The documentary, I Am Not Your Guru, is the first time that popular motivational teacher Tony Robbins allowed his 6-day annual seminar, “Date with Destiny,” to be filmed. Each day ran about 12 hours and cost each person about $5,000 (at the time this film was made). Motivational is a word that hides a lot of negatives, such as the fact that manipulation is a central part of such seminars.
The number of times Robbins uses the F word in this film should by itself raise questions as to Robbins’ character and spirituality. But his spirituality and philosophy are even more apparent in the beliefs he expresses.
Robbins promotes, uses, and has helped to make popular a method called NLP — neuro-linguistic programming, which is a form of hypnotic persuasion using words and gestures. NLP is often used to convince or persuade people. If one is familiar with NLP, it is easy to see Robbins using it in this seminar.
Robbins and New Thought
Robbins tells the filmmaker that he would say this to himself when he had no money:
God’s wealth is circulating in my life; his wealth flows to me in avalanches of abundance; all my needs, desires, and goals are met instantaneously by infinite intelligence, for I am one with God and God is everything.
Later, Robbins talks about a connection to the divine.
This is evidence that Robbins has, at the very least, been influenced by New Thought. New Thought teaches that one has always been connected to God (the Divine), and that one can bring something into reality by affirming it using words, thoughts, and/or images. Creative visualization is also a common tool of New Thought. These methods are found in most human potential seminars such as those given by Robbins.
<Creative visualization….is based on the occultic principle that what exists in thought can be manifested in reality. This is actually a form of sorcery. As said by ritual magician Donald Tyson, “The underlying premise of a magical ritual is that if you represent a circumstance, or act out an event in your mind, it will come to pass in the world.”22 In sorcery (also called magick), this is sometimes called ‘the Law of Similarity.’23 Underlying this principle are the beliefs that all concepts and objects are alive and that since we are God or Godlike, we are able to create and control with our minds and/or words.24
This belief is found in the New Age idea of creating your own reality, as well as in witchcraft and occultic magick.> Excerpt from CANA article Out of Your Mind: Meditation and Visualization
On the first day, Robbins’ team wants the audience to be at peak excitement, so this team is on the stage whipping people up into fits of enthusiasm before Robbins arrives. This build-up is to make the audience receptive to whatever Robbins will say.
Robbins tells the audience that this seminar is for those who are hungry, and I’ll do whatever the (f-word) it takes to break the pattern so you can reclaim who you are. Robbins asks people to answer questions they may have not ever been asked before. This triggers a faux breakthrough in which an apparent emotional catharsis causes people to think they have achieved some kind of truth or authenticity. These methods are about reprogramming people’s minds, which is what all breakthrough-oriented seminars and those claiming you will have a peak experience are about.
These supposed breakthroughs are not valid because the apparent results are based on humanistic thinking and on false New Thought ideas about the power and supposed inherent inner strength of a person. There is no doubt that tens of thousands of people feel helped by Robbins and believe they have found the answers because of his seminars. This is due to the manipulation, to the attendees’ belief that Robbins has answers, to subjective expectations, to possible past experiences at such seminars, and to euphoria resulting from the manipulation and emotional responses. This leads to a desire for more of Robbins’ teachings to maintain and re-experience these effects . But experiences are temporary and thinking one has the answers does not mean the answers are true.
Faux Inner Strength
The people (about 2,500 of them) at the seminar are divided into teams and team leaders get information from them that is relayed to Robbins. In one moving scene, Robbins asks those who are suicidal to stand up (knowing already from the team leaders that several are suicidal). He talks to one woman who tearfully recounts her life in the Children of God cult (she does not use the word cult) and the sexual abuse in it that nearly destroyed her.
Robbins tells her she has survived because she is pure love since she survived the abuse. Sadly, this woman is not being introduced to the love of God through Jesus, who died for her. Instead, Robbins points her to herself, to her own supposed inner strength. He has her choose three men from the audience who agree to be her so-called uncles for the next 10 years and check in on her. Robbins also offers her training in his principles to allegedly make her more powerful.
There is a real potential danger in that neither Robbins nor this woman really know who these men are or what they are like. Yet this vulnerable woman is to trust these men for 10 years as though they are spiritual uncles who will be there for her. How do we know one of them is not a psychopath, rapist, or swindler? Ironically, this woman who endured sexual abuse may be setting herself up for more abuse from these unknown men.
For some people, the competency they think they have gained will collapse. For others, they will be able to live on the deceived idea of their own strength. The real danger is that this woman, and many others there, will think they are healed from whatever problems, fears, or limitations they have. So they will not think they need anything or anyone else, including Jesus Christ.
Robbins talks in general terms, using words like power, deep, authentic, being true to yourself, hungry, growth, passion, and similar words. In this way, he evokes in those hearing these words whatever it may mean to them, making his advice feel real and applicable.
On the next to last day, Robbins asks those who have not had “breakthroughs” to stand. Several stand, and he has them write down, Stay in your head, and you’re dead. He tells them that it is not over yet.
The message that staying in your head is a bad thing is done to provoke emotional or even irrational responses. Teaching that you are thinking too much or in your head too much is a maneuver to undermine logical or clear thinking . This idea of thinking too much or that you should get out of your head is found throughout the teachings of cult leaders, Eastern spiritual beliefs, mysticism, the New Age, New Thought, and even in the Star Wars franchise. This is a ploy to downgrade critical thinking, an indispensable tactic for speakers like Robbins, cults, and belief systems that are by nature against the true God.
In contrast, the Bible actually instructs the opposite: to reason, think, and to be discerning Reason and logic are rooted in the character of God (Isaiah 1:18; Matt. 22:37; Acts 17:17, 18:4, 19; Ps. 16:7; Prov. 1:2-5; Prov. 18:15, 22:17; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 14:15; Heb. 10:16). The Bible is in words, and language is based on logic and reason. The Holy Spirit transforms the mind of the believer in Christ to conform more to the thinking of God (Rom. 12:2). Opposition to God, knowingly or not, is why such systems as those of Robbins and the New Age downgrade logic, reason, and judgment.
The audience later gets into groups of four to announce to the others who they are: I, Sarah, am love; I, Roger, am passion, and so forth, naming their breakthrough. The point is to redesign your life according to whatever breakthrough one may have had. The confrontations in the smaller groups are more passionate and intense.
The attendees also practice a fast-breathing exercise that involves raising hands up and down. They then stop, close their eyes, and breathe deeply while Robbins leads them in a guided meditation about their heart as Eastern music plays. Some people put their hands on others’ heads as this is done.
The identification with an emotion and experience, the breathing exercise, the physical touching, and the guided meditation are manipulations from NLP. The breathing exercise alters the mind to a suggestible state, as does the guided meditation. These are typical tools of mind conditioning and are found in self-help and human potential seminars (this also applies as well to large gatherings of multi-level marketing companies, which operate on the same principles; this is one reason many experts believe that MLMs are cultic).
The techniques are not exactly the same as the infamous Werner Erhard est seminars in the 1960s and 70s, but are built on similar principles. There is a group gathered for one purpose —
* to expect something big
* to create emotional response
* to confront people with hard questions in an emotional context that yield a seeming cathartic breakthrough
* to praise people for rejecting something in their life that supposedly holds them back
* to then have others there affirm the changes (group think/peer pressure)
The crucial factor is the expectation which results from the power of suggestion. If one expects something, then often one will experience something. This is what hypnosis is based on.
The infamous Werner Erhard est seminars of the past were for people to get it (it was never defined because you had to get it to get it — get it?). In a similar way, Robbins’ seminar is designed for a breakthrough to acquire a new perspective on who you are and to realize the power you have within. The est seminars were exposed later for abusive tactics which are not visible in the Robbins film, and these life coaching events have moved away from that due to the many lawsuits brought when est was popular. However, mind manipulation and reprogramming tactics are still very much in play in motivational and human potential seminars, and are abusive in their own way. These are the same tactics used by cults, but in cults, the methods are played out over a longer period of time and thus are more damaging.
The spate of life coaches in the New Age comes directly from the human potential movement and from the motivational seminars, and now there are even Christian life coaches, which is an oxymoron.
Rebirth and MLMs
Coincidentally, around the same time that I viewed the Robbins film, I watched a fictional movie, “Rebirth,” which eerily paralleled the Tony Robbins documentary and ideas, although the film’s guru character was more manipulative and kept the main victim in the dark. However, by the movie’s end, the main character becomes a follower and goes to the Rebirth seminars every year, even becoming a recruiter for them.
The movie’s fictional Rebirth franchise sells products in a way similar to an MLM (multi-leveling marketing) company like water bottles, food plans, supplements, etc. and this prolific merchandising appears to be a clear jab at MLMs. The film also portrays how someone who is initially against something can be turned completely around through experience. This is, in fact, what happens in cults.
MLMs are a related issue since MLMs use the same manipulative tactics found in human potential seminars like those of Robbins, especially in large gatherings. Many experts consider MLMs to be cultic in nature.
Change in Perception
The need for a change in perception of reality and of our identity are crucial elements of New Thought and reprogramming teachings. New Thought teaches that we are not separate from God or his power, and that man is divine in nature. The need is to have a breakthrough to realize this.
Often Robbins and other similar teachers will say that we all have been programmed to believe certain things that hold us back, and we need to cast those false ideas off and start fresh. This is the thrust of such teachings. Manipulative techniques discussed in this article make one suggestible and then condition one’s thinking to conform to the teachings. Mind conditioning is a more accurate term for the familiar and now passe term, brainwashing.
Most people think they would be aware of such manipulation but that is not true because the very nature of manipulation is that one is being affected unknowingly. Most people are unaware of any manipulation at these events because they are conditioned to and/or allow themselves to be receptive to the person leading it and to the leader’s statements. They may think they are seeing clearly but they are actually responding to the suggestions and manipulations. Most people are not aware of how formidable the power of suggestion is. Christian cult experts have told me that even though they are familiar with these methods, they would never attend such seminars due to the fact that one cannot necessarily be unaffected by these techniques even when one is familiar with them.
The giver of life is Jesus Christ (“I am the way, the truth, and the life” — John 14:6), the Son of God who came because God loved the world to pay the penalty for sins so that all who believe in him are forgiven and have eternal life with God (John 3:16). Jesus also gives peace because no matter what the outward circumstances, Jesus is the rock (1 Corinthians 10:4 identifies Jesus as the rock in the wilderness that gave water in Exodus 17:5 and Numbers 20;11; Jesus is the living stone in 1 Peter 2:4). Jesus is also wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24, 39) and a sure hope (Hebrews 6:19; 1 Peter 1:3).
Relying on Jesus Christ rather than self is the path of true healing because once one places faith in him as the Son of God who died to pay the penalty for sins, one is forgiven of sins and released from the darkness, power, and penalty of sin and is in Jesus, the true Light.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12