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5 Powerful Takeaways From “I Am Not Your Guru”

If you were thinking about watching it but decided against it thanks to its hefty 1h 55m runtime, here are some key takeaways I got when I sat down for nearly two hours of Tony Robbins.


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Alexander Boswell

4 months ago | 6 min read
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Lessons I learned from Tony Robbins’ documentary

Ifyou’ve ever scrolled through Netflix in the evening — after giving up on the ‘Popular Today’ list, chances are you’ve probably come across the documentary “I Am Not Your Guru.”

The documentary, released in 2016, follows the events and behind the scenes of Tony Robbins’ humongous seminar ‘Date With Destiny’, an annual motivational speaking event that takes place over six days with around 2,500 people in attendance.

For those of you who don’t know who Tony Robbins is, a simplified version is this; he’s a motivational speaker, author, coach and philanthropist.

He started his career as a coach/speaker after watching a Jim Rohn seminar at 17 years old. Since then he’s built an empire amounting to a sweet $600 million net worth.

If you were thinking about watching it but decided against it thanks to its hefty 1h 55m runtime, here are some key takeaways I got when I sat down for nearly two hours of Tony Robbins.

#1. Always work on yourself.

For a guy who has built his entire business on the self-help industry, it’s pretty much a given that his main point is to always work on yourself. Finding opportunities to better yourself wherever and whenever you can is the key to personal growth — we can’t grow if we don’t learn.

In the documentary, Tony himself takes this to extremes when picking people out of the crowd — being an almost week-long, intense event after all.

But if you’re not picked out, it seems like you spend the week doing worksheets and exercises in groups headed by Robbins’ staff. These sheets and activities, as far as I could tell, are designed to help you think deeply about your flaws, strengths and goals in life or business.

You can apply this in your life easily. You don’t need to go to a seminar to do it, just regularly ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have any character flaws within my control that I could work on to improve?
  • What parts of my character are my strength and that I should display as often as possible?
  • What do I want my life to look like in 5/10 years, what specific paths do I need to take to get there?

#2. Problems are what make us grow.

You know that quote, usually placed on top of a photo of the ocean in flowy typography:

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Roosevelt and Robbins both understand the same thing, which is that personal growth and character is developed when overcoming an obstacle in our lives.

You see it all the time, if you know a person who typically runs away from their problems — they never change or grow as people. On the other hand, if you or someone you know has faced issues head-on, then chances are you become a better person for it, with a new understanding of your worldview.

In his documentary, this is the highlight of the work Tony does on camera. He picks people out of his crowd, asks them what their problems are and uses (sometimes morally questionable) ways of helping the person confront their issue from multiple angles.

To apply this in your life:

I wouldn’t recommend going around looking for ways to make life more problematic just to apply this lesson. However, you can view your past experiences through this lens and see how you reacted when coming face-to-face with problems.

Did you run away or avoid the issue? Did you tackle it, head-on? How did you feel afterwards when events came to pass? In hindsight, were you the issue?

#3. Progress = Happiness.

As a nice segue into this crucial point, problems take you on a personal journey in which you make progress in life if you overcome them. If you think about any recent problem you’ve overcome, ponder how it made you feel when it was dealt with.

Tony’s guess is that is made you happy, if not at least content or relieved. It’s a good bet to make because as humans, we need to feel like we are progressing to thrive. If we don’t, you’ll often see can result in adverse mental health and wellbeing.

Many of the attendees in Robbins’ documentary find they are having problems in their life which stem from the feeling of being ‘stuck’ — stuck with an out of shape body, unsuitable partners, depression etc.

Tony finds his job at the seminar is often to help people realise that we are never truly stuck with situations when, as individuals, we are variables. We can make choices that change the outcome.

These choices then create opportunities for progress in our lives, which in the vast majority of the time, will make us happier.

You can apply this point by doing the following:

Think of an area in your life which you feel has stagnated, hasn’t changed at all in a long time and that you would like to change. If you struggle to think of one (first off, good for you), try to evaluate different areas out of 10 and see which has the lowest score. Things like:

  • Career
  • Love life
  • Friendships
  • Health
  • Finances

More if you feel like it, but when you find the one with the lowest score, think of ways you can directly influence that number and make plans on improving it.

#4. Ask better questions.

Asking better, more direct questions from different angles is undoubtedly the most significant indicator of Tony’s style of coaching.

A lot of the time (myself included) people go around in life asking questions to which the answer would not benefit them or take them where they need to be. A few good examples would be:

  • Am I ever going to get that promotion?
  • Will I ever find ‘the one’?
  • How do I know what I’m doing is right for me?

This kind of question, even in different contexts, stems from self-limiting beliefs. It comes from a place of reliance on external forces, and thus, external blame if the answer isn’t what you want to hear.

Instead of letting his attendees ask those kinds of questions, Tony focuses on what the person in front of him can control. Using the questions above and Tony’s coaching style, I can rephrase these as:

  • What can I do that will get me the promotion sooner?
  • Where can I go that will increase my chances of finding ‘the one’?
  • What are the indicators that let me know what I’m doing is right for me, and what can I do to measure them?

The bottom line here is this: if you ask vague questions, you’ll get vague answers. Ask specific questions that you can control, and you’ll have much more helpful answers.

#5. Learn to practice gratitude.

Tony Robbins isn’t the first person to realise the benefits of practising gratitude, and he certainly won’t be the last.

While he doesn’t seem to make a big show of practising gratitude in his on-stage speaking in the documentary, behind the scenes, he does credit a considerable portion of his success to the habit.

In the world of ‘mindfulness’, practising gratitude is simply a way of reminding yourself what you have accomplished and the right parts of your life. It’s a way of getting yourself into a more positive mindset, usually at the start or end of your day.

Though what is more unique to Tony, is his realisation of the link between practising gratitude and lifting self-limiting beliefs for better outcomes. He talks about this in one of the scenes filmed at his house as a one-to-one interview.

His idea is that when you express thanks regularly, you’re more able to flip your self-limiting beliefs into empowering ones.

To do this successfully, he suggests asking yourself the following question:

“Does this belief take me further along the pursuit of gratitude, or does this belief hold me back?”

Examining your self-limiting beliefs and turning them into empowering affirmations is a way to elevate your practice of gratitude to another level.

Final Thoughts

“I Am Not Your Guru” is a curious film to watch. Mainly because seeing the Date With Destiny seminar without being there is a little like watching footage of a music festival. You’ve got the content sure, but you don’t get the experience.

However, with that being said, it’s an intriguing documentary to fill some time with if you’re interested in the life of Tony Robbins and the self-help industry as a whole.

The key takeaways I listed above are lessons Tony goes over with the attendees at his seminar; sprinkled in useful observations if you feel like you want to improve yourself in some way while being entertained by his stage presence.

So, to summarise Tony Robbins’ advice on living your best life:

  • Always work on yourself.
  • Understand that problems are what make us grow.
  • Overcoming those problems and making progress is the key to happiness.
  • Ask better questions to get more helpful answers.
  • Learn to practice gratitude and lift those self-limiting beliefs.

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Alexander Boswell

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Alexander Boswell is a Business Ph.D candidate specialising in Consumer Behaviour and uses this knowledge as a freelance writer in the Content Marketing and B2B SaaS space. Find him on Twitter @alexbboswell or his website alexanderbboswell.com


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