A doctor of physics and founder of a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence start-up does a fire-walk with Tony Robbins
STEPHEN OMOHUNDRO — I thought I’d share the powerful experience I had at a Tony Robbins workshop in Colorado Springs.
For the last several years I’ve had a practice of noticing when I’m touched by something and following up on it. I had seen Tony’s infomercial many years ago and thought of him as a charismatic speaker but a bit too “rah-rah” for my taste. His interview with Larry King, however, had a depth and subtlety that grabbed my attention. He exhibited a compassion and strength that I felt I could learn from. I did a web search and discovered the three “Inner Strength” videos that he recently did with Cloe Madanes, and bought them on eBay.
Each shows him working with someone who undergoes a profound and lasting change in a very short time. I was blown away by these videos and decided to share them by hosting some “movie nights” at my place. About 20 friends attended and most were also very touched by them.
I really resonated with his framework of 6 basic human needs: certainty, variety, significance, love, growth, contribution. And with explicitly identifying which needs are being met by the choices one is making. And creating change by consciously choosing new ways to meet those needs. I decided that I wanted to experience his work in person. His main event is called Unleash the Power Within.
Something like 50,000 people do this per year but for many of the programs they are shifting to a format where Robbins is on video and other instructors actually lead the workshop. Because I wanted to see him live, I decided to fly to Colorado Springs to take it. About 2,700 other people from all over the world attended the event at the huge and beautiful Broadmoor hotel. I shared meals with some amazing participants and was blown away by their backgrounds: a woman with a black-belt in Shotokan karate who will be competing in the Olympics, a fashion designer who dressed all of Donald Trump’s wives, a nurse who is building an AIDS hospice, a mechanic who designs custom specialty motorcycles, a fireman, a guy who made millions in real estate over the last couple of years, a professional chef who “stages food” for movies including Jurassic Park, etc., etc.
The workshop was beautifully produced, using music and live video to generate an energy much more like a rock concert than a normal seminar. The first three days were led by Tony live, the fourth day had him on video with other people leading. The hours were quite long, from 8:30 in the morning till 11:30 at night on the second and third days with just one meal break. But, amazingly, I wasn’t bored for a second and the few times I stepped out for a snack or to go to the bathroom I always felt like I had missed something valuable. He was an amazing seminar leader, staying at an incredibly high energy level for the entire time. He’s probably the best public speaker I’ve had the privilege to watch. Really engaging the audience with humor, stories, shock, emotion, surprise, etc.
The workshop was very experiential and he brilliantly shifted between speaking, having participants move and dance, doing exercises, and working with individual people. He was extremely perceptive about the state of the room and the people he worked with.
The intellectual content of the seminar was very good but not very different from things I have learned elsewhere. The real power of his work is in producing shifts that occur at a deeper level below ordinary conscious thought. You can hear an idea like, “You should overcome your fears,” and understand it and think it’s a good idea. But it is entirely different to have the visceral experience of that in your body.
His work comes out of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and he gained early attention by being able to quickly cure people of phobias and addictions. In the workshop, he taught us many techniques for consciously shifting our physiology in order to change the way we feel and act. He worked with several people who were experiencing depression at that moment, and by using the techniques, were able to shift themselves out of it in a few seconds.
The first day involved lots of little exercises and content culminating in almost everyone doing a firewalk (walking barefoot on hot coals without being hurt) on the first evening. The firewalk is pretty amazing in itself but primarily served as a metaphor for the inner processes that went on for the rest of the workshop. Most of the fears we struggle with in ordinary life are about things which are fairly intangible. By doing lots of visualizations and work on the tangible fear of walking on hot coals, you see how your inner process works. By learning techniques for shifting your physiology and doing the firewalk, you get the experience of inner transformation. I only talked with a few people who didn’t do it, though beforehand, many (myself included) didn’t think they would. And most emerged unscathed. I only saw a few people who got blisters on their feet. At the end of the first night, I felt I had experienced some amazing shifts and had already gotten my money’s worth. People who had taken the workshop before, though, told me that it was just a prelude to the real work on the next two days, but I couldn’t imagine how he would top the first evening.
But they were right. The second day involved tons of powerful exercises and visualizations. Lots of work on one’s process of choosing and making committments and delving into exactly what your deepest values are. An example of an amazing exercise was about sensing and mirroring another person’s physiology. One person would think of an emotional event in their lives, and a second person would position a third person into the same posture, facial expression, breath, and tone. That person would then say how they were feeling and any images that came to mind. It was amazing how often they experienced detailed images of the other person’s experience whom they had never even met before.
There was a huge piece that was very powerful for me about true happiness coming from being able to contribute to other people. And building a team to support and challenge you. Choosing a peer group whose expectations of you will lead you to grow in the directions that you most need.
The third day was the most powerful. First, lots of NLP exercises on discovering effective strategies by modeling people who are successful at what you want to do. Applications to relationships and discovering what your partner needs in order to feel loved. And then a long and incredibly powerful piece he calls “The Dickens Process,” after “A Christmas Carol,” where Scrooge makes profound change after deeply confronting the future he will have should he not change. It involved a very painful confrontation with the underlying beliefs that get in the way of taking the actions you need to.
After going deeply into that normally-hidden pain, it becomes amazingly easy to shift those beliefs. On the other side of the process, things that seemed completely true before seem silly and ridiculous afterward. With that comes a huge feeling of freedom and energy. At this point the whole room was in such a state of joy that people were spontaneously dancing on their chairs, cheering and shouting. It took quite some time for the room to come back to rest. He ended the evening with some amazing tools on anchoring and instantly shifting an emotional state.
Overall, I’d say it’s the most powerful personal growth work I’ve done and I’ve experienced quite a few different paths. (Of course I just finished it, so I may still be biased at the moment!) If anybody else is interested in doing it, I’d be glad to tell you more about my experience.
Stephen Omohundro is a mathematician and physicist who is a co-author of the research software, Mathematica.
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