Q&A: Tony Robbins

Personal development coach brings self-help technique to TV

Illustration by Chris Morris
For three decades, personal development coach Tony Robbins has had a presence on TV via late-night infomercials, talk-show interviews and cameo appearances. On July 27, he'll launch his first primetime series, "Breakthrough With Tony Robbins," on NBC, where the multimillionaire author and speaker will use his coaching techniques on individuals seeking to improve their lives.

The Hollywood Reporter: You've been courted for a reality show for years. Why now?

Tony Robbins: The reason I wanted to do something was all hell was breaking loose in the world; there was such enormous levels of stress. When you turn on the news, the nature of what we call the news -- it's something that jolts you, and you see nothing but the tragedies and what you need to fear next. And when you go to reality shows, the majority of them are really about humiliation. I thought people need inspiration, but not fake inspiration. Watching real people in extremely stressful real-life experiences and watching them over a period of time, 30 days, really transforming their life. (Producers) kept saying, "Here's what we are going to do: We are going to tell them to say this, because it is more efficient." I said, "We aren't going to tell them to say anything; we are not going to produce anything. If we are going to do this, it's going to be raw and real and, yeah, that's scary."

THR: A reality TV show on a major network is a long-odds business, and it's very public when things don't work out. If this show doesn't work, will that bother you?

Robbins: It already has worked out because my outcomes for the show are simple. I knew it was a huge risk, obviously, but it was worth it because I wanted to do something that was different and unique and would inspire people. NBC sees it as a series; I see it as six specials -- that's all I agreed to do. So I'm not committing to do this going forward, I'm committed to take on these six families' lives and transform them.

THR: You wrote two best-selling books during the 1990s and then stopped. Do you have plans to publish again?

Robbins: For years I've had three book contracts with publishers to write other books, but with all that I do with my life, writing is my least favorite thing. Fewer and fewer people spend time reading, and where I love to work is live with real people. Am I going to sit down and write or am I going to go and do a dozen events with 5,000-10,000 people? So will I write again? Probably, in the next couple of years, but for me it's more audio, video and live events.

THR: Do you still read every self-improvement title that comes out, and are there any that have impressed you during the past decade or so?

Robbins: Obviously, Steven Covey is a very dear friend of mine; I've always loved his work. I'm more interested in sociology. I'm more interested in the patterns of what happens, psychologically and culturally, around the world. I've read books all along the way that I thought gave me a sense of the season we are in. The season of the economy is clearly winter right now. People are saying, "Oh, it's getting better." I think it'd be ridiculous to think it's suddenly going to get better with the amount of debt and challenges we have. We are in for some tough times ahead, so we've got to figure out a way to use stress and not let stress use us. There is a whole generation of people who were born in 1910 who, by the time they were 19, it was 1929 when the stock market crashed; they were 29, it was 1939, and it was World War II. We call them the greatest generation, that group of people went through some experiences that made them incredibly strong. We're having our time now to get strong. That's the stuff that grabs me the most at this stage of my life.

THR: Some of your health strategies have been challenged, such as food combining and the notion that all disease can be prevented by keeping your body in peak shape. Have any of your health beliefs changed?

Robbins: I've mellowed. I was a real militant guy before I met my wife, Sage; she balanced me out. When I first met her, I hadn't had chocolate in 20 years. I still share principles, and my attitude is "pick what makes sense to you and go do your own homework." Everyone argues over what's accurate in the nutrition area, and you know you can find people equally qualified tell you if you eat this you're going to live forever and someone else says if you eat that you're going to die. So what I try to do is show people what has made sense to me.

THR: You're a big advocate of goal-setting. What are your goals now?

Robbins: My biggest thing is to constantly increase my impact. When I was in my 20s or 30s, I would have this specific goal that says I'm going to that location, right here. As you mature and hopefully accomplish a few things, you start to realizing that life is unfolding in front of you in ways you can't anticipate. So I pick as a direction, a very clear vision and direction of what I want to do, and as I get closer to it I'm going to decide to go over it, or under it, or through it, and I think that's a more accurate way of doing things. The biggest thing I try to show people is that the worst day they have had in their lives could be their best day.
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