Documentary Review - Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

tony-robbins-i-am-not-your-guruTony Robbins is nothing if not controversial. This documentary, available on Netflix, paints the portrait of a man literally consumed with the need to help others and "remove their pain".

NOTE: Don't watch this documentary if you're language-sensitive! His methods involve swearing and using "the science of taboo language" (In NLP this is called "breaking state").

In this documentary I see a man who sees and understands human pain. I found myself crying within minutes of the documentary starting as he helps a young man who is feeling suicidal. Yet I left the documentary with mixed feelings. Does he help people and create shifts? For sure. But I see a man in a lot of his own pain.

Tony Robbins is constantly "sculpting" himself and pumping himself up to be the enormous stage presence that he is. He gets the crowd roaring, dancing - into peak states - and thrives on it. No one could say attending one of his seminars was not an experience they will remember for life!

I LOVED: that he asks great questions and challenges people to be more. He also encourages honesty, both with yourself and others. And he clearly believes in love. He says, "We all get what we tolerate", and ain't that the truth?

But I'm still figuring out why I'm left feeling uncomfortable. Is it my British "reserve"? Is it that he is literally "obsessed" with his work? What does he thinks life's emotional pain is there for? My beliefs about what makes us happy in life don't quite match Tony's passionate, driven fervour for achieving goals and creating the person you want to be. But one thing I do know is - he got me fired up and thinking!

Watch the movie and tell us what YOU thought by commenting below!

Here are some things to think about as you watch:

  • Tony is referred to as a "coach", and he certainly uses coaching questions - and NLP techniques - quite extensively. Would you call him a coach? Why/why not?
  • How well does he meet the coaching competencies? Which does he excel at? And where does he fall short?
  • Does he have his own agenda for people? Or is he truly focused on what they need? Perhaps both?
  • What do you think of his methods? Does the means justify the ends? Do his methods matter if he helps people?
  • Would you want to go to one of his events? Why/why not? What do you think you would learn?

PS. Does anyone else think he looks like Jaws from the old James Bond movies?


If you liked this movie review, you may also like:

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

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  1. Van de Venne


    I watched the documentary out if interest.
    One of the biggest things I noticed is the entourage the people behind the man.

    He works with groups of people who then work with the people in the audience. Selective on who he speaks too, to give the biggest impact on others in the room. Hipping them up by using examples that are very far in to the pain zones of life.

    My heart broke looking at the part with the girl who was born in to a religious cult being rapped at a very...very young ago. Because it was the word of...
    Tony was harsh but built a new person in that moment, which is what I found to be great.

    I am sceptical about guru like people, but with Tony... I'm actually having the tendency to believe a big part of what he does.

    You know, in the end of all things, it is still the most important thing to do "Good on to others" how it is said in the holly scriptures of the world 3 biggest religions (I'm no religiously bound at all, brought up Christian, now I'm a universalist.
    And that is what Tony does. He shocks the people in the room, so they start working on themselves, with or without help of his entourage.

    I enjoyed the documentary, and if given the chance I would live to meet him face to face.
    But never would I pay.

    Love and light
    Nico Van de Venne
    Auditio Activa

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Nico, thank-you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I am glad you found the documentary interesting, and it is interesting to hear you experience from watching it. Warmly, Emma-Louise

    • Joan

      This was the part of the film that I found disturbing. One of the resolutions was to have 3 men from the audience spend a yeAr S her uncles giving her positive male support. CertAinly not client directive coaching. Also I hope they were vetted and not just volunteers. The potential for further damaging such a vulnerable young girl is scary. Also I worry about figures who become bigger than life sometimes get in the way of them seeing what the client needs. Remember James Arthur Ray fatal sweat lodge tragedy.

      • Emma-Louise

        Dear Joan, thank-you for your comments. Yes, the 3 "uncles" - it was a great idea in principle. But if any of those men let her down or "try it on" with her (and she is a very attractive young woman), what does that do to her beliefs about men, love and the world. Fame can also turn people's heads, or lead people to trust in that person rather than themselves. Great comments. Thank-you. Warmly, Emma-Louise

  2. Inga

    Hey Emma-Louise

    I have been on a Tony Robbins band wagon recently. It started listening to him speak on Success Magazine when they did a promotion for Jim Rohn courses. I have always been intrigued by his work but have never felt attracted by his rock-concert style seminars. Doing some research into creating an online course, I checked out one of his. I figured he must do a pretty good job at them and he does. I am currently doing the Breakthrough University one and it is really good, even though I have heard lots of it before. I liked the documentary, got some good nuggets from it and got even more curious about his work. So I actually sat down to DO the course - which makes me understand some of his coaching during the (Netflix) event more.

    There is no doubt that he has a huge track record in supporting people to change their lives and he is excellent at it. Though his energy at his events seem over the top, to me comes across as a very genuine, authentic man who is constantly growing himself and his own edge.

    I talked to one of his sales people who enrol clients into the coaching programs. It was very interesting. I asked what makes a Tony Robbins coach different - well, they are obviously trained in his methodology, are previously certified and have already worked as coaches for 7 years previous. What I appreciated was that they have very measurable results - 94% of people who sign up for coaching with Robbins Research Inc. accomplish the goals they. If you as a coach don't create results for your client you don't work for this company. So he stands for very high quality coaching and sets a good standard for the industry.

    Would I attend an event - maybe. It's not on the top of my list. I might consider hiring a coach through his company though.


    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Inga, thank-you for your comments! It is interesting to hear your thoughts and the experience you had while doing your research too - there is no doubt he gets results. It seems many people are not "into" his events and all the hype that goes with it. He is a complicated man, and his methods are dramatic (at times). I think he is highly skilled too, and wants to help people. It's great to hear the online courses are useful, and encouraging that you would consider hiring a coach from his company. Warmly, Emma-Louise

  3. Ellen Leon Rosoff


    Before I saw the movie, I liked him well enough and thought he really has the charisma and ability to create shifts in people. I still believe that, but after I watched the movie, I had a shift of my own. I wondered about the ethical implications of his strategies. There was a cult-ish feel to the movie and the way he had to pump himself up made me wonder about his own authenticity. I think you are right about Tony being in pain. Maybe that level of excitement is his way of numbing. I would not want to go to his mega event. I don't think good, ethical coaching can really be done well in this setting. Thanks for the opportunity to comment!

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Ellen, it is great to hear from you! The pumping up does seem odd (and the long hours of the course to break people's resistance down). I think he is trying to get himself and others into a "peak" state, and to break through the everyday thought patterns that block us from connecting with a more inspired self. And yet, it doesn't seem quite right somehow either. The movie definitely (for me) raises some ethical questions about what it means to be a coach. Thanks for commenting 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

  4. Ley-Ann Clarke Frederiksen

    Hi all,

    I have attended all of Tony's events and currently work for him as a coach. The seminar environment and coaching are two different things. In the seminar environment, Tony will do whatever he can to get the soul in front of them to access their most resourceful self in the shortest period of time. When he coaches individuals one on one, outside of the seminar room, he slows down and takes his time more. The reason he moves faster in the seminar room is to keep the attention of the entire room.

    One of his mandates, is that emotion is created from motion. Most souls attending the event (including me, when I attended) go desiring change. Many are in a lot of pain and have very low baseline "states" or mindsets. Tony's hype process is to support souls to break out of their baseline state and begin to experience new resources, like joy, fun, playfulness, passion. For many, we haven't experienced states like that since when we were children. And from a new resourceful state, we find new answers. Basically, just like coaching, we act on how we "feel". When we shift how we feel, we take new actions and get new results.

    Everything that he does has a methodology behind it. Some of Tony's work is very misunderstood. And he is not doing a great job at rectifying the confusion. For example, sadness, frustration, anger, etc. He does not simply want us to "hype up" and change the state without understanding the underlying message that the emotion is attempting to convey to us. What does the emotion want for us that is currently not happening? Many people believe they should simply "change their state". Honestly, this misinterpretation is dangerous. We need a better connection from our head to our heart and in many of Tony's programs, he does develop structures to support this.

    That being said, he is human and does not get it right every time. In, I Am Not Your Guru, many of the sessions that were profiled would have gone on a lot longer than what was portrayed. Tony is great at asking questions and and appreciating where people are from a non-judgmental place. Where the seminar room varies from actual coaching, is that he does "lead" to where he believes they need to be (always based on "love" as the goal). And yes, that does not align with ICF Coach Competencies.

    In Robbins Coaching, we have a mentor coach who trains us regularly. She is a MCC with the ICF and is an extraordinary coach. She kicks our butt if we are not aligning with ICF. That being said, many coaches coach in different ways. We all have our own way and our own unique background.

    If you have any more questions, from someone on the inside, I will be straight up and candid of "why" he does the things that he does.

    The events are an absolute blast and very life changing (if we do our part and invest in our growth). Yet the high energy is definitely not for everyone. One of the most grounded, aligned women that I ever met, did her personal work at silent retreats. Honouring our own path is important to finding our authentic truth.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Ley-Ann, thank-you SO much for your heartfelt comments. You make sense! I enjoyed watching the documentary. I can see Tony is not only highly skilled, but also highly observant and intuitive. I have seen some of his events narrated by Cloe Madanes - they make interesting watching too. I can also see how people can and do misinterpret what to do with their emotions, and it would be good to see more out there (in the world in general) about not running away from our pain, and instead using it to learn about ourselves and what matters!

      You also make great points about joy, fun, play and passion. These are very important states, and important to me personally too! We seem to have created a world where logic trumps emotion and fun and play are the realm of children. Passion is often seen as 'weak' or embarrassing - we should be rational and keep our cool at all times. So I liked what you said about that too.

      I also do wonder how happy any of this makes us. It's good to achieve - goals, relationships, and to retrieve positive emotional states like play, fun and passion. But what about acceptance, contentment, being, unconditional love of self and others? Perhaps this is the step that follows achieving our goals...

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Warmly, Emma-Louise

      • Ley-Ann Clarke Frederiksen

        I know it appears that Tony is all about "goal" setting. He definitely has that side of him. Yet Tony frequently advises that "success without fulfillment" is the ultimate failure. He would prefer we find fulfillment AND go after goals.

        Fulfillment includes all of the extra emotions that you mentioned, and more. It is enjoying the journey that life travels for us. At his program Date with Destiny, Tony has every participant identify the values that they are currently living in life. He also has them create the rules/beliefs that govern those values. Then, after they have a MAP of their personality, he invites each participant to decide which values they wish to keep and wish they want to discard. And which values they wish to add for a truly wonderful experience of life moving forward. Many, many souls choose to move success lower and/or right off of their list of values and put things like contentment and acceptance and love right near the top. It becomes a version 2.0 program to begin to live life by. And each participant is 100% creating their own reality. Tony would never say to anyone that they have to live by his values. He wants us to choose for ourselves based upon what has been working in our life and what hasn't worked so well.
        So yes, all of those resources you mentioned become available too! And it can be like living life anew!!!

      • Emma-Louise

        Thank-you for clarifying all of those things Ley-Ann. That is really good to know. And also, that this does not come across in the documentary... But then sitting around not doing much doesn't make good viewing does it? 😉 Warmly, Emma-Louise

      • Ley-Ann Clarke Frederiksen

        You are most welcome. Feel free to ask any other questions. Happy to answer them authentically.

    • Paul Hodson

      I agree totally. I attended UPW London over decade ago and and have been back since. At the time of my first visit I was in a very dark place, so if anything I was ready to absorb the energy and teachings of his work. I came out of that 4 day event with a changed focus and renewed purpose. I have since trained to be a coach and all I can say is that without that event my path could have been very different. His events are powerful and for many, like me, it can be life changing. But for some it may not be their cup of tea, so that confirms we are all unique in our own special way. That goodness for that!!

      • Emma-Louise

        Thank-you for sharing your story and making the time to comment Paul! You are much appreciated 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

  5. Alex Warren The Success Coach

    I have been to Unleash the Power within a few times. Yes, he does swear a lot but truthfully that is what it takes sometimes to break a persons state. Does he help people change in an instant, I think on some occasions he does. I think what he does is great but I think if people go in expecting results from a weekend without followup they will generally be dissapointed. I have found people going to event after event and they are still lost. If you can use the tools he teaches you can change your life, but you have to continue using the tools and paying the price. Unfortunately one weekend isnt enough and ongoing coaching is definitely a must.

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Alex, thank-you for your comments! It's good to hear from someone who has been to Tony's events! And I agree, I think his swearing does shock people (or at least surprise them) and help people change their state. And I agree - without follow-up, or follow through, Tony's events and tools (just like every other training) wear off. So, yes, yes, yes - ongoing coaching will help 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

  6. Christopher Wallace

    It's typical commentary from people exposed to Tony's style. A certain ambivalence emerges, perhaps a little awe too. I'd contend that awe makes people uncomfortable. I know it does in me.

    I'm all for awe, in nature, architecture, great art, childbirth, gazing at the stars at night, that sort of thing. But awe of people triggers in me self-preservation. Perhaps projecting my own flaws on another precludes me from that kind of hero worship.

    Fact is he's seen more people than any one in history--surpassing even Jesus--in this kind of role, where he asks people to be better versions of themselves. We know he represents the concept of GOD... if that is Good Orderly Direction.

    But deep down we all know he's just a man. Where are his faults we might ask?

    Maybe we could point to his riches. In a capitalist world, the idea of using psychology to enrich oneself rather than for the general benefit of mankind strikes many as... slightly gauche maybe?. Or to the way he uses brainwashing techniques to indoctrinate his message in his followers? No doubt he's the most successful self-help marketer who has ever lived.

    In the end, I've never met any one damaged by a Tony Robbins course or seminar. And I've been around since his late night informercials began appearing those decades ago. Though, the people I know who are Tony fans are definitely lighter of pocket.

    A little better, a little broker.

    I brought my team to a day of inspirational speakers in Calgary. I endorsed Tony at the time to one of my managers, saying that if they didn't have the time to go to university or college, a few of Tony's courses would be a good idea. He spent 110K over the next few years.

    Didn't seem to hurt him. Sure raised his expectations for himself. He's in his early 30s now, owns two agency offices and a couple of condos. Drives a Mercedes. Has his head on straight. I still coach him. Tony did him a lot of good, especially with perspective a few years removed..

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Christopher, thank-you for your insightful comments and specific personal examples. Tony is clearly extremely skilled at what he does. And he seems genuine too. I applaud people who can make money doing something that helps people in the world. And I also wonder if Tony is ever happy or simply content. What must it be like to be always on the go, scultping oneself? What is it like when you don't just sit back and enjoy the roses? He is always on the move, achieving goals, helping others. It is however, Tony's choice and his life of course - and he is free to live it any way he chooses.

      I guess I wonder if achieving all that status and (worldly) success makes him or anyone truly happy or satisfied? When does it end? We get the pleasure of material success and financial freedom, but then what? Perhaps achieving is just a stage of our human journey. For the next step, I think we need a different approach - more being, less doing and having.

      Warmly, Emma-Louise

      • Ley-Ann Clarke Frederiksen

        Hi Emma-Louise,

        Me again. Tony purchased Namale resort in Fiji for the exact purpose of "being" and releasing "doing". He often brings friends of his who want to talk business. And his first answer is: Not happening. Go sit in the ocean and absorb the atmosphere for two or three days. Then, perhaps we will talk business.

        Surprisingly, he know how to "be". He doesn't use the skill often enough, yet he absolutely has several get-aways each year to chill.

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