I watched the documentary Tony Robbins: I’m not your guru yesterday. For those of you who’ve not heard of Tony Robbins before, he is a self-help guru who has hosted personal development seminars around the world for about 25 years. Thousands of people attend his events every year, and he’s probably the most famous motivational speaker in the world.
I’ve never attended any of his seminars and I’m not planning to, but it was good to get some insight into what they are like. My only previous experience has been watching some of Robbins’ talks online.
To set the scene: imagine a huge stage, a hyped-up speaker who jumps on a trampoline before going on stage, loud music and thousands of people looking for healing from the pain that life brings.
In the film we follow Robbins, his team and some participants during a six-day-long seminar called ‘Date with Destiny’. The seminar promises to change your life. As Robbins explains: ‘this is for the hungry and people who want more from life’. The event takes place in Florida, US, and costs US $4,995 to attend.
During the event people from the audience stand up and share their innermost secrets and deepest thoughts with thousands of strangers. In the moment it looks amazing, but I can’t help thinking about what happens in the future. Being cheered on by thousands of people is a boost for anyone, but what happens when the feelings of loneliness and meaninglessness come back?
I’ve been to some events in London where people stand up and share their issues with the rest of the room. What you get when you do this is a quick-fix analysis of your life, your issues and what you need to do to fix them, the same happens in this movie. Robbins calls himself a practical psychologist, and I think he has a big heart, but his methods scare me.
In the film Robbins gets a woman to call her boyfriend and break up with him live in front of 2,500 people. She calls him using the speaker on her phone and pushes the mic next to it. I think the boyfriend hung up on her after a minute. At the end of the movie, the epilogue tells you that the couple stayed together after having some deep conversations.
Another woman, who grew up in a sect in which certain members sexually abused other members from the age of six, stands up and asks for healing, she says she wants to kill herself. At the end of her public healing session she had picked three men from the audience to act as her uncles, and they will be there for her and show support without asking for sexual favours. It’s painful to hear her story, and after the movie you learn that she is starting up a support network for people who’ve had similar experiences.
An acquaintance who’s been to a handful of Robbins’ events around the world told me in confidence that they got addicted to the seminars, but made no real changes in their lives. Why? I’m not sure, but I think life can be a painful mess, and there are not many quick-fix solutions that sticks.
People learn from experience and going to an event like this may change your life and you may make many new friends. But, I would find it hard to see people standing up talking about their suicidal thoughts and why they are not worthy in this polished mega-rock-concert way.
I’ve met people who are part of the tribe around Tony Robbins, and there is little room to discuss and talk about the after-effects of his seminars, and if they really work. It is as if his methods are unquestionable, and when you are sharing your thoughts you hear that you are not open to receive, and as in any evangelic congregation, you are just wrong if you don’t agree with the leaders.
The makers of Tony Robbins: I’m not your guru have staged a perfect film featuring deep and sensitive issues. Tony Robbins is the superhero and the seminar attendees are his disciples. Everyone who was featured in the film was positive and adored Tony Robbins. It would have been better if they also showed some people who were more skeptical about the ‘Tony cult’. Both perspectives would have made the film richer. In the end, Tony Robbins tries to suggest that nobody would be interested in a movie about him, maybe it’s a way to make him look humble? (Which he is not.)
A small warning, if you been to any seminars with Robbins you know what to expect, but if you are new to this world of personal development you may be terrified.
When Joe Berlinger, the director, attended his first Tony Robbins event in 2012 he wanted to leave immediately. He was then persuaded by his wife to stay and deeply enjoyed it. He decided he would shoot the documentary to make a feel-good film after watching too many depressing documentaries.
If you would like a peek behind the scenes of the Tony Robbins factory, log in to Netflix.
Life is not easy and it’s hard to find meaning. It’s through connection with others that life becomes bearable. There are many positive messages shared in the film, and we are reminded that we can change our lives even if we have reached rock bottom. It’s good to remind yourself that change is possible and that we are all loveable and able to show love.