PLAYBOY: Some people think you have all the answers. Do you?
ROBBINS: I have no delusions that I’m the only source of improving people’s lives or that I’m even the right source. My style is intense, and it’s not going to be right for everybody.
PLAYBOY: Some mental health professionals might say you attempt to fix people in a weekend, when it takes months or years to properly delve into a psyche.
ROBBINS: First of all, I don’t fix anybody, because I don’t think anybody’s broken. I think what people have are patterns, and those can be changed. People quickly understand that what’s controlling their thoughts and emotions are their values and rules, and they learn how to shift those.
PLAYBOY: Don’t some who are physiologically depressed require medication?
ROBBINS: Without a doubt. But biochemistry can be instantly changed without drugs, which may sound like bullshit hyperbole. But I’ve been demonstrating for decades that you can alter anyone’s state by a radical change in physiology—lifting weights, sprinting, abruptly changing breathing, all of it shifting your mind-set in a heartbeat. But we take on these identities of diseases and feel we’re doomed. Are there people for whom only medication can make a difference? Yes, but I’d say it’s rare, a small percentage. And 75 percent of people who take antidepressants are still depressed.
PLAYBOY: Yet 30 million Americans are taking them, and countless doctors would disagree with you.
ROBBINS: We’ve been sold a bill of goods that says you shouldn’t have pain and that if you do you should end it with a pill, a message reinforced by ridiculous commercials. You hear beautiful music and see somebody floating through a meadow, and at the end you find out that the drug may blow up your brain, but try it anyway, right? A pill can’t solve the problem. All it can do is numb you and lose the pain that would otherwise drive you to finally change something.
PLAYBOY: Ever taken an antidepressant?
ROBBINS: Never. I’m not saying it isn’t useful for people; it’s just not my path. That’s not because I’m a superman. I grew up in a family where both my parents were alcoholics and users of prescription drugs. At the age of 11 I’d go to the pharmacy and convince the pharmacist that my mom had lost her Valium, and he’d refill it. So I saw the severe effects of drugs.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever seen a therapist?
PLAYBOY: Are you against it?
ROBBINS: No, I actually train therapists through my Center for Strategic Intervention, using films of my interventions. But I believe therapy can be done more rapidly. I’m into your finding the source of what’s making you think and feel the way you do and shifting it quickly.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel when you’re onstage? Does the adrenaline start to flow?
ROBBINS: It’s not just adrenaline; oxytocin is flowing too. I love that audience. I’m out there feeling them rather than being inside my head. I don’t use teleprompters or notes. I’d want to kill myself if I did the same regurgitated stuff every time. I’m always loading my brain with new ways of looking at something. To me, words are like stickpins. I can throw a word at you and it will bounce right off your body. But if I take that little stickpin and wire it to the back of an iron bar called human emotion, I can put that thing right through your heart.
PLAYBOY: During those hours, are you wearing down people’s defenses as a means of creating a breakthrough?
ROBBINS: That’s bullshit. In a world where people won’t stay in their seats to watch a three-hour movie that cost $300 million, why do they stay put for 50 hours in my seminars? They can vote with their feet and get a full refund. Nobody’s holding them there. When Oprah came to Unleash the Power Within, her people said she’d stay for two hours max, but she stayed until one A.M.
PLAYBOY: Did she do the fire walk?
ROBBINS: She did.
PLAYBOY: What’s the point of walking across coals heated to 1,200 degrees?
ROBBINS: To have a breakthrough, you want to give people the experience of doing something they thought impossible. I use fire walking as a metaphor, a test of someone’s strength and courage.
PLAYBOY: About a year ago, at one of your seminars in San Jose, Fox News reported a “hot coal catastrophe,” saying more than two dozen participants out of 6,000 were injured and hospitalized with second- or third-degree burns during the fire walk.
ROBBINS: Those reports were absurd, and they have been proven to be completely false. A handful of people had a mild degree of redness, and we gave them immediate treatment. Nobody was hospitalized. And there wasn’t one third-degree burn. Fox later issued a rare on-air retraction.
PLAYBOY: How safe can a fire walk be?
ROBBINS: In the past 35 years, more than 2 million people from 100 countries have done the fire walk successfully. It’s like skydiving—if you know what you’re doing and prepare for it, it’s an exhilarating and unforgettable experience.
PLAYBOY: In Oprah’s case, being a tough, sophisticated woman, what would she be afraid of?
ROBBINS: Everybody has fear. I was surprised by her level of vulnerability. Right now she’s in the spotlight, working to build a TV network with positive and uplifting content in a world where humiliation and voting people off the island are what sell. That’s not easy, even for Oprah. What I learned from her is grace under pressure.
PLAYBOY: What did she learn about you?
ROBBINS: Before coming to the seminar Oprah thought I was a salesman, an infomercial guy, nonspiritual in some way. But now she’s been introducing me as her spiritual warrior. We laughed about it, and I teased her a bit.
PLAYBOY: When you first met her, years ago, how was the rapport?
ROBBINS: Well, I’d never been on her show. It’s ironic. I’d been on every show dozens of times—God only knows how many times on Today—but Oprah never invited me.
PLAYBOY: You’ve often said “You’ve got to discipline your disappointments.”
ROBBINS: Yes. When I say I rarely fail in life, that’s bullshit. I fail all the time, but I don’t view it as failure. Unless you can discipline your disappointment, it overwhelms you. It puts you in a mental and emotional state that drains your energy. You lose your will and your capacity to be resilient. The one common denominator of all successful people is their hunger to push through their fears.