After nearly 40 years, Tony Robbins has boiled performance coaching down to two basic steps

After nearly 40 years, Tony Robbins has boiled performance coaching down to two basic steps

Tony Robbins fiji

Graham Flanagan/Business Insider

"To influence somebody, you have to know what already influences them," said Tony Robbins, pictured here with Lively founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant.

  • Tony Robbins developed the idea of a "performance coach" in the 1980s.
  • People pay up to $3,000 to attend his seminars.
  • Robbins has a "tool box" of tested approaches he uses to connect with people.

Michelle Cordeiro Grant's eyes filled with tears.

Her coaching session with Tony Robbins ran past its scheduled 30-minute mark as they moved from advice on marketing strategy and operations to a topic the self-assured entrepreneur was less willing to talk about: the fear that she would have to neglect her two young children for the sake of growing her business, Lively.

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The session was typical of working with Robbins: practical advice through the lens of behavioral psychology, wrapped in a dramatic package for maximum impact. This approach is the bedrock of events like "Unleash the Power Within," a three-and-a-half-day seminar with tickets running from around $650-$3,000. In these seminars, he'll regularly pick members of the audience to work through issues, primarily for their benefit but with the secondary benefit of the audience.

Robbins has several personal clients who pay him more than $1 million annually for intensive, private coaching, but his impromptu coaching sessions in front of a crowd are what he's been practicing longest. In September, Business Insider sat in on some of the coaching sessions for the eight winners of Shopify's Build a Bigger Business contest in Fiji, including his session with Cordeiro Grant.


Over nearly 40 years, Robbins has refined his approach to these sessions. Every session is personalized but includes two basic steps. First, he takes a read on their psychology. Then, he determines which approaches from his "tool kit" to use.

1. He starts with psychological tests.

Before getting to details, Robbins asks questions that will help him determine his subject's thought process. Before he can focus on an issue to fix, he needs to determine how he's going to help.

"To influence somebody you have to know what already influences them," Robbins said. He said he has about 30 or 40 pattern tests that he uses to read people, and gave us a simplified example of one:

  1. He shows someone an image of three identical yellow rectangles arrayed differently around the page and asks his subject how they identify the rectangles in front of them.
  2. Robbins then pays attention to whether they initially focus on the shape's similarities (they share dimensions and color) or differences (they appear in different locations on the paper).
  3. If a person is inclined to initially see differences, Robbins may resist when they request his advice. saying that he's unsure of how to help them. In his experience, he person will usually push back, changing from helpless to motivated and telling him there is definitely a way to fix their problem.

2. It only takes him 10 minutes to settle on which techniques to use.

gymshark tony robbins

Samuella Tofinga for Shopify

Robbins sits down with Gymshark founder Ben Francis.

When he's determined a cursory read on their psychology, it's then time to select a process for working through a problem at hand, whether it's someone at a seminar asking about a failing romantic relationship or an entrepreneur asking about work-life balance.


"I have so many at this stage, right, that it's like a giant tool box and I never use all the tools," Robbins said.

These "tools" can be elaborate, like the one he used with Cordeiro Grant, in which he got her to lower her guard and state what the next step was for her business from the perspective of different personas, like "the warrior," "the queen," and "the magician." He presented it in a playful way, but it got Cordeiro Grant to realize that she was leading so strongly with her aggressive side that she was draining her energy and thus her effectiveness as a leader.

The tools can also be as quick and simple as the one he used with Fanjoy founder Chris Vaccarino, who was struggling with embracing a leadership role. Robbins asked him to hold his hand flat in front of him, and then Robbins pushed against it with his fist. Robbins noted how Vaccarino instinctively resisted Robbins' force, and used that as a tangible metaphor for how Vaccarino needed to stand up for himself when being harassed by a troublesome client.

The variety of these techniques, as Robbins said, is so that he's "always engaged and never bored, and it's exciting and fun. So it's art. You want to do it a little differently every time a little bit." In a session, Robbins can sound a lot like a therapist, but with the style of a basketball coach.

When she left her session, Cordeiro Grant told us that she received practical advice around hiring and management to act on, but that the biggest takeaway was just as relevant for life as for business. Robbins helped her realize that she didn't have to live in a constant frantic state, and could take each win and loss with Lively for what it was "and elegantly move on to the next," she said. "With that, there's balance and focus."