I’ve never been a fan of motivational speakers. I’m not the type to be hyped up into believing someone's words can magically set me on a new path – particularly a new financial path.
As the personal finance editor of The National, I've met enough smooth-talking financial salespeople in my time to spot a conman a mile away. And as a journalist I instantly distrust everyone I meet. They have to earn my respect through their actions, rather than rhetoric alone. And when it comes to money, we must all be very cautious about who we let influence us. Which is why I had to be at Tony Robbins' event, Achieve the Unimaginable, at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on Tuesday.
Billed as the world’s No 1 motivational coach by the organisers, American Robbins is a motivational coach, author and entrepreneur who has written a number of books over his 42 year-career, including a few to help readers manage their money more effectively.
My money philosophy has always been: "if it's too good to be true then it probably is", so the smooth-talking author of Money Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom (2014) and Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook (2017) would have to wow me with his unique brand of high-energy, "say Aye"-style of self-help.
What transpired was four hours of a rave concert-cum-motivational mantra that saw around 10,000 attendees, the majority of whom were business owners or leaders, jumping up and down as if they had just been told he was giving everyone $1 million each.
He told us his rags-to-riches tale of a man who grew up with no money to buy food and a father who told him their misfortune was because no one cared about them. Then a generous stranger gave the family food when he was 11 to tie in with Thanksgiving and it was the gesture, rather than the food, that made him realise there was another way.
“It was the idea that strangers cared,” he said, telling us it’s our beliefs that shape our destiny.
While Robbins once worked as a janitor, he began his career at 17 promoting seminars for motivational speaker and author Jim Rohn.
His early business ventures saw him giving some of the profits to others in need, a philosophy that has helped him achieve a net worth of around $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) today, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
“My job is to get you to execute,” Robbins said moments after entering the arena to high-energy dance music that saw the majority of the audience out of their seats as they danced and shouted. He told us his normal seminars take 50 hours, spread over four days, so he was going to cram his mastery into just four hours. He told the audience he owns 54 companies that generate $6bn in annual sales. Last year he spoke in 92 cities in 18 countries, flying between locations in his personal jet. He’s made it in the financial sense and his talk is littered with stories of the top athletes, presidents, billionaires and CEOs he has put on the path to success.
Over the four hours, he worked hard to apply his thinking to every reason someone might have paid the Dh1,499 fee to attend - whether it be weight loss, relationships, personal goals, business and finances.
“I’m here because I’m obsessive,” he told us. “I’ve been obsessed for the last 42 years of my life with the answer to a question: what makes the difference in people’s lives? Why is it some people have everything but their life turns out terrible and others have nothing and turn out great?”
One of the early lessons was how to harness energy to drive our performance to the next level.
“Where do you put energy in terms of your success in life?” he asked the audience.
We were told success breeds more success and as well as harnessing our energy, we needed to understand how emotions can affect our journey, with negative thoughts, words and body language a barrier to achieving our goals.
Then there was momentum.
“Getting a business off the ground, getting it going takes herculean effort initially but if you know how to create more momentum, you can change things in your life."
The success cycle could help us get the momentum we need, he said. He posted four key words on the overhead screens to represent how momentum is created or destroyed: potential leads to action and then results and that then feeds into certainty or belief.
“Why don’t people succeed? If you take a lot of action and you don’t believe it’s going to work – are you going to have the same result?" he said. "No one wants to fail so you try, but trying never works. Without certainty you don’t execute.”
He moved onto resourcefulness, using the example of Walmart founder Sam Walton — "not a rich man when he started" — who decided to bring the cheapest prices to his community. In 1974, newspapers advised investors to sell their Walmart stocks because the competition had more resources and Mr Walton was out of options.
“If you listened you would have made a big mistake,” Robbins said. “Because while Sam Walton was out of resources, he was resourceful. He convinced his employees to get up at 2 or 3 in the morning, drive to another community, buy the lowest-priced items and fill the store and have the lowest prices in town by the time you open at 10am. And as a result he kept growing.”
If you are creative, committed in your focus and energetic enough, you can get the resources you need. I'm with him on that. When the chips are down, that’s when we make the magic happen. This is why in 22 years of working, I have never been unemployed as I believe there is always a way to earn money.
Robbins has a way to make even the most cynical (aka me) jump up and down and shout and laugh as if I was 16 and attending my first-ever concert. But did he teach me anything about money? Not really. Will I be a millionaire by Christmas? Definitely not. But what he did remind me to do is to enjoy the journey.
Like many of the people we write about in the Money section, I’m saving towards a future where I am financially independent, where I’ve saved enough to support myself through passive income.
My commitment to saving has always been driven by fear – a fear that started when my children were born and I suddenly realised I had to support these two precious creatures until they were young adults.
Robbins urges you to forget that fear and to celebrate what you have already achieved. Rather than panic about not saving enough after every headline about falling short on retirement goals, I should enjoy saving and appreciate what I’ve already achieved.
We must ignore “the fear” and ditch the patterns in your life – personal or professional – that have stopped you reaching your full potential, he told us. Like much of Robbins’ delivery, we already know this stuff. He was telling us to do what we already know we need to do. There was nothing new.
What he’s mastered, however, is packaging energising words with perfectly-timed music to reflect the mood in the room. He simply reminds us that we can achieve and the only thing holding us back is ourselves.
If you told me in my 20s when I was a broke journalist living and working in London that I would have the financial assets I have today, I would not have believed you. Now that I have them, I often tell myself I haven’t done enough.
By celebrating our achievements, we can then jack up our energy levels and focus on the next goal, shutting out the noise in our heads along the way.
With focus, commitment and certainty – plus a little resourcefulness along the way – we'll all hit our goals. In theory.
It was a fun afternoon but I won’t be seizing the offer pasted onto the screen as we exited the arena for those attending Tuesday’s event: $695 for a four-day event in Birmingham, UK, next year with a free seat upgrade. I think I’m all high-fived out.