I came across because of his unnaturally low voice (seriously, is he simultaneously communicating with whales or something?) but because I saw him coming.

    If he ever comes to the UK I’d love to go and see one of his seminars purely so I can analyse his ass. If this happens I’ll get back to you with my results 🙂

    Reply
  53. Bjarke

    Hi
    Your Article actually made me a bit sad.
    Let me explain why.
    I am a psychologist, and have practical experience from various workplaces, but I have experienced that it is increasingly difficult to be able to perform proper theraphy. As an employee the workplace goals and priorities prefer money before effect, and as an independent psychologist it has been impossible for me, to attract clients, without the use of marketing tricks and subtle manipulations (much like this fine Article could be categorized as), so although I agree with almost everything you have written, it just seems that using the retoric of the BS coaches you have written about, is the way to make a living as a psychologist. That makes me sad, and this great Article reminded me of this fact.
    “surpringsingly” It seems that No one wants to hear, that with months of time, A lot of money and very Hard work, I can help you…

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Bjarke – I’m with you on that one. The psychotherapy industry has a huge PR problem. Because of that, a lot of people turn to expensive and unqualified coaches who have great marketing, but an inferior product. I think that ultimately psychologists can fix their problem, though it will require a public education campaign and a lot of cooperation. And perhaps more aggressive measures to weed out the bad providers.

      Reply
  54. Koen

    Thanks for this post Jason.

    I work as a coach on business processes and “modern management”. A couple of weeks back the question was asked “What does a coach do?” and that got me thinking…. The end result was: My one job as a coach is to accelerate learning. The ONLY thing I do in a coaching assignment is to increase the pace with which the coachee comes to the insights as to the best way to go forward.
    I don’t think this should be different for any kind of coaching. Whether it’s “business”, “management” or anything personal. I love your statement that “A high attrition rate is a good sign”. I always tell the people I meet that my main goal is to make sure they don’t need me and to do that as quickly as possible.

    Strangely enough, in “The coaching industry” that is frowned upon. Anyone that is working for an hourly fee should make sure they keep their customers as long as possible. I call bullshit. If they need me for that long it’s either because I’m not doing my job or because there’s another subject I can help with. But I love my attrition rate. Anything over 6 months is a waste!

    Thank you for a critical view. Thank you for making me think about my job some more. It will make me a better coach 😉

    Reply
  55. Fiaz Mir

    My first intro to TR was a YouTube video of him saving a marriage Live on Air. He got the couple with marital issues to look at each other and after some fluffy NLP got the woman to cry and say she was not going to leave the man. The crown applauded and TR moved on swiftly. Intrigued by TR technique, I looked up his Bio, to find he is on wife number three. TR can save others marriages but not his own! Or was he just practicing twice? Questions need to be raised about Dream Life Inc a once $400M org that went broke. TR pushed the share on the crowds in this crowded rooms and the American Moms and Pops that purchased the shared felt the pain of Financial loss and the hands of TR and his associates. TR has a troop of hand picked coaches ready to set your goals and delivery on his visions of success for you. When you actually talk to these coaches you will realise what a bunch of “Flotsam and Jetsam” of humanity they are, one guy attempted to coach me on business (yes I am a MBA and Director of a group of Companies) yet he had only been to a few TR seminars. When he was unable to deal with the paradox he broke down and had to be helped in to the back rooms to recover. While I wish every one well, I also wish TR and this like to leave it to the better qualified to deal with people.

    Reply
  56. Matt

    Great article! I’d say the big element you are missing from the benefits of personal development is that it generally encourages you to lose the victim mentality.

    Basically the concept that you need to take responsibility for your life and make things happen. The concept that for the most part the quality of your life is up to you is gold in terms of how you think. If you think that you are stuck in your current circumstance, blame other people and generally tie your success to some external uncontrollable factor then you really don’t have much of a chance.

    I think for the most part self-help is mythology. Having studied mythology AKA Joseph Campbell for a few years I’m certain self-help is mythology actually. BUT its probably some of the best mythology out there. Better than most religion. And the type of mythology I’ll be teaching my children. Humans need mythology, its as human a thing as you can get.

    One big gap in personal development is that it usually is aimed to sound nice and the advice isn’t very practical. Tony Robbins can’t really write the real techniques he uses to make money because people who freak out at how unethical it would be. So he writes a book on money that is super generic and has no connection to how he actually makes money.

    One example if you don’t agree that self-help is mythology is try to explain this success through the general ‘rules of success’: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/business/a-shuffle-of-aluminum-but-to-banks-pure-gold.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&

    Basically Goldman Sachs make money by stockpiling aluminum, creating an artificial boost to the price, and making every soda can just a touch more expensive. No giving value, no following your passion, no becoming a better person on the inside to attract money, no wealth clearing etc. Just cornering a market, somewhat unethically, but legally.

    I love that I spent a good 5 years brainwashing myself with self-help and personal development. It was critical to my current success. It really did wire me for success in many ways. But that was the training ground. It isn’t always super practical in the real world. Real success is sometimes about things you can write in books or teach in seminars.

    I mean Tony Robbins himself got sued for ripping off someone else’s material. I couldn’t watch the full You Are Not My Guru doco, its just too cringe worthy for me now. But when I was in my self-help phase it would have been great.

    Another gap in self-help is that once you done all the exercises they recommend eventually it becomes time to learn real skills. I’d rather now spend my time learning Google Adwords than writing in a gratitude journal. At least one leads to practical skills that can make money. Although the gratitude journal probably boosts happiness. For most people who want to make more money though they are better off learning real practical skills – like marketing, advertising, coding etc – than inner game stuff.

    I could talk for hours on this topic.

    Reply
  57. Earl W

    I seem to still feel seduced by Robbins and another fellow named Paul McKenna. I have watched a boatload of videos with Robbins and Mckenna. The things you see as negatives I see as amazing miracles.

    I’ve seen videos from McKenna’s British tv show where he helped people get over phobias and gain confidence. I saw the video where a man wanted to commit suicide. He talked him through it and he had him do an NLP technique where he ‘pulled’ positive memories into his body and created positive future events.

    They showed the guy month’s later and his life had been transformed. I can see the argument that it might not last. I get that. on the other hand I have had relatives who’ve had depression and if they stop taking medication or switch meds or doctors the feelings change.

    I am quite certain that McKenna works with doctors and psychologist the people are going to. I think Robbins does the same. If I am wrong by all means show me, I would like to know. I do not think they work like Benny Hinn, the tv ‘faith healer’ that tells people God cured them and the no longer need to see a doctor or take medicine.

    In fact I have used Hypnosis, NLP and EFT to help friends and family members with issues like fear of driving. I don’t do it for a living, and I have seen the techniques help people many times. I do think McKenna and Robbins charge way too much for any regular person to be helped by them. It makes a certain sense, since they are so popular many, many people would be knocking down the door for help.

    Reply
  58. Oyu

    Thank you Jason for the article and Mary Collin, Tim Sparks and Matt for your comments.
    Your words open my eyes in so many ways and encourage me to share my stories for the first time publically.
    Growing up in a far-east, communist country I didn’t know or learn anything about self-help. Soon after my arrival in Europe I faced many challenges mainly on self confidence.
    Thanks to Tony Robbins and his free materials on YouTube I discovered the world of Personal Development. If he hadn’t been there I wouldn’t know how to help myself for the first time. He planted the seed of self-help in my head.
    Naturally, I run into another problems as it’s part of life and human experience. Eventually, his methods didn’t last long to sustain. When it did I was very confused as I bought into the idea that ‘it must work’ but it didn’t but because maybe I didn’t do enough. That self doubt made me feel even less confident than before.

    Luckily I discovered “Why ‘how to’ and shaming others in public doesn’t work” and the work of Brené Brown. Thanks to her I learned about work of Kristen Neff and self compassion.
    It has been a journey of 6 years since went into self help and I became a life coach in meantime.

    Jason, I’m grateful for your article because I was in a stuck place of getting myself out there as a coach since I became a life coach 2 months ago.
    It was a powerful reminder of a message, I heard from Brené Brown for the first time, you got to dance with the one who brung ya.

    I went into coaching because I wanted to become a Daring Way facilitator as I’m passionate about Brené Brown’s work because it resonates with even a girl like me.

    I realize now though I run into difficulties of getting myself out there because I forgot and bought into idea of ‘how to’ again as I was attending all those webinars about ‘how to’ promote my business.

    I would like to say your words on finding the suitable coach and mental health professionals gave me great insight to think about my niche and how I can be authentic about bringing my message out there.

    Reply
  59. Christiaan Oosterveen

    Thank you for your words. What I love is that we don’t have to take things for granted before we work with a coach. Even do not take Tony Robbins for granted!

    Love the fact as well that you show people how important it is to learn new things from (the books of) coaches, but that this does not mean you are implementing it right.
    I never understood the principle of “changing physical states”, until I started doing a “follow the leader”. Go to youtube, find the official video of Can’t stop the feeling – Justin Timberlake and just copycat all the moves you see in that video with as much joy and fun possible.

    I was reading this principle for months and after one real life training, I was able to experience the power of it (13 months later).

    Like you say: Just pick a coach who has great testimonials and ask him to support you with the things where he got results in the past. Don’t be a guinea pig of the learning curve of a coach.

    And about Tony Robbins… I am not sure it is the right strategy to build an opinion based on top of a documentary or a book without knowing the full details, context, and process. Because there is always one or two filters between you and reality.

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  60. Ryan

    This is very well written. I admit, like many here I waffled back and forth in my agreement while reading it; I have followed Tony’s advice for years, and there is no question that what I’ve learned from him changed my life. That said, I agree with your assessment of the documentary and his lack of self-awareness where his limitations are concerned. I loved the first half of the documentary, but as soon as he pulled that shit with getting that woman to dump her boyfriend, confronting the suicidal guy, and massively profiting from that horribly abused woman’s confessional, my attitude completely changed. All of it was horrible to watch, and I felt, enormously irresponsible. As you said so well at the end, he should stick to what he knows. Everything I have learned from him and the tools he’s given me that have changed my life have come from those segments of what he teaches. The NLP stuff…frankly never worked for me. Neuroassociative conditioning, yes – it’s my go-to for almost any goal I set out to accomplish. But verbal repetition of the successful outcome I want…no. No my brain doesn’t work that way.

    Thanks for writing this. It was a great read.

    Reply
  61. Marie

    I liked your post. However, I’ve been to a phycologist and felt absolutely that the person lacked empathy and put up a professionel barrier that made me feel less than her. I don’t think that is a good environment for solving your trauma or persistent issue. Needless to say I stopped seeing her.

    The other thing I’m noticing is that you recommend that if you haven’t seen any result with your persistent issue in a couple of months you should consult a phycologist og therapist of sorts. A couple of months to solve a life long issue is no time at all. It takes a lot longer in most cases. If you have struggled with an issue it is usually something that has bothered you for years. It will take a lot longer than a few months. It is not about seeing results in a few months (which to me is exactly the quick fix approach you are talking about) but about a process of freeing yourself from old patterns. It can literally take years.

    Reply
  62. Paula Jones

    I think I love you 😀 So well put, I’ve seen through Tony Robbins since WAY before my own dive into the personal development world.

    I know my limitations, won’t work with everyone, and have layers of experience and am in postgrad training to be a psychotherapist on top of my hypnotherapy and coaching work. Integrative approaches for people who need to find their way, not to be told they’re broken.

    Great article.

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  63. John

    Thank you for writing this whilst there are parts I agree and parts I disagree overall I am very glad you wrote it and attracted the comments which I also read and learnt from. Thank you Jason

    Reply
  64. Andrew Batchelor

    I think Tony Robbins rocks. He doesnt suit everyone.

    This article coat tails on Tony Robbin’s name. You are simply using his popularity to get attention.

    Netflix’s I Am Not Your Guru, tries to capture the feeling and some key ideas in a couple of hours of something that actually runs 72 hours plus over 6 days. Inevitably there is a lot you dont see. Ive done DWD and it helped me greatly.

    Tony is definately charismatic in person, and he is the first to say he ‘models success’. Seeking wisdom from both the past and present (eg he interviewed many financial guru’s for his book Money). Tony puts his own gloss on it and has a nice way with catchy phrases which help you recall the key points.

    Jason if you want to change your life Tony advocates Step 1 changing your state (moving your physical body) … there could be some lying down in a meditation but its obvious to me you havent caught the key ideas. Step 2 change your focus… what we focus on happens… Step 3 Change your story… review the internal dialogue, find new meaning in past events, understand that you can actually influence your feeling/emotions (through Steps 1 & 2). Step 4 Change your strategy… make a new plan, make a decision, and take massive action.

    You can change your life in an instant. By making a decision. What we often do is take a long time to make the decision. Until we get to the point of I cant take this anymore, or I love her so much or whatever.
    You decide, you change. You then have to keep at it… repetition is the mother of skill – T.R.

    Tony takes you into the motivators of why we do what we do and how we can find ways to change. Bad habits must be replaced with better habits, habits that meet more than 3 of our basic human needs.

    Tony may indeed be NOT YOUR guru. But he has certainly helped many millions of people who get and enjoy and embrace his ideas.

    As I say Im a fan and I wish you well.

    cheers
    Batch

    Reply
  65. Free As A Bird

    This is very interesting.

    I worked with TR for a long time… I mean a over a decade in various roles. I am not just saying, I was on salary… I worked along side him at times closely. I have been in meetings many will never know about.

    I worked in the culture, and the business. I’ve been personally coached and spent time with him, and shaped to be who they wanted me to be for them, despite my own dissatisfaction. It is very cult like.

    Your share, is very gentle for the reality of it. I am sure those who have over invested their time and money, and hope in his business… and let me be clear… it’s his business and no matter your role, you are a pawn in HIS BUSINESS to make him money… will struggle with this.

    The term is brain washed. He takes people’s vulnerably and uses his show like a drug to make them believe they feel something… because people feel something, which is a sense of connectedness, with others, themselves, with someone they perceive as a celebrity or powerful person, they THINK they have changed. He reinforces that, his team reinforce that.

    I am not going to go into too much detail. I am sure it will come out sooner or later. Separating one’s self from this culture and organisation is a therapy in itself, and will begin to heal your life.

    Trust yourself Jason… you have only scratched the surface of all that will come out with this.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Free As A Bird (and I totally respect your decision not to use your name) – this comment is really interesting to me. Since the article came out, four (or five, if we count you) of TR’s former employees have contacted me. All of them said something similar to what you’re saying here: that I’m barely scratching the surface with understanding how deep the manipulation and self-interest goes. What makes it hard for a lot of people to digest is that he also does legit good with his work and life, it’s just so infused with shit that. In writing this article I spoke with a friend who attended UPW and Date with Destiny. She’s particularly self-aware and her audience experience is similar to what you describe. She felt torn down and then rebuilt in Tony’s mold. She said that even today (years later) she has his voice in her head. The other thing I’ve noticed is that many people who claim that TR’s seminars helped them solve a problem in their lives, actually still suffer from the exact same problem they’ve always had, they just don’t seem to be aware of it somehow. It’s like a blind spot was created rather than removed. Weird, dark, intense stuff. I appreciate you chiming in here.

      Reply
  66. Alanea Kowalski

    Jason a refreshing post and well said. As a Consultant and a Coach I’ve seen all of these quick fixes and it’s a huge industry. If I read one more coach talk about their 7 figure income which they attained through “hustle”…hustle and coaching DO NOT go together.

    I’ve never been a fan of NLP as I find it “creepy’…firewalking does not really have any lasting effects on self-development and self-esteem….but it can be a “cool gimmick”. As always it’s east to try what appears to be the quick fix, rather, than to do the hard work. In the end it’s only the hard work which makes the difference.

    I do disagree with you on accreditation…I think a coach needs strong skills and multiple credentials. You need to be able to pick and choose from a solid set of skills those which will best benefit your client. One size does not fit all so one approach does not work for every client. I love to be able to draw on my huge set of skills and life experience when working with clients. In coaching it’s all about them!

    Reply
  67. Lucy

    This is a great read. I meet with a life coach who makes no claims but just explores what I’m struggling with or wanting to focus on and in conjunction with a therapist I also see when needed, the two work well hand-in-hand. Maybe because I’m British but the whole exuberant go get ’em Tony Robbins approach never sits well. In some ways I wish I could buy into it because he looks so convincing but maybe I’m better off as I am! Thanks for the article, it was actually incredibly reassuring.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Good stuff Lucy – for the right person, working with a good therapist and a good life coach at the same time can be a lethally effective combination.

      Reply
  68. Leckey Harrison

    I haven’t quite finished the article yet, but you hit some salient points when it comes to coaches and their training. However, you state that psychologists have “tons” of training around trauma, and that just isn’t so. I know psychiatrists that are confronting their own industry because of their ignorance in this field. Which is why there are a lot of people with very long relationships with therapists and have spent thousands to heal their trauma and still, years later, have nightmares, crippling anxiety, and very active triggers and are lead to believe they are thriving. Just because they’re degreed, as you imply elsewhere, doesn’t mean they know much about trauma at all. Oh contraire.

    I also read an article about psychologists and other counselors who, because they crossed lines with patients, then go on to become “coaches,” which is a filed with no oversight or accountability. Thank you for reiterating that point. I see a lot of them that make all kinds of claims, and, the reason they have high attrition rates is because they have limited sessions in a package, the client gets the short term results buzz, flops down a testimony, and a year later they’re seeing me.

    I love the PS: “Humans are messy, dynamic, imperfect creatures with glaring rough edges.” Isn’t that the beauty of being human? Working through all that stuff on our paths to being better? Dynamic indeed, because the one constant is change. That’s part of the reason I love the work I do.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Leckey – I appreciate this comment. It’s funny, personally, I thought the PS’s were among the most important/useful parts of the article. Despite that, only two people – you and a close friend – have mentioned them to me. Thanks. That made me smile. Keep doing the good work you’re doing.

      Reply
  69. Sarah

    Hi Jason! This is my first time to your blog and it was a great info. It takes courage to tackle this topic and I’m not surprised that you have received pushback. I focused more on your outline around sniffing out poor and even harmful coaching than the specific words agains Robbins. I just haven’t had personal experience with him. He will be speaking at a business event I’m attending in a few months, so I’m curious to get a better sense of him. I agree so much though with what you said about quick fixing. It is my number one pet peeve. Quick fixing took me down the path to orthorexia, shitty relationships, and confusing my trauma around sexual abuse with being told I needed to get those multiple orgasms on demand. People who promise quick fixes usually live in so much denial of where even they personally suffer and fall short. The deception around what actually happens behind the scenes can be so harmful to those who are strung along this path. I’ve seen this over and over in the health and wellness industry with “professionals” who are actually suffering from their own body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and poor self-worth.
    One point I would add that I learned about seeking coaching for myself in different areas, and learning what I could do to always improve as a coach, is to really appreciate the ones who are great boundary setters. They have clear coaching agreements. They outline the limits of the coaching relationship. They value their time and yours. I also know a lot of my suffering in the past resulted from lack of boundaries. I’ve also found that when seeking a coach or mentor, it’s just as valid to work with someone who clearly models the values or skills you are seeking to learn or express as it is to work with someone who has extensive training.
    Again, thanks for putting this topic out there. I love that it does show how much self-love and acceptance you have developed in yourself knowing it would be a controversial topic that would result in some mean spirited comments about your own integrity. That, to me, shows a lot of integrity. 🙂

    ~Sarah

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Hey Sarah! Thanks so much for visiting the blog – so glad to hear you enjoy it. I’m really touched by your note about my integrity and relationship to myself. That means more to me than you’d expect. Thank you.

      And Im with you – the coaches who proactively enforce boundaries – both of their work and their relationships to their clients – tend to be much better than those who don’t.

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  70. Julie Parker

    Thank you so much for your thoughts here Jason. I am a first time reader of your site after I saw this article posted on Facebook by a graduate of the life coaching training academy I run (we do NOT use or teach NLP) and so it may surprise you (like REALLY surprise you!) that I resonate strongly with many things you say here not just about Tony Robbins, but the wider coaching industry too.

    I have been a coach for 17 years and a life coach trainer for 5 and the changes I have seen in the industry (especially in the last few years) have been prolific. Some are for the better but others most definitely are not and most have to do with the shady marketing and manipulation you mention. It’s become an epidemic and prays upon the most vulnerable of people, including those that are thinking they may like to become a coach and be in service to others.

    The other point I want to raise which is that life coaches are not supposed to give advice. It’s not about what they know or think they know and then imparting that wisdom. It’s about believing that the client knows what is best for themselves and that through support, encouragement and the asking of incredibly powerful questions and the challenging of assumptions they may hold – that they have the power and answers within themselves to move forward. The coach helps to bring those out in a client but it is the client who is self-actualising (in the best circumstances) and creating their own reality and life. That is what the best coaches do, not make their clients reliant upon them or for a moment believe that they are the ones with all the answers they are seeking.

    As for Tony – I went to DWD 20 years ago and found it to be an amazingly confidence boosting, challenging and positive experience. The documentary released last year however absolutely horrified me for all the reasons you mentioned. This was not the Tony I saw and experienced and while we all change in subtle and not so subtle ways as we move through life, this was an experience to me that reeked of manipulation, bullying, dominance and the exact opposite of the title of saying he was not supposed to be the guru. It was all – “I KNOW what is BEST for you and you WILL do things THIS way and everything will be GREAT and YOU will be great when you do.” There was no co-creation. And therefore there was no opportunity for a path to be opened towards self-actualisation for the people involved.

    And so…thanks. I am a passionate coach and train others to become one through really empowering and ethical means. I know that there will always be detractors in our industry – and I have in fact come to love them for the challenge they throw to us with me knowing that out there, there are truly incredible coaches doing amazing work that is making a difference.

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  71. Sohlea Rico

    I’m currently in the Robbins/Madanes core 100 life coach training. I have 30 years of experience as a registered health care provider, have a masters degree in leadership, and have done a lot of very high quality personal and spiritual development work, including NLP training which has been very beneficial for me and for people I have helped with those tools.

    My experience of the training so far is that is uses specific tools that are well researched from fields like Human Needs Psychology. Cloe Madanes is a well respected psychologist who teams up with Robbins in this training. We watch videos of Tony Robbins in interventions with clients and are reminded regularly that what Tony is doing in front of thousands of people is not life coaching. Life coaching recognizes that change takes time and that the client is the wise source to listen to about what is needed. Clients who have issues like abuse are encouraged to seek a therapist. The difference between life coaching and therapy are made clear.

    I have a good BS meter and I do agree with you that there are far too many people out there who are abusing their power in the fields of personal development and are using charisma and other means to make money. For me life coaching is about helping people learn about themselves, clarify what they really need and want and bring forward their unique strengths to help them move towards a life that meets their needs in healthy and happy ways.

    I appreciate your points and I have to say that what I’m learning from Tony Robbins and Cloe Madanes is helping me to grow and to help others in caring, clear ways that honor who they are and what they want. I have seen nothing but integrity, honesty and humility in all the people teaching that course.

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  72. Vicki

    Great article! What I see the most of is Magic based Abundance type courses that throw an illusive net around people who are already struggling and charge them high fees for promises of miracles. I fell for it big time and while I would say I learned a lot, the ultimate lesson was to not spend money on abundance courses when I couldn’t afford them and to do my research before hiring anyone.

    Reply
  73. Indigo Ocean

    You raise some good points, but I want to inquire about a contradiction.

    At one point you say that if they’re any good they should have a lot of turnover, because they help people quickly and then their clients move on. But elsewhere you say that if they promise a quick result to run, because true change takes a long time.

    Hmmm.

    Don’t you think that if someone is good, there might be cycles of benefit, so that in a few months you see results and as you keep working with that person over time you see additional results? Some things take a lot of time for some people due to how rigid the person’s structures are and how motivated/flexible the person is with regard to change. AND there are some things that don’t take a lot of time for most people to shift. It really depends on what you’re working on and things about you. So I don’t think one can give a uniform formula for how you identify a good or bad coach using average duration of client engagements.

    On another note, I think you’re a little too enamored with psychotherapy and critical of your own field. I was trained as a psychotherapist and ultimately wound up working as a business consultant primarily because I couldn’t bare the idea of going 6 years before I had any idea if what I was doing was effective. Talk about a profession that allows people to get away with not really helping but pretending they are someone’s last hope. If you survey what therapists have said critical of therapy, you’ll find even more bruising testimony than you give in this article.

    Lastly, I also think you’re falling into the tendency to say that something can’t be real simply because you haven’t experienced it yourself. I have had dozens of experiences in my life that were nothing short of miraculous if one limits explanation of what is possible to a mechanistic theory of physics. Before those things happened I could easily have said they were impossible. Now I’ve become so accustomed to them that I’ve got a depth of insight into how they’re occurring that routinely allows me to produce similar “miracles” in my work with clients. I put miracles in quotes, because really that’s just a word for something that can’t be explained by out-dated ways of understanding ourselves and our world.

    In the end, I think it is always helpful to try to create more informed consumers. Out of a similar motivation, for years now I’ve railed against marketing coaches who call themselves business coaches/consultants, thereby leading masses of entrepreneurs to believe that if their business isn’t profitable it must be because they need more or better marketing. It irks just about anyone to see people being taken advantage of by others in one’s field and to just sit by silently and watch it happen. We just have to be careful not to become so critical that we leave the limits of our own field of vision out of the equation and make people too skeptical to get the help that is actually available to them.

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  74. Katie

    I am guessing Tony Robbins is used in this article just as one subject to illustrate ‘trickery’ or the vulnerability of those who really hope for a quantum leap…
    I watched on video of Tony Robbins helping a very beautiful man impeded by a life long stammer. I stopped believing when that man then went on stage in Tony Robbins style. I think that is because, having circumnavigated planet therapy myself I know there’s no such thing as a quick-fix or a quantum leap and I only hope that man left an interval between overcoming stammering and subjecting himself to such exposure and did not experience trauma/setback from it.
    Having been both immersed and embedded in the world of therapy I believe that you can be qualified and really not that good or really skilled/compassionate excellent human being and not particularly academically gifted.
    I’ve got a degree and a load of experience that I can use which my training did not teach me, but life did.
    I’m not sure it’s Tony Robbins who is the problem here, I think the problem being addressed here might be the formulaic way of delivering world-stage coaching?
    I think that does suck somewhat, yes
    Your journey is personal. We all know our own limits and deep inside us we have knowledge of how far we think we can reach in an effort to change. Change is paradoxical. Only when we have discovered that which we have to sacrifice in order to be different will we decide to do it. It also usually gets embedded most when we do it shift by shift, practising being that different way and a gradual awareness of what letting go of that other shit we’ve been doing means. We may lose friends and upset family and have to move on entirely from something in that process because that was part of what was holding us in the unhelpful pattern. There will be days when it all goes to shit as well and the next day we have to recommit. I think change is something we do by stealth.
    When there is an apparent quantum leap it’s usually a result of all we had been working towards, not an overnight miracle
    Our holding patterns are there to protect us and we need to understand the function of them to master changing them.
    I still think there are people in life who are gifted to help others and aren’t a qualified psychologist tho.
    The whole change your mindset thing does my head in, esp money mindset
    Here’s the thing-if you exclude people without means and just take wealthy clients you will be able to charge high prices. That is what money mindset teaches. It’s not about self-worth it’s about deciding to go where the rich people live surely!
    So what of kindness, what of the true angels in life who would go the extra mile. Do you think they are getting rich. No they are not. But they are the ones who truly inspire. It is the knowing that there are truly good people out there who will do something for you when they really did not have to who cut the mustard and encourage us to motivate others when we pay it forward.
    The formulaic stuff is a money spinner for sure and enticing people to spend money when they have none in order to be better at manifesting money is a lie! People will say things like ‘it’s a small investment to make to improve yourself’-it’s not if it feels perilous. Wait until you safely have enough before paying for coaching which may or may not improve your money mindset
    First, wait until you get a bit more money and then go for coaching to explore more ways of earning bigger money. Maybe pay the deposit for coaching and work towards it rather than letting go of the last of your funds simply to the hope of a fix. That person or method is not your saviour. You are your saviour. Choose someone to work with who will help you expand what your inner voice is asking you to address and respect your limitations, they are there to protect you and help you do a cost/benefits assessment before you leap imo
    You can change if your whole body and soul wants to , not because of someone else’s mantra-but a good coach will help you to understand that.

    Reply
  75. Jakob

    Great stuff! Wish you’d written this about 12-13 years ago when I first got into contact with the self-development movement. But hopefully this stops some of the bullshit going on in the present, and helps people get more qualified help.

    Maybe some coaches even get to sit down and have a think about how they practice their trade.

    Well done!

    Reply
  76. Yoshe Leigh

    I am relieved that someone has finally decided to write an article about “motivational speakers” and/or “cons”. I have even lost a very close friend all because of the fact that I was a critical thinker about something that he was “passionate” about. He is in fact the guy who introduced me to Tony Robbins in the first place way back when Tony Robbins was making cassette tapes. I listened to a couple. Pretty good advice then such as write thoughts down in a journal. Write out five things you want to change in your life. Write about five things you are happy with. . .etc. Anyway, this friend himself is a magician, and a speaker on bullying and he does very well but he is also a charismatic showman type personality and I made a comment that asked the question whether beauty pageants are relevant in todays society? He is very taken away with pageants. . .I asked it in the form of a question to be non- offensive however that kind of ended our relationship. Anyway my point is that critical thinking is what is really needed to motivate people to take action. . .that and a therapist if results are not seen. I find there is nothing wrong with being swept away by the charisma and promises of a “motivational speaker”; that is apart of being human . . . However when anyone follows something blindly, invests money into something and fails to question anything. . .that is the problem. The number one skill any humans can have and the number one skill to teach children is to have critical thinking skills.

    Reply
  77. Guy Crittenden

    I enjoyed this article very much Jason. I myself have had an uneasy but generally beneficial experience or two with life coaching. In my case, the main experience was with the Landmark Forum, which I know is a controversial organization that arose out of the old EST, famous for its cultish adherents and high-pressure tactics to get people to sign up for more courses.

    The criticisms of the Forum are valid, up to a point, but my feeling going into it was to have agency in my decision. I researched the organization and read articles and accounts of the good and the bad. I attended because I had some personal goals to accomplish, and I made use of that context to achieve some personal breakthroughs. During the course, and after, I noticed quite a few people didn’t fully participate, held back, and didn’t appear to get much out of it. I was reminded of the old adage about getting out of things what you put in to them. Some people got overly stoked about, and made way too much of it: these were the people who’d likely go on to give the organization a bad rep, for being cultish.

    In the end, I never signed up for the advanced course. I decided to go to the Forum’s source material and do more work on my own. I could tell that a lot of the ideas were taken from Buddhism, NLP, existentialism and so on. It’s a clever (and I think useful) mashup of these things, a kind of hybrid of some of the best ideas. I set about what turned into a multi-year study, especially of Buddhism.

    I agree with you — in the end we have to do the work ourselves, and I had a lot of deep work to do. Rather than work with a therapist, I chose a rather unusual path, which was to travel to Peru and drink ayahuasca with curanderos there, and have subsequently become a student of shamanism. My path is that of the so-called teacher plants, and I’ve received incredible healing and insight from this modality, which is way way outside of what’s understood or even approved of in North America (where I live). Interestingly, technocratic societies like mine are starting to catch up with the indigenous cultures in this regard, and the MAPs and other studies are validating the utility of psychotropic substances in therapy and healing. I feel I went “off the reservation” (or maybe it was ONTO the reservation) to achieve my own healing and spiritual insights in a manner that certainly had risks, but I survived and in fact thrived.

    My most profound experience occurred last year when I participated in a curated DMT experience/ceremony with a local practitioner. The DMT was administered in smoke form, and I attained a state of non duality — being one with everything — and my consciousness as the oversoul or Brahma was revealed. I was in eternity for just 12 minutes, but of course it felt like I’d been gone for hundreds of years.

    I mention this because, ironically, after this life-changing experience, I thought about Tony Robbins and the whole idea of “freeing the giant within.” Although he expresses it clumsily (compared to the actual DMT experience) it’s true that we are in fact God or the universal consciousness, experiencing itself in unique ways. We really are limitless and powerful beyond what we realize. I prefer to directly experience this and know this through shamanic visionary plants, rather than have it handed down to me by a life coach or guru. When you think of it, Robbins is a modern version of the Indian guru, purporting to provide the doorway to the divine, through them. There’s nothing wrong with that if it really works, as it appeared to do for well-known spiritual seeker Ram Dass. But I’ve always liked Alan Watts comment that a guru is like a pickpocket, who steals your wallet or watch in order to sell it back to you.

    Life coaches and gurus can be of great utility, as long as we harness them to move forward, and don’t give our power over to them, or at least not for long. And as with the teacher plants, the real work begins after the psychedelia, or after we return from the seminar or weekend retreat and that buzzy high it may have given us. Ordinary day-to-day life is the real miracle, though it may not seem so at first.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Guy – thanks for the comment and sharing your story. Honestly, I’m kinda shocked that it took over 100 comments before someone mentioned DMT/Aya/Psychedelics. While I personally haven’t done any of those (well, I did shrooms twice in college, but just for party reasons), I’m really intrigued by them. A lot of my friends have had very positive experiences with Aya (though to be clear for readers, I’m not advocating it… I have no direct experience). And I’m totally with you – coaches totally have their place. It’s just important that they know the limits of their abilities and have decent ethical standards.

      Reply
  78. Faith

    Thank you for writing this! I was swindled by a charismatic radio talk show host in Houston who wanted me ($1000’s of dollars) to step out and tell me story of trauma, of being “killed” repeatedly – in front of a group. I was terrified, voice trembling – when I began my story a friend of hers, someone more important than me came in late – my coach jumped to greet and announce the late comers entrance talking right over me as I was sharing my greatest pain. As painful as that was it turned out like a slap in my face I need to realize this greedy woman wasn’t helping me. What a lesson! Maybe the most humiliating moment in my life.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Faith – that’s really messed up. I’m sorry that happened to you. I am glad to hear that you saw through the manipulation and abuse though. A lot of people can’t.

      Reply
  79. Tanya Gwizdalla

    Fantastic article in reminding people to really be aware and not hand over their personal power
    to become completely at the mercy of a “guru” or life coach. At 54 I have dabbled in personal development through courses and books and the occasional guru, something thankfully like my inner compass said take the core of the truth and apply it to your own self and wisdom and keep moving,
    don’t spend shit loads of money ! With my own experience now I work as a Colon Hydrotherapist and
    often assist people finding their own truth and sometimes exposing some blind spots, I only charge for the treatment and yet they receive so much more sometimes, Its a big responsibility sometimes to respect the persons journey and to let them unpeel the layers of their fears hopes and aspirations and what may be standing in their way at a pace that is appropriate, and not to disempower them through ” i know better ” or i can fix you yet to help them see what they may already know, I too see Tony Robbins has good intention and a lot of techniques that can work, he is now really a stage show and has been catapulted into it being a multi million business which kind of takes the authenticity out of what he can and does do. Find someone quiet humble and kind that respects your unique journey in life, and doesn’t charge the earth so much more to say on this but thank you for saying it how it is.

    Reply
  80. Hannah Jane

    Hi – thanks so much for writing this article. As a relationship mindset coach myself, who truly believes in the power of self-help, and who deeply cares about the women I coach, I expected to be offended and upset by this article.

    But I wasn’t.

    I think you eloquently point out the hazards inherent within coaching, and demonstrate the key areas where coaching differs from genuine therapy/psychiatry, and I think that’s OK. They are different, for good reason, and for some people coaching is entertaining, powerful, AND life-saving; for others, it’s simply unhelpful fluff that is distracting them from getting higher-level psychological help. There’s room for both, I think.

    I don’t quite share your disdain for Tony Robbins – I watched I Am Not Your Guru and felt serious respect for someone who is able to inspire quite so many people and give previously-suicidal people reasons to carry on living. Underneath all the bombast and emotion, I would say that Robbins encourages people to be authentic and to communicate difficult ideas, and that’s no bad thing.

    I do agree that some of his techniques are rather forceful and manipulative, but I don’t think we can say that just because he has a certain style (or gets mercury poisoning), he’s a total charlatan and completely dumb.

    Certainly the stories from the sexual abuse survivor (and I do agree with you about the ‘uncles’) could have maybe been handled more sensitively, but ultimately I would say that asking people their story, and giving them to space to be vulnerable is actually a powerful tool to help others (and to help the person themselves), because giving people space to be publicly vulnerable is likely to give others the strength to speak up and recognise their own issues, too.

    Thank you for an interesting and eye-opening piece – and I am glad that you don’t completely dismiss all coaching out of hand because of a few charlatans. Some of us are really meaningful and only want to make any small difference we can! Really appreciate your nuances of argument here.

    x

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Hannah! You get a cookie! Thank you for this comment. Most of the critiques I’ve gotten seem to come from people who haven’t actually read the article, aren’t open to discussing TR’s faults, or are bothered by the fact that I maintain a mailing list and have coached in the past (though truthfully, I haven’t taken a client in months). I really appreciate someone in the industry who read the article, agreed with some but not all of it, and then chimed in. Thank you! I suspect you’re likely a very effective coach.

      Reply
      1. Jason

        Just a quick note – it’s been called to my attention that my response here seems patronizing and as I re-read it, I understand how it can be seem that way. Please know, Hannah Jane, that I was (and am) completely sincere when I say I appreciate your response and am honored to have you as a reader.

        Reply
        1. Hannah Jane

          Hi! Thanks, sorry for my slow reply. Really appreciate your continued involvement in people’s responses to your piece, and I maintain my point that it highlighted many of the issues within coaching, without entirely dismissing coaching altogether.

          I didn’t see your reply to my comment as patronizing at all (I like cookies, after all :P)

          Thanks again, please do continue writing with this nuance and honesty – in this world of black and white and 140-character thoughts, nuance is more important than ever.

          And thanks, I hope I’m an effective coach too. 🙂

          x

          Reply
  81. Brenda Harris

    I finally started to watch the Neflix documentary on Tony Robbins, as I’ve always heard of him, but hadn’t yet watched him or listened to him. Anyways, after seeing him make that girl phone her boyfriend and break up with him, I decided I wasn’t going to watch anymore more. I’m glad you mentioned that in your article. Thanks for writing about this problem!

    Reply
  82. Katie

    Hey~ there’s so much goodness in here. But i do want to defend NLP. As someone trained in it, when used properly it has the ability to help address internal confusion and subconscious trauma quite well. I am someone who both learned it and experienced it and it was a tool that really helped me transform my life~ so it’s not always a manipulative tool to reprogram the mind of the self or others.
    I am also however someone who has studied quite deeply the connection to the self and the need to be a fully developed human- complete with feelings, emotions and “mess”, so perhaps there’s a way to use NLP that is more helpful than some people realize.
    I work with people as well and would never do some of the things you mentioned in this article- and I do agree that it is not being used with integrity.
    Thank you for speaking to that truth that there are those out there who aren’t talking their talk or walking their walk and it inspires me to know that there are others out there including myself and you who take this work very seriously and with the highest integrity.

    Reply
  83. Bernhard Fanger

    Hello Jason,

    I am coach from Germany. Just found your article, and I fully agree on the general notion on life coaching. I cannot say too much about TR, since I was not exposed a lot to his work. The few things I have seen and read were quite superficial though – not very appealing to me.

    Best regards from Munich
    Bernhard

    Reply
  84. Fil

    First of all thanks for this masterpiece. I truly honor your opinion and following your advice in your article I would like to ask a question which may sound more critical then it is meant.

    One of your advices in the article is to use mx gut. So I stepped back a bit and analyze the whole article.

    I asked myself why are you writing this article as I am sure your time is valueable for you and you won’t just write it without any purpose.

    Then I saw something that triggered me and I asked myself:

    “Isn’t he exactly doing what he is warning people about?”

    Step 1 – The tricky question:
    Your “tricky question” is to set a statement which most people can relate to as most people have tried personal development and have failed in some way or another.

    Step 2 – Creating vulnerability

    You create vulnerability in this article by telling partially about your own failures (without going into too much details), then about very emotional situation of other people (which you spices up with some personal emotional comments to add furl to the fire). Situations that instantly create the kind of sense you need for the next step.

    Step 3 – The silution:

    What you indirectly offers as solution is exactly the field you are working in as explained in your bio. You do it more subtile by “selling” it indirectly and condemning all other ways that might be out there.

    Kind of trashing all diets that they are not individual enough for each person as each one has specific needs and then offering the “one way” that really helps.

    So in the end this article could be seen as a great piece of “sales trick” you warn people about.

    So my question is: Where are you different from the other guys you condemn when you seem to use similiar methods?

    Thanks for you timing reading my comment and please keep in mind I am just gollowing your advice “If it sounds to good to be true, then it is.”

    -Fil

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Fil! THANK YOU! I’ve been waiting for someone to ask this question. Well, actually a lot of people have asked this question, but it was mostly in the form of, “Jason you’re a stupid f***ing douche bag and this piece is a thinly veiled guise for your own horrible products.” You’re the first person whose asked it in a way that – to me – feels sincere and curious. I can’t thank you enough for that.

      So my first response is simply this: I’m not asking anyone to trust me. In fact, I’m not sure people should, and I wrote a whole article about it here.. If reading my stuff sets off your spidey senses, then the solution is simple: stop reading. It would be weirdly masochistic to do anything else. It would be like dating someone you don’t trust. People do it all the time, but it’s just a bad idea. I’m not meant to be right for everyone, nor am I trying to be.

      As far as am I doing exactly what I’m warning people about? Truly, you’ll have to decide that one for yourself. You wouldn’t (and arguably, shouldn’t) believe me if i answered that question anyways…. You don’t know me. In fact, with a few exceptions, no one who commented on this post or responded to it on their own blogs know me. Trust yourself.

      What makes me different than most other life coaches? Honestly, I’m not a life coach. And I’m not being coy. I literally haven’t taken a new client in six months. I realized something simple: therapists are better equipped to do the work that I was doing than I am. To keep doing it would have been out of integrity and would take up a lot of space in my life. These days all of my income comes from leadership consulting, something I’ve been doing for a decade. A few people have noticed that I’m hosting a retreat on confidence for men next month. Im excited for it. I believe in it. I think it will help people. I try to be selective in the people that I allow in. But is it wrong for me to critique an industry that I also work in? I’d say no. Is there a way I can do that sincerely? Obviously, I think that I can sincerely critique my own industry and still remain in integrity, but again, that’s something you have to decide for yourself.

      Other people will notice that I do have a sales page on my site for coaching. That’s true. If someone who I were confident I could help came along, I’d help them. Until then, Im suggesting everyone get a therapist.

      Another thing to consider: I can’t possibly prove that you’re wrong. Maybe this article is entirely calculated, and I’m disparaging Tony just for my own gain. If that’s what I’m doing, I certainly wouldn’t be the first. And even if I said, “I wrote this simply because I felt the need to and didn’t expect anyone to read it” would you even believe me?

      All I’ll suggest is this: if you go looking for ways in which people are benign and good, you’ll find them. If you go looking for ways in which people are dark and shitty, you’ll find those too. I wrote about that too. So again, trust your gut.

      And I’ll finish this novel with just one note: I don’t actually want people to hire me right now. I’m more or less booked solid through the summer. My aim with this article – and the 30 or so that I published before it for free on this site – is simply this: to share what I’ve learned along the way. Do I want people to sign up for my mailing list? Of course! I don’t know what I’ll do with my mailing list, but I love the idea of having a group of like minded people who I can communicate with from time to time. I kind of just believe that the more good I put out into the world, and the more I improve people’s lives, the better my life will be. It strikes me as a huge win.

      Of course, I’ll use my list at some point. A few things I’m considering doing with it: running for elected office, writing a book, releasing a product or course, hosting a retreat, launching a kickstarter, raising funds for organizations I believe in, etc. In fact, I’ll probably do all of those things.

      So this is probably all together too much and may even cloud the issue of whether or not I have integrity, but Fil, I certainly appreciate you asking this question. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

      Reply
  85. Torsten Fleischer

    Hello Jason.
    By chance, I ended up on your site with this article. He is great, great-looking and speaks to me from the soul. Really well hit. Thanks for the effort to have written this post.
    Best regards from Berlin. Torsten

    Reply
  86. Willow

    Ahhhhhhhh I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!!!
    I just keep finding myself surrounded by friends who have drank the proverbial kool-aid and I have been wondering if I am the fucked up one because all I see is the false build up and fake truths.
    Never mind about the scariest, yuckiest documentary I have perhaps ever seen, “I am not your Guru” No, Tony you are not.
    The part of that film that scared me was when his moterators came back with details on people from the small group break outs. Those details were what he used to mock and pick people out of the audience.
    They were strategic picks, not organic. I was horrified for everyone in that 6 day seminar.
    Thank you for writing this!!!

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Im with you. The event leverages wayyyy more stage craft than is immediately obvious. And thanks for the kind words, Willow. You made me smile. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Chris V

        Perhaps there is more to this. A meta strategy that helps great numbers of people. And yes, we usually have to pay for improvement – of any kind, regardless if that help is ‘traditional’ or in the ways of Tony (or others).

        Would love to talk with you by phone. Please e-mail me if interested. I promise not to try and convince you of anything and to stay 100% professional. Like I said, perhaps there is more to this…for me too. 🙂

        Thanks. Chris

        Reply
    1. Jason

      I’ve gotten a lot of flack for that. If anything, I feel knowing the industry and it’s providers gives me an informed vantage point to comment on it. I do however understand how some people will see me/this article as purely manipulative, self-serving, and hypocritical. I get that. I try to remind myself that people’s perceptions are outside my control and frankly none of my business.

      Reply
  87. Rachel

    Thank you so much for putting this article into the world.
    Not only is it about the coaching bit that needs to be brought out of the shadows, but the more important part is that people need to understand that life is not easy, and quick-fixes don’t work.
    You are wonderful. Keep writing. Keep teaching. Keep sharing.

    Reply
  88. Sabra

    Love this and completely agree. I’ll admit that sometimes I read self-help books because of the positive boost I get from them. They rarely tell me anything I don’t already know. It really is a bit of a sugar high. I’m okay with it.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Sabra – I actually think that’s one of the best uses of self-help books. They can definately teach things, but for me, the real value is often in how fired up and excited they get me. Thanks for chiming in. 🙂

      Reply
  89. Katy

    I really really respect you for writing this and for putting yourself above the parapet. It’s an article I 100% agree with and one that echoes my own experience. KUDOS! 🙂 x

    Reply
  90. John R. Edwards, L.C.S.W>

    An interesting article and many good points. I would suggest though that a high attrition rate for a psychotherapist is not automatically a good sign and this puts the idea of a quick fix out there. People who are working through deeply traumatic experiences such as rape, childhood sexual abuse, growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive home can take a long time to heal.

    I would open up the reference to help to mental health professionals such as Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC/LCPC/LMHC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) and not just psychologists.

    Unfortunately, psychotherapists have also contributed to this issue by making counseling/psychotherapy this mysterious process where the only thing you can do is talk about your absent father and not enough breast feeding from your mother. Counseling/psychotherapy needs to be considered even for things that are not “mental health issues” often counseling/psychotherapy provides the client with the opportunity to understand their issue and to develop a sustainable plan to address these issues.

    I think it is important for folks to understand that there really is no quick fix for deep personal issues whether Life Coach or psychotherapist. It is true that many people live in fear however there is lots of quality help out there. Folk just need to understand that finding quality help requires work and persistence to find the professional who is best suited for them.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Yep. Good point John, and I hadn’t considered that. High attrition rates for mental health professionals is not as clear an indicator as I initially suspected. It makes perfect sense that some ailments would require (and deserve) extended periods of therapy and counseling. Thank you for chiming in. 🙂

      Reply
  91. Heidi

    Thank you for writing this! I’m a psychologist who is appalled at Tony Robbins’ behavior. I saw him do a demonstration at one of the Erik Erikson’s Masters of Psychotherapy conferences and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing which amounted to unequivocal verbal abuse and shaming of a woman who volunteered for the demonstration as part of a couple. Why the mental health field continues to legitimize him is beyond me.

    Following that demonstration at that particular conference, a colleague and I ran into him at the hotel. We expressed our concerns about the woman’s well-being and were instantly met with the hostile challenge of, ” I’ll bet you $20,000 right now that if I call up to their room, they will tell you that everything is great. Should we do that? Because I doubt that either of you can afford to lose that kind of money.” He kept trying to call up to that poor couple’s room for the sake of proving his point. O.M.G.

    Oh – and when he shook my hand, he crushed it so hard that it hurt for 3 days after. That was by no mistake on his part. He’s a sociopath. Plain and simple.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Heidi – I appreciate you sharing that story. As I read your exchange with TR, I mumbled under my breath (of TR), “What a douche.” One thing I’ve noticed (and this is going to draw my detractors out again): the psychologists, and Drs who have commented on this article – that is, the people trained and qualified in how humans work – seem to be concerned with Tony / the life coaching industry. Some of the life coaches (or in most cases, wannabe life coaches), seem extremely upset that anyone would ever question their unregulated industry and it’s defacto God father.

      Reply
  92. Sven Panko

    Jason, I agree with you especially on this paragraph:

    “The biggest problem in personal development is that most people who work in the space, really shouldn’t. Instead of giving life advice to the masses, they should be talking to a therapist in private.”

    I’ve seen this lots of times when attending seminars, reading books or just talk to people. In my opinion, a coach can only deliver true value to a client if he really got rid of all traumatic experiences that happened to him, otherwise he is not helping but there is a trauma-on-trauma coaching going on. You attract what you are, hence someone with a problem in self-love attracts the same people and if his self-love is hollow, he can’t really help (worse, he might bring awareness to a problem the client really has but then she is left alone to fix it, because the coach can’t help).

    I work as a life and body coach (changing your mindset without the help of your body is in my humble opinion not possible, since both are tightly connected) and my training (which takes 8 years minimum) is rigorous, meaning you have to work and train every day (physically and mentally, think Mr. Miyagi-style) to face your demons, get rid of your ego (VERY important) and free yourself from the control of past experiences (which I have seen only to be possible if you train mind AND body, otherwise it’s lipstick on a pig like NLP). And most importantly: your body controls the velocity in which you can make progress, you can’t rush it. When I talk to clients the first time I tell them this: “You are in control of everything what happens here and when we start, we start slowly – you have to feel comfortable and safe.” Gradually as the client gets more connected to his feelings due to the training and learns more about herself, she is pushing her boundaries further, but in a safe way.
    I’d compare it like this: if you want to teach a child how to swim, you don’t get it to stand next to a swimming pool and push it in – you take it to safe water first, allow it to get familiar with the water and gradually move on.
    Lastly, I tell my clients that my work is done when they don’t need me any longer and I (as a coach) have an intrinsic motivation to get them to that point, because it shows me that the stuff I do works and really helped people. I don’t want to have people that depend on me for the rest of my life, I want to help them get on a journey. Once they learn what the journey is about, what’s important and how to differentiate between their path and distractions, they have all the basics to get on without me, and that’s great!

    Reply
  93. April Willuams

    I will be open and transparent here, when I first saw the title of this blog I was put off because I don’t generally appreciate or support people who write blog posts with the intention to put someone on blast while using that name in a headline title to drive traffic to their own blog and I have always liked Tony. But was willing to be open minded and the blog title did its job intriguing me to read more.

    I have never attended one of his events so have no idea what goes on have only watched some short YouTube videos and read The Money Code. I won’t personally fork out $2000+ to go sit in a room with thousands of other people to listen to someone speak for 3 days, not my jam. The recent event where people walked on fire and got burned was the first time I really asked myself “WTH is Tony doing?!”

    I am a coach, a branding strategist for women business owners and even I have a love/hate relationship with the industry. The competition to get clients, to charge premium rates because according to many gurus in the industry you aren’t successful unless you make 6 or 7 figures. Its all about the money. The people being “helped” is all smoke and mirrors to make more money.

    So that brings me back to Tony and this is what I see: someone who keeps having to up his game. To keep charging the money he does it becomes a game needing to constantly deliver the shock and awe factor. To wow people. Take it to that next level. Its almost a double edge sword becoming that popular because in order to keep drawing the big crowds willing to paypremium prices for a ticket the focus becomes less about delivering value and more about putting on a show like having some random girl in the audience (who knows if she is really random or planted there..that is how skeptical I am) call to break up with her boyfriend and have people walk on fire to prove their self worth.

    What you shared about the life coaching industry needed to be shared and its hard to do that without using an example. At the end of the day we are all our own best guru, equipped with our own inner truth and if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

    Reply
  94. Anne Curtis

    Hi Jason –

    having qualified as a medical doctor in 1981 and discovered that my training did not allow me to offer the holistic approach to health and healing I’d hoped I went on to train in sexual and relationship therapy and in conventional psychotherapy.

    However I discovered these methods often did not help people (including myself and my psychologist and psychiatrist colleagues) to feel happy and to feel good about themselves – to enjoy great relationships or to enjoy life in general.

    So I went on to train in NLP, hypnotherapy, EFT – all of which made a much more positive impact on my own life and on the lives of my clients and patients – but still something was missing – and no one seemed to have found the real answers they were looking for.

    I continued to search for what would really help – and found a lot of things that not only did not work – but made me – and others feel worse. Just as you describe – having found some benefits from listening to Tony Robins audios – I invested over £9k (some years ago now) going on his full program.
    At the end I felt deflated and to some extent a failure – because – none of it seemed to work for me – in fact I was now in debt – rather than feeling and becoming more abundant for example!
    I guess the good thing was that I started to realise that not all personal development or practitioners are really as helpful as they make out – or would like to think – and in general I do believe they are well meaning – even though they do not yet see what they are missing.

    Although I had some great results with my own patients and clients – those results were unpredictable – and I had no idea why. Eventually I gave up my practices.

    It was only in 2015 while I was nursing my mother through terminal cancer that my sister gave me a book called “Somebody Should Have Told Us” by Dr Jack Pransky. Reading that book I finally realised I had understood the answer we’re all looking for in personal development.

    What impressed me even more about the simple understanding described in the book was that the psychologists, psychiatrists – and yes “coaches” – sharing this understanding with others were truly the happiest people I’d come across – even when they had low moods – and they had the happiest, longest lasting relationships I’d ever come across amongst any therapist ever.

    Although your impression is that people who are not making the changes they desire – or who have experienced long term unhappiness – need psychologists rather than “coaches” – my understanding is different. Many psychologists are trained in methods that are not helpful – and can in fact be more damaging. And though many coaches similarly are not trained in approaches that can help – in my experience the coaches – just like the psychologists – trained in this approach are more effective than most psychotherapists and psychologists I’ve known who are not!

    If you do not know about this approach – or would like to know more – there are a vast supply of free resources – https://www.facebook.com/groups/208792172910859/

    Thanks for your post and for the great discussion – Anne

    Reply
  95. Dylan

    This article is spot on. Most ‘life coaches’ employ the same old BS couched under different terms. I challenge people to find a ‘life coach’ that did not experience death/depression/suicide and someone emerged a change person. That is not to say they are all lying about their life stories but they an a tendency to inflate and have an incentive to make it sound as bad as possible. (After all, if they were in a worse state then you then; surely you can ‘make it’ too?).

    Reply
  96. Irina

    Hi Jason, My kind request to you is to be careful when using gender throughout this kind of articles. Sometimes we (people) can be very manipulative even if we don’t intend to.
    Though this article is about Tony Robbins and you used his name in the title, beginning and end if it, when you talk in general about coaches and how manipulative they are you use the term “she”. Then you come back and admit that Tony as well as your friend (both “he”) have some good parts but also this manipulative parts. This kind of communication has a real potential to perpetuate misogyny and gender inequality on a subliminal level. Many thanks for considering this in your future articles!

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Irina – hi! Are you a new reader? If so, welcome. I appreciate your point. In almost all articles, I default to the feminine for third person pronoun. Though reasonable people will disagree on this one, I thought that making an exception for this article, would be more sexist than not.

      Reply
      1. Irina

        Hi Jason. Yes i am new, thanks for welcoming me :). I feel my point was not very clear so let me try to clarify. You used “he” when talking about Robbins and your friend while outside of that mostly “she”. As not all coaches outside Robbins and your friend are women but rather a women and men i believe a more appropriate way to address this would be using “they”. Thanks ;)! Irina

        Reply
  97. Mark Wentworth

    Thank you Jason! Your article perfectly summed up what I’ve felt and seen for a number of years. I’ve never felt drawn to attend, listen to or read any of Tony Robbins material, something just didn’t feel right for me and yet I have friends who loved it all, although now a few years later they say they wouldn’t do it again.

    In the UK there’s something similar called Landmark, I’ve been to one evening event and realised that 2 hours was already enough. The approach was much the same, except in this case if you challenged what was being said then clearly it was your resistance to change, followed by the “how dare you” and disapproving looks from the converted group. It reminded me somewhat of “The King’s New Clothes”

    Some years ago a friend worked with a coach to help with her finances, many promises of what was going to happen and that focusing on small amounts was not what this was about. After two months and nothing much changing other than my friend’s decreasing bank balance the coach said it was my friend’s fault it wasn’t working because she hadn’t paid her monthly coaching bill, of course it had nothing to do with the fact the coach hadn’t sent her the invoice. Needless to say their relationship ended on much the same day.

    The question I ask my students and myself is “Would you recommend yourself to yourself for coaching or therapy?” Only you know the true answer to that.

    If more people shared and wrote similar articles about the Personal Development and New Age/Spirituality field people would never believe it.

    Thank you again for the article
    Mark

    Reply
  98. Pingback: Optimisme in groot happe | krummelpapenbloubessies

  99. Ali Chadwick

    Hi Jason 🙋🏻

    Well this article turned me upside down, inside our and kind of sideways too! I had to read it three times before I could decide whether I agreed or disagreed but I’m glad I hung in there – it’s great. As a trainer/speaker/coach I think it’s important that you highlight the pitfalls of those hugely charismatic individuals who can prey on others unethically. I’d add though (as others have) that NLP is worth another close look. I’ve used it personally and professionally and have both had – and seen – some life-changing moments.

    Thanks for being brave.
    ☺🙏🏻

    Ali

    Reply
  100. Mira

    I was talked into buying Tony’s “Breakthrough” app after a complementary session, which was basically a sales pitch for a $6000/year very minimal coaching program. The app was $200 and didn’t work most of the time. My phone is fine but the app didn’t work. Save your money and read some of his books if you must, but stay away from the programs and events and the app. See this guy is a very, tall, good looking, charismatic, white man. If you fit you have that much privilege, it might help. But seriously, they totally dismiss any kind of social injustice or lack of resources as playing a hand in your life. You know why? Because they haven’t had to deal with it. Get a counselor, find god, get a job coach that’s in your field, and if you must, buy his books, but don’t waste your last pennies on this guy. He doesn’t care, which is why he is so incredibly rich. When I called 2x and emailed 6x, because my app didn’t work, they never responded. I asked for help and then a refund and nothing. You can’t even cancel before your free trial is up. You know why? Because they don’t give a fuck about you. They are on a huge ego trip based on privilege.

    Reply
  101. Jack Tan

    Valid article even if slightly vindictive.
    Our celebrity and quick fix/instant gratification culture is what fuels Robbins popularity but as the author writes Robbins does have a lot of good content.
    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on Brian Tracy. He’s not one to fire up a crowd into a frenzy or promise instant results. He preaches consistent incremental growth.

    Reply
  102. Akhil

    You just spoiled a lot of articles and authors for me just by publishing this one article. Anyways thanks . It does open my eyes a little bit but I do believe that personal development can help me. Also I do resonate with most of the content in your articles. Even I feel it’s a sham now. I think I have all I need to make myself better .

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Akhil – thanks for the note. I completely aggress with you: you do have everything you need to make yourself better. Most people are far more powerful than they realize. If you find yourself struggling a bit (which is normal), reach out to someone who can help. Friend, therapist, mental health professional, family, etc. No need to go it alone.

      Reply
  103. Brian

    Great article. I’ve personally found motivational coaches helpful for providing useful insights into behaviors. However, the key to understanding them is to temper your expectations, and to realize that these people are not wizards who are going to revolutionize your life with one seminar, video or book. Many of us are in search of that “one weird trick” or X Factor that will make all our dreams come true, whether it’s in the form of positive thinking, mindfulness, therapy or religion. Someone like Tony Robbins can get you pointed in the right direction, but in the end it’s up to you to do the hard, careful work.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Great question, Stephen. It varies from person to person. I think the starting spot with almost everyone is asking the question, “Is there actually anything wrong with me or have I just been tricked into believing I want to be someone I’m not?” Shockingly often, the later is the case. Coaches can be of great value if you’re looking to speed up your success in a well defined category, and I offer a few guidelines in the article. For deeper issues, I tend to recommend therapy, though finding a good therapist will likely take a bit of time (it is however, extremely, extremely worth it). If you’re just lacking motivation or need a few quick tricks, personal development books are also extremely useful.

      Reply
    1. Jason

      Hey Marsha! Occasionally. If I am truly a good fit for the person, and the areas they are looking to grow in match my expertise (confidence, entrepreneurship, speaking, self-love/self-compassion) then I’m always open to mentoring. If you’re interested in seeing if we’re a good fit, you can reach me here: http://jasonconnell.co/contact

      Reply
  104. JDNickel

    These so-called coaches, as has been stated in different ways, keep people down and keep them, pardon the expression, slaves. Telling them it’s going to get better right around the corner of the next product or seminar… That we are inadequate in and of ourselves and instead of learning some new skills are led to believe that they hold the answer and our best future.
    Politicians have done the same things to weak, poor and uneducated people… keeping them down and telling them that they have the answer for them… And have their lives improved?… Generally speaking no.

    Reply
  105. Andrew

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved this piece. Without going into too many details, I have been in a rut for a while and I know from experience (or from spending too much time on the Internet) how when you’re in a rut, life coaches and professional development gurus and self-help books seem to just find you. Its like when you don’t pay attention to the make and models of other cars on the road, you never notice all different types, but the moment someone says there are so many Chevys, you start to see them everywhere. Life circumstances make you notice details you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. But after reading a couple of books and blogs, and watching a few Tony Robbins specials, I couldn’t help but feel there was something off about them all. It felt like the seminars and books were more for their benefit than it was for mine. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I started to get a really sore taste for the whole self-help, motivational coach industry. As that distrust built, Tony Robbins charisma and charm turned far more off-putting than alluring, despite some of his ideas being good advice. His good ideas seemed too few and far between endless profound-sounding platitudes and vast oversimplifications. I think your article perfectly articulated what I couldn’t put into words I felt was wrong with it all and why it didn’t help. Thank you very much for your post. I rarely do this, but I am actually going to subscribe to your newsletter. From this one article, you seem very different from the run-of-the-mill fake entrepreneurs posing as life coaches, with their 60 minute free webinars that end up being 50 minutes of them talking about themselves and up-selling their products and 10 minutes worth of barely-passable good advice, and their e-books that paraphrase the same recycled ideas from the same authors (Covey, Hill, Carnegie, Peale, Robbins, and Byrne). Thank you again. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Andrew – first of all, thanks so much for the comment. I really appreciate it. I’m honored that you feel I’m different than a lot of fake voices on the internet. I hope to prove you right, and thanks for signing up. 🙂

      Reply
  106. Le Duc Thuan

    from [Dean La Douceur, MBA] in Quora

    Is Tony Robbins a Scam or Con Artist?

    The answer to both is yes and no.

    Some of the earlier answers talk about the man. I think you have to look at the message. Humans will ultimately fail if judged, because we are looking for something to judge them upon.

    If you look to his products as a panacea to solve all your problems, you might as well just hand him the check directly. You can’t just read or listen to his thoughts the way you would watch a movie or listen to music. Yet, seminars for speakers like him and others along with many who attend houses of worship are full of people who want an hour of hearing an upbeat, pleasant message to counter the arguments at home, stresses at work and the general bad news which the media brings. It’s just human nature. Robbins didn’t invent this.

    Key in any sort of personal development path, Robbins or not, is finding the thought or strategy that really resonated with you. From there, you want to work diligently on it until you have some measure of self mastery from this. Then, if you like his core message, find another thought or strategy that really resonated with you. From there, you want to work diligently on the second one until you have some measure of self mastery from this while you watch the first one to insure you keep your level of competence and mastery.

    One great idea from anyone can change your life. But the opportunity to change comes with work gloves, not pillows.

    If you think Tony Robbins is a Con Artist, what do you think about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa…You’ve got to ask yourself this question. Great Men are Not God as well and Scammer, they just Work Harder At What They Do Than Anyone Else.

    Reply
  107. Lori Heisler

    I completely appreciate and agree with your perspective here Jason. Thank you for having the courage to shed light on the truth and for revealing the potential dangers of personal development and continuous improvement.

    Reply
  108. James Cole

    Great article Jason. As a professional life coach and hypnotherapist, I agree with most of what you are saying here. Through my journey, I’ve had a lot of contact with other coaches and personal development professionals and have seen a lot of the stuff you are talking about. The endless up-sells, wrapped in manipulative language, the endless promises of an easy to achieve happy future and blah blah blah….
    I think so many have forgotten (or maybe they were never aware of) the point of being a life coach; To empower people. To help them see the way to their dreams that for whatever reason, they can’t see themselves. I’m always left with a dirty taste in my mouth when I see a so called coach or PD guru going through the motions of disempowering someone first in order get that up-sell. The most disappointing part is all of this is allowed even when being a member of organisations such as the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and the like which are supposed to be a code of ethics for coaches to follow.
    I believe a lot of it comes down to one thing… Money and a desperate pursuit to gain more and more and more…
    One of the core principles we are taught of the Law of Attraction is that the energy you put out is the energy you will receive. Making money from a place of desperation must have some interesting side effects.
    I personally take the approach that the results of my clients are everything and my own personal success will come from theirs. I’m not interested in holding on to clients for ever. I want them out in the world being happy and successful as quickly as possible. Sometimes that’s from nothing more than a simple change of perspective that I can do over the phone in our first (and then only) conversation. If it is that simple, I’ve got no interest in locking them in to endless sessions and stealing their money… And sometimes it is over multiple sessions reinforcing and backing up techniques until the results they are seeking are achieved. Either way, once they’re done, they’re done and I couldn’t be happier to loose them as a client. Maybe an odd approach to the more business minded but it certainly works for me as is evident in the emails I get with success stories. I also have a pricing model that allows clients to attach their own value to the results they received which I believe to be far more fairer than a standard “buy my 12 session package” approach.
    The one area I will have to disagree is with the comment about NLP. Is it a pseudoscience? Well I guess it is as from a truly scientific point of view it has not been proven nor disproven. However I can state with certainty that using NLP techniques, I myself and a lot of my clients have had amazing results. The mind is a curious thing for which we still know relatively little about. I’m sure at some point in the future, many of the NLP techniques will become scientifically sound, along with some we’ll be scratching our heads wondering what we were thinking 😉

    Reply
  109. Devang Thanki

    Bang on!!! Mr.Jason,these personal development seminars and self-help books just pump up your confidence for some part.Then reality comes in and nothing works.I was in similar situation where my business was not running properly and then I tried NLP and Mindfulness only to find more anxiety.I loved your few pointers on making life much more better.

    Prioritizing sleep, diet, or exercise (they’re all reciprocal)
    Learning to leave your comfort zone
    Developing a spiritual, religious or contemplative practice
    Becoming a giver
    Learning to feel that you are intrinsically worthy of love and respect
    Developing authentic confidence and charisma
    Eliminating the lies from your life so that you live in integrity
    Improving your social skills
    Aligning your actions with your desires

    I feel these are actually true.Adding being with Nature would be much better.It is only us in the end which can help bring change in ourselves if any.Life coaches can help us deviate from our true selves.

    Reply

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