Anthony Robbins 'Unleash The Power Within (UPW) seminar is attended by 6000-8000 people at many venues and has proved popular over several decades. Should I attend the UPW Seminar? I think so. UPW - not to be confused with AR's book Awaken the Giant Within - is an excellent seminar with many useful tools. I have been a fan of Tony Robbins' books and audio programmes for many years. However, the UPW Seminar is far from perfect. Is it possible to give a perfect seminar covering both psychology and health issues? Probably not, and especially when it comes to health areas, opinions differ widely. I list the pros and cons below (based on 2002 course content) based on his own values, beliefs, observations, knowledge and experiences. This is a general discourse raising some points that could perhaps improve the seminar and reduce its weak or questionnable areas.
Excellent psychology teaching, you cannot afford to miss out on this! Much of this can be learnt from reading Tony Robbins' books or listening to his CDs, which is far cheaper than attending a seminar. However, the spirit and enthusiasm behind the writing does not come across so strongly in the books if you are not familiar with Tony Robbins' style. This is where the CDs have an added benefit. But attending a seminar is the full immersion and intensive learning experience. For those lacking motivation it helps to you practice what you are learning, whilst in an optimum frame of mind for maximum impact.
Terrific enthusiasm and energy
Great and convenient way to learn
Great sense of unity amongst crowd, not experienced in many other places
Tony does his best to connect with all kinds of people of all beliefs and backgrounds and largely succeeds
The need for rest and mental calm (focusses on left brain controlling and rushing around completing tasks and goals to attain happinness - a western/american/neurotic philosophy. Of course, achieving tasks and goals is very constructive, and this really has to be emphasised for those unmotivated members of the audience, but too much energy in this one area can burn a person out and plunge them into ill-health. It is important to instill beliefs that one is happy with oneself and accepts oneself the way one is at all times, to be at peace with oneself, but simultaneously motivating people to help them get what they want and to be who they want to be. Clearly it is a very fine balance in terms of core beliefs, and this distinction is not really made very well in the seminar. A Taoist or Buddhist would be in horror at many aspects of the bias of this seminar! Tony Robbins himself has destroyed his own voice through overdoing his seminar circuit. This is clearly not balanced! And he is telling you how to be a balanced person supposedly! Perhaps Tony is the way he is on account of insecurity from his youth, having been very poor and striving wealth and success, and later on having been very overweight and feeling bad about it.
Although there is a great deal of content in terms of material in the seminar, it is barely scratching the surface in terms of personal development and spiritual growth (which the seminar at points refers to and purports to represent). There are many other speakers out there who cover slightly different material, but go much deeper into concepts of the ego and spiritual development. Tony's seminar presents methods of self-development that rely mainly on goal setting and the ego. The concepts of ego are not presented clearly or made clear to the audience.
Tendency not to give sufficient examples. Tony has a tendency to on occasion give an example 'so and so', which is not exactly a specific example of a point he is trying to illustrate. Often this may occur when he is making a crucial or important point, and after giving a non-example, will move onto the next point. We of course put this down to enthusiasm. But when making an important point it can lead to confusion or misunderstanding, resulting in perhaps instilling of negative beliefs in a certain area. Theory is all very well, but it is very important to apply it to everyday circumstances, and to give enough examples for each point that the audience fully understands it and its application, and does not apply limits to the idea or concept or indeed totally misunderstand it!
The approach to learning is 'total immersion' of seminar attendees, hence seminar sessions lasting all day and all evening, sometimes going on into the early hours of the morning. Whilst this may be useful in terms of a learning tool, it is a form of conditioning using repetition of concepts over many hours. Whilst this may be considered a form of positive conditioning, it is conditioning nethertheless. Some may consider this type of training much better than self-conditioning, where the level of excitement is not high enough to achieve good results. This type of 'total immersion' was used to great effect by Adolf Hitler in his long speeches to huge crowds, which were highly repetitive and which would go on all day. Hitler would whip crowds of 100s of thousands into a frenzy. Hitler's speeches achieved a high level of success in terms of getting the audience to think how he wanted them to think (i.e. brainwashing and conditioning).
Hugely expensive seminars. Is this a way of making you motivated to attend (so you really appreciate it when you have scraped the money together), or is it cynical capitalism? I once had a letter in the post offering exclusive front row seats at his seminar for several THOUSAND pounds! Their sales staff use every cheap sales trick in the book to get you to attend. It is good sales technique on their part, up to a point, but hard selling techniques show a lack of respect for your prospective customers intelligence. It is selling at the lower end of the sales spectrum, where the customer feels 'closed'. You expect to be treated with respect and not pushed into anything or to be taken advantage of when it comes to matters of the mind, one's emotions and feelings, and psychology products in general. One likes to think one has made an educated and informed purchase and has not been closed as if one was purchasing double glazing.
Manipulative. After hyping up everyone in the crowd, at certain intervals in the seminar he tries to sell you further seminars. Now, although this is probably in your best interest, as the additional seminars are often very good, they are also very expensive! And taking advantage of people at their most vulnerable and impressionable, when they hang on your every word, and using your sense of trust to cynically sell them more of your products and to make money out of them is highly cynical! It is not respectful. Most people can see through this and they tend to raise their guards somewhat, which is the exact opposite of what Tony Robbins wants to achieve in the seminar. In the ideal world, one should trust the leader of the seminar 100% and be comfortably and fully engrossed in the seminar experience gaining maximum benefit and not have to worry about him playing mind games with you. Some attendees are however sold on further seminars this way. We are not denying that Tony Robbins other seminars have benefit in them. They are probably excellent. However, they tend to become increasingly more expensive as you 'graduate' through the 'mastery university', especially those seminars held at private health resorts and Tony Robbins' own resort on Fiji. This provides Tony Robbins with increasingly more profit (admittedly from few attendees per event) from his hard core of seminar faithful, who pay virtually any amount of money for further coaching. What value can you put on improving your life? It is a philosophical question indeed. The mindset that this kind of sales technique promotes however is dependency and passivity, that you will be happy/even happier once you attend ANOTHER seminar, and you become reliant on Tony Robbins a little like a crack cocaine user becomes reliant on his continuous drug supply. The diversity of courses and training available is sold in such a way that it provides a 'turn key' solution to every area of your life. It is almost as if you need not read anything else that isn't on the reading list of Tony's seminar notes or attend anyone else's seminars apart from Tony's to learn everything you need to know in life and to be happy. People come to see Tony Robbins as the sole source of figuring out life and being happy. Whilst he may indeed help, there is a great deal of information, tools and experiences out there if you talk to enough people, read enough good books, use your initiative and learn from your mistakes and discover for yourself. There is life outside Tony Robbins! During UPW, you were perhaps confident and certain that what you were learning was really the core skills you needed to further your life and to break out of patterns of unhappiness. You were perhaps quite happy before he mentioned further seminars. Now that you know that you might be 'missing out' on even better teaching if you don't attend some of these additional seminars, you are unlikely to feel quite so good about yourself, what you have achieved and the seminar you are taking part in here and now. There is enough to focus on in the seminar that is of profound importance without distracting and confusing people. Why spoil someone's seminar? Tony Robbins is creating a pain in you, a pain that wasn't there before he started talking about his other seminars. The pain of not attending other seminars and gaining even more benefit. The idea is to motivate you to attend more of his seminars, which directly translates into profit to fund his helicopter and island purchases. I am not convinced that selling additional seminars in this way encourages people to think for themselves and to really value and focus on what they are actually at the seminar to learn. It should really be left up to the individual whether he or she wants to attend further seminars, and attendees could respectfully be informed (as opposed to sold) about the seminars at the END of the seminar, not every few hours through the days of the seminar. Or perhaps better still, no mention could be made at all, and information could just be available at a stand only. If you don't focus on the here and now of what you are learning, you may not value it as much or may create beliefs about what you are learning which may limit their effectiveness. Or you may not believe that the seminar you are attending is going to be enough to make you happy. Simplicity is nearly always the key to fundamental principles of the mind. The seminar is there to focus on the basics. Let people do this without distracting them with a sales pitch on future seminars! A sales pitch is what you expect at a free seminar, not at a seminar where you have paid a large amount of money for. If you are conducting a participatory psychological therapy/coaching session (which is what UPW really is, it isn't strictly speaking just a seminar where information is imparted), then you shouldn't be trying to sell someone a service or product during your session. Any psychiatrist or psyho-analyst who did this during his patients' appointments would be highly unethical. Clearly the whole way Tony practices psychological treatment on the spot (one of the core concepts of NLP) has changed greatly from his grass roots way of treating and helping people, to his seminars and corporate businesses today.
Not enough thinking for oneself. Tony Robbins thought for himself to get where he is today and to develop his ideas, and conditioned himself, but then most people he is teaching are being groomed to be like him and share his ideas, not to formulate their own thoughts and ideas, and figure out things for themselves, without being pressured or conditioned by someone else. This isn't what made Tony Robbins who he is. Tony Robbins indeed wants to share his ideas and techniques with his audience, so inevitably there will be an element of 'learning from Tony' and adopting his techiques. The whole idea of the seminar is not to teach attendees a series of dry techniques and not practice them. His philosophy is to get you to practice them there and then in a peak state for maximum effect, and in many places inserting your own content/beliefs/values. So whilst there is an element of thinking for yourself and learning about yourself promoted, he is in a sense grooming you to have a particular spread of personality characteristics and accepting his values, beliefs, priorities and techniques. Different NLP seminars have different styles and ways of teaching the audience techiques and getting them to practice them and feel them and experience them in action, and getting people to loosen up and lose their inhibitions. Tony has one way of doing it. The optimum teaching method is clearly very difficult. But there are many other methods and styles out there. Attend some other seminars and compare the experience, the techniques learnt, how well you retain them and how well you retain your own sense of independence, identity and values.
Hero worshipping. Every seminar you go to, you always find a significant number of hero worshippers, who really love Anthony Robbins. Tony often invites members of the audience to ask him a question. When these people ask him a question, shamelessly in front of 8000 people, they say that their life problems will be over if they move to California and live really close to Anthony. This is not a joke! This kind of thing happens at nearly every event. Now, any great teacher is bound to get a few lonely, insecure people lacking confidence and better judgement, who hero worship him. What an decent person should do is to dispell their image of him being 'the Christ' and to say that he's just like any other guy, and to cut it out! But he doesn't say that. He never quite spells it out! He makes a half hearted attempt to dispell his hero image, but at the same time, when he tries to connect with the crowd and have fun with them during his water pistol session, people go crazy and want to touch or get as close to him as possible as he is 'so cool'. Perhaps what Tony is getting out of this exercise isn't quite the same as what the members of the crowd are getting from the experience. He needs to be less naive. Perhaps he is trying to be respectful. Perhaps not. He almost encourages hero worshipping with pictures of him all over the place and his entourage get the crowd going as if he's a superstar, and treat him like he's a pop star when he comes on stage. At the end of the day he is looking to promote his business and his business is all about him. Showbiz and psychology don't mix. Of course, everyone likes a little attention. But I don't think any other serious psychologist would encourage fans and hero worshipping in the same way. It is highly dubious in my opinion.
The flip side of his attempt to create religious unity is that he creates a wishy washy 'religious' experience, encouraging the faithful to thank God, but the faithless to thank themselves or life generally. For many people, attending the seminar has many things in common with attending an excellent religious service, except that each person inserts the crucial religious beliefs themselves into the blanks. This is a way of focussing people on common ground, but it also creates a wishy washy, ecumenical type experience, which ignores all fundamental tenets of belief that do not conveniently fit in to this experience. Is watering down faiths a good idea? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That is for you to decide. Clearly there is too much division between people of different and similar faiths. People often focus on the differences rather than what they all have in common. But then again, faith is faith! You can't pick and choose the parts you like and don't like! You can't have your cake and eat it. So every approach will have its flaws. Sure, it's great having muslims, hindus, sikhs and christians all praying together, and who exactly are they all praying to? It's like having a group of teenagers, each talking about their favourite group, and none of them listening to what the others are saying, but all agreeing with each other. Have you ever had one of those conversations when you were young?
Tendency to gloss over core NLP theories, give flippant references to NLP without explaining very much about it at all, and to not encourage participants to study current NLP theory, from where Tony's ideas originated and developed.
Extremely bad dancing by 'cheerleaders' on the stage before Tony appears. You are unlikely to get 'served' by dancing like this! (I am just teasing here!) The dancing and music is great and encourages people to feel upbeat before the seminar starts. Many people are too reserved, grumpy or inhibited to get up and just dance at 9am! But it's worth letting go occasionally, preferably more often the better, but not necessarily on demand like a tap whenever you are 'told/instructed/socially pressured' to do so!
One other significant part of the seminar that is highly dubious is the final day, with Joseph McClendon III. He is a nice guy, highly entertaining and funny; and I assume he has little leeway in the content of the Living Health lecture he presents, but it really is a mixture of useful and incorrect information. Tony Robbins takes the approach where he talks to the best of the best in all fields, and comes up with universal principles that apply to all people. His ideas have changed over time, they have evolved. This is a great approach when it comes to psychology, but when it comes to 'health mastery', there is no one diet that is perfect for everyone. This is the fundamental difference between the two areas, which isn't quite understood by Tony or seminar attendees. People attending this seminar are hearing Tony's current thinking on diet which might well change in a few years time as he has more experience. Who knows! The word on the street is that the content of Living Health hasn't gone down that well during the first half of the millennium, and that the content is being significantly revised for the fall of 2006 onwards. Tony's entourage seem to be required to have exactly the same views as him in all areas, including health. Whatever happened to using one's brain? I would advise anyone attending the UPW seminar to simply skip the last day, or conversely attend but put him on the spot and talk to other attendees and try to educate them. I summarise my views on this part of the seminar below. The trouble with the seminar is that because you have spent 3 days building up a high level of trust with Tony Robbins and being hyped up, you will believe every word Joseph tells you during his presentation on the fourth day, whether it is good or bad advice. Tony Robbins may be a genius at psychology, but would you ask a soldier for romantic advice? Would you ask your doctor for recommendations about pop music? Would you ask a mechanic about dieting? You cannot be an expert in all things. Seek out the wise and experts in their area of expertise, don't expect them to have wisdom in all areas of life! The patterns of the mind are quite simple really. However, the body is a completely different kettle of fish and is extremely complex. Living Health is well intentioned (probably) but is in specific areas highly irresponsible. Let's hope the course content is improved.
'Living Health' - Health Mastery or Health Destruction?
The useful parts of the presentation are:
Food combining - balancing food types for optimum digestion
Emphasis on eating more fruit and vegetables
Proper diaphragm breathing for oxygenation
Cardiovascular exercise tips for health
Toxic components of vaccines
Dangers of overeating and undereating
Toxicity being a major contributing factor in diseases in general
The erroneous or highly subjective parts of the presentation are:
Failure to communicate or emphasize the difference between a temporary juice fast or detox and a long term, sustainable diet. Also failure to communicate the difference between juicing vegetables and blending vegetables for the 'fast'. The focus was on a juice fast, but it is not reasonable to expect those of varying levels of nutritional awareness to embark on such an extreme exercise with only the information provided at the seminar. Such an endeavour should involve considerable research and background reading before embarking on. The heavy focus on raw food and the consumption of large quantities of raw green vegetables every day is presumably intended for the juice fast. Short term most people can get away with such a fast, but some who have been eating too much raw food in the past (not suited to their energetic balance according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, i.e. too much cold and damp energy) may not get on well with a juice fast. This approach clearly does not work for everyone. Long term, for every person who thrives on a raw vegan diet, there is someone else who has had their health destroyed by such a diet. Particularly those with a poorly functioning digestive system to start with, which is perhaps half the population in varying degrees. Tony and many Western nutrition 'scientists' have studied nutrition for a very short period of time, relatively speaking. The Chinese and Indians on the other hand have studied the human body for 5000 years. Why not ask them? There are many valid points here but there is a little reinventing of the wheel going on, and a rather subjective and imbalanced view of detoxification presented. Any good Chinese acupuncturist or herbalist will tell you that consuming much raw food is bad for the body, if the constitution is not strong enough. Of course, everything should be in moderation! Ayurvedic Medicine will tell you the same thing. Perhaps a pattern is emerging here! A discussion on juice fasting and my personal experiences can be found on the Mucoid Plaque page and the Detox Protocols page.
All fats are bad for you. This is NOT correct. Perhaps this was not intended to be communicated, but the way it was presented and the way the workbook was worded, it did come across like this. The body REQUIRES a balance of Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, which are essential for proper bodily functioning. Avoiding fats and eating plenty of carbohydrates will make you fat in any case, and will encourage an unhealthy digestive system. The living health booklet does mention that a diet too high in fat is bad, but doesn't really go into what fats are better than others in the amount of fat that is 'healthy'.
All dairy products are bad for you. This is perhaps true in many cases. Many people are allergic to dairy, and milk dairy is the most mucus-producing food type (contributing to mucoid plaque build up). See the Food Allergy page and Mucoid Plaque page for more formation. But everyone is different, and to make such a blanket statement is heavily biased. Of course, a person's exact diet depends on their overall health and specific issues they may or may not have (e.g. candida etc), allergies and intolerances. Raw milk is shown to be very beneficial in many people who are able to tolerate milk and diary products. A difference could have been explained between raw milk, quality whey products and natural yoghurt, and pasturised milk, sugary yoghurts and cheap whey products.
Emphasis on low protein diet (see below under 'glaring omissions'). Most health commentators recommend a high protein diet and low sugar diet. Clearly opinions vary on this subject, divided between the raw vegans and the high protein raw milk and grass fed beef camp.
Claim that cells can live indefinitely if given enough nutrients and having toxins removed from them, in vitro. Whilst certain isolated experiments may show long life of certain plant cells in such circumstances, it is a big step to make this statement about humans. Cells are programmed to die, it is part of their genetics. This is known as apoptosis (Programmed Cell Death). Cells are regenerated in the body on a continual basis. This latter fact is mentioned in the seminar but the two concepts are not tied together in any way. Seminar attendees are left believing that they can liver forever if they eliminate enough toxins and each a nutritious enough diet (by these standards). Whilst one can ward off the ageing process to some extent by consuming enough antioxidants etc., this is hardly the same as eternal physical life! No mention of the Chinese tradition of Taoism and science behind long life.
Joseph said that he did not have time to discuss any of the health supplements he was taking (presumably quite an important part of his regime?), but he had plenty of time to show overly emotional repetitive videos about the meat industry. Arguments against eating meat or dairy products used gross generalisations, emotional arguments and somewhat incorrect facts in places. For examples, eating beef was compared to eating excrement on account of the type of bacteria present in tenderised meat - which perhaps constitutes a very small proportion of beef actually consumed. In addition, just because a beef burger is brown does not equate it to being like 'sh*t'. Joseph also compares chicken to drinking urine or 'p*ss' as it contains uric acid. What he in fact means is purine, which the body converts to uric acid. However, he prefers to use the term uric acid as he can compare it to the term 'urine' for those lacking in imagination. He also states that eating eggs is bad for you as you are eating something that comes out of a 'chicken's ass'. Sure, he was joking, and he means the hen's vagina, but clearly he should avoid exaggeration to make a point, and focus on presenting the facts and letting people make up their own minds. Some of the less educated may believe that eggs come out of the anus. Misinformation as above only detracts from the credibility of the speaker and actual genuine information being imparted - if you can't believe one part, it casts doubts on other areas. Vaccines are criticised for their toxin content, but also because of the method of preparation as it is considered 'gory'. Whilst this may be a valid reason for avoiding vaccination, preying on people's conditioned squeamishness and baby-like nature (and inability to see carcasses and corpses), for some people, not everyone is so squeamish and emotional about this subject. For them, solid scientific reasons about what it is bad for THEM are valid. Joseph's arguments for avoiding meat and dairy products are based on these foods having a 'face'. Graphic pictures of slaughter houses are all very well but this assumes that they are all the same. Whilst he tries to shock people into giving up meat and dairy, the Living Health booklet does not and states that one should cut down on one's meat intake to a moderate level. Overemphasising is not clever. Consistency leads to a greater level of uptake and comprehension. Joseph also shows pictures of the fat content of blood after eating a beef burger. As described below, certain fats are 'good' and others are 'bad', and if one was to eat a meal with beneficial fats, e.g. oily fish or coconut oil, then the appearance of the blood would be similarly 'oily'. Being 'oily' temporarily is part of the digestion process and is not necessarily bad just because it looks gross. If one was to open up the average person's body, then most people would find it distasteful, despite the fact that one carries it around with them all the time and it is part of you. That does not mean the human body should be avoided or that it is 'bad' because there is blood and guts! It would be wiser to show what a healthy body looks like inside, and what an unhealthy one looks like (with fat covering major organs and displacing organs from their normal position, fur lined arteries, bloated colon etc.) Being scared of what the human body actually is is rather childish. One has to differentiate between the ceasing of life from a sentient being and what one is doing to a sentient being whilst alive, and the actual physical form of a carcass or body which is a thing.
The glaring omissions of the presentation are:
The dangers from eating too many grains (especially processed cereal based foods, like white flour/bread), i.e. (simple carbohydrates). Also food allergies associated with many grains (prefers to pick on milk alone presumably because of vegan type emotional arguments).
The dangers of eating too little protein (not for dietary needs but to keep up high levels of stomach acid which are needed to eliminate parasites and bad bacteria from enering the GI tract.
Seminar focusses on getting people to eat less meat/fish and protein in general (i.e. promoting vegetarianism or veganism, which there is nothing wrong with if done properly, but many of the dietary pitfalls amongst, non-vegetarians, vegetarians and vegans are not mentioned or highlighted).
Describes one very severe way of detoxing only and does not mention any others. No naturopath would assume one detox method works for everyone, and certainly would not recommend starving oneself for 10 days on a diet of raw green vegetables (especially in cases where individuals may already be very slim or may have impaired digestive systems). Perhaps people detoxed like this in the stone age! It seems that the 10 day detox programme is geared mainly towards weight loss (for more obese people).
Risks of mercury amalgam fillings.
Vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
Digestive problems such as low enzyme/stomach acid production, bad bacteria, parasites and candida. These things affect everyone to an extent, but more severely people with ME and fibromyalgia etc.
Probiotics (not mentioned at all -only scaring people off natural yoghurt as it is an evil dairy product)
General conditions like ME and MS and what can be done to help them using natural methods - this affects up to 10% of the audience to greater or lesser extents.
I have been reliably informed that Tony Robbins has decided to update the Living Health part of the seminar, which unofficially has been due to the increasing number of complaints about this section of the seminar. A revised Living Health seminar is scheduled for Q3 2006 onwards. The UPW seminar may not however be continuing for very much longer in any case. Catch the seminar whilst you can!