PLAYBOY: Is fear the biggest problem people have?
ROBBINS: No question. Our deepest fear is that we’re not enough. I don’t care if it’s the president, a prisoner, an Olympic athlete or a parent. We feel we’re not competent enough—or smart, strong, athletic, humorous or beautiful enough. And if we’re not, our second fear is that we won’t be loved.
PLAYBOY: But what about fear of illness, death, our children’s welfare, unemployment, living in a post-9/11 world?
ROBBINS: Do people feel afraid of many things? No question. Those fears are real, but all roads lead to Rome, down to the twin fears. It’s okay to feel afraid, and you can use that emotion to propel yourself forward. I don’t tell people, “Go to your garden and chant ‘There are no weeds’ and do a bunch of affirmations.” I’m not Mr. Positive Thinking. I never have been. I’m a strategist, not a motivator. I’m obsessed with finding strategies that create real results in the shortest period of time.
PLAYBOY: You often say change happens in a second. Do you mean that literally?
ROBBINS: People say it takes 10 years to change your life. It’s bullshit. It takes a moment, a second, yes. But it may take you 10 years to get to the point of finally saying, “Enough.”
PLAYBOY: What do most people do when they have a problem?
ROBBINS: They feed their fear because they are deathly afraid of failing, of not being enough. They will say, “I can’t lose weight because I’m big-boned.” I say, “No, you’re freakin’ fat!” You don’t like your body, your job, your relationship? Change it. It’s obvious. But most people won’t do that. It’s too scary.
PLAYBOY: What fear keeps you up at night?
ROBBINS: I’m not kept up right now, but I’ve certainly had those moments. One fear was that I would die young. I thought, Why me? That fear helped me because it gave me a sense of urgency to have an impact.
PLAYBOY: But if you had to name a fear today, what would it be?
ROBBINS: I love my wife, Sage, at a level that’s just ridiculous, so when I think of all the things in my life that give me joy—besides my mission—it’s my wife and kids. When Sage was born, her vestibular system, which controls balance and eye movement, was damaged, and the result was severe motion sickness. With me traveling constantly by plane, she was throwing up on every flight, losing weight, wilting away to nothing. I thought I was going to lose her.
PLAYBOY: How did you cope?
ROBBINS: I was punishing myself. Here I am, Mr. Solution, right? But not being able to turn things around for her was torturous. For nine years we went to doctors, nutritionists, natural healers, even experts at NASA and the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun school—nothing worked. And at one point she developed a tumor in her lymph gland and I thought she was going to die. She’s fine now, but her constitution isn’t as strong as mine. I’m always aware of that, so that’s the one fear out there for me. But I don’t obsess about it, and I don’t live in that fear. And the good news is we finally solved the problem.
ROBBINS: It’s a crazy story. It was a natural hands-on healer who did it, a monk at Oneness University, on the eastern coast of South India. It sounds like complete bullshit, but after Sage learned a form of self-meditation that calms the parietal lobe of the brain, she was able to tolerate motion. We took the most turbulent helicopter flight I’d ever had, and she sat there smiling. I’m crying because it had taken years, but here’s the grace of this woman who is finally healthy.
PLAYBOY: How has this changed you?
ROBBINS: It got me to say, “Look, maybe this is a gift from God. I think I’m indestructible, but no one is. Maybe this woman was sent into my life because I would never have slowed down for me, but I’ll do it for her.” So I cut the number of events by half.
PLAYBOY: Aside from public seminars, you coach private clients too. Is it true you charge up to $1 million a year?
ROBBINS: Yes. From one client I’ve had for 20 years—one of the top financial traders in the world—I get a base fee plus a piece of the upside. He e-mails me each day, and I monitor both his financial performance and his psychology and emotion. And I go see him four times a year for a couple of hours each time.
PLAYBOY: You also get emergency calls from celebrities, right?
ROBBINS: It could be anyone from Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day to President Clinton wanting just another point of view, or a financial trader who just lost $30 million, or Hugh Jackman wanting to take his acting to the next level, or Serena Williams after she’s been injured. I have to deliver right there and right then.
PLAYBOY: What was the coaching about for Serena?
ROBBINS: A few years ago, after surgery, she was in bad shape. She’d lost her drive and hunger and, quite frankly, was afraid to fail, having stacked up so many painful experiences. I had to dig inside and find the part of her that was unstoppable. She reclaimed her rhythm and energy and went on to the U.S. Open, improving every aspect of her game.
PLAYBOY: Among those you’ve met or coached, give us some snapshot impressions. For example, Mother Teresa.
ROBBINS: I asked her, “What really excites you, lights you up?” Kind of a bizarre question, right? She giggled, looked directly at me and said, “Seeing a person die with a smile on their face.” I was stunned. But to her, seeing the end of suffering is what she lived for.
PLAYBOY: Nelson Mandela.
ROBBINS: I made the mistake of asking, “Sir, how did you survive all those years in prison?” He gave me a stern look: “I didn’t survive, I prepared.” He believed he’d either die in jail and become a martyr, or live—in which case he needed to lead. His strength, that sense of authority and certainty, was mind-boggling.
PLAYBOY: Who surprised you the most?
ROBBINS: Mike Tyson. I found out he’s incredibly well-read—religious books and a wide range of literature. He was describing how he’d brought Aryan and African gangs in prison together, preventing a riot. And in the middle of telling me all this stuff about love, he snaps, “But sometimes I think if there was a button you could push and kill everybody in the world, I’d just do it!”
PLAYBOY: Princess Diana.
ROBBINS: I’ll never forget the sad expression on her face when she said she felt like a lonely sparrow in a gilded cage, like she had no choices, that she was trapped in a system where she couldn’t be herself. My primary goal was to show her that there were choices. And she made the giant choice to end her marriage. One of her biggest concerns was that her son would not have the chance to be king. She believed that both sons were born to serve, that her own life was about service.
PLAYBOY: Bill Clinton.
ROBBINS: He called asking for assistance during the time he was losing power as the Republicans had taken over both houses of Congress. “Mr. President,” I told him, “I have to tell you in advance—I’m not a fan.”
PLAYBOY: Why weren’t you?
ROBBINS: I felt he had campaigned on the economy but was focusing on everything but that. The incongruity of it bugged me. But as I got to spend time with him, I saw an impassioned man with a deep desire to end suffering. I remember being with him in Aspen during the Monica Lewinsky period. Going down the side of the mountain, he said, “You know, I’d run again if I could.” I teased him, “I’d get out while I could!” Another night, at Camp David, he said, “Come walk with me.” It was Christmastime, with deer passing us. Surreal, you know? We’re having this conversation about life and the country. And I’m thinking, My God, I’m here with the president and have a chance to make a little bit of a difference.
PLAYBOY: During the last election, you had what was called “a very intense meeting” with President Obama. What happened?
ROBBINS: I was invited to a private meeting with 18 business leaders, most of them Silicon Valley billionaires. I started off saying, “Mr. President, I voted for you before, but how will things be different four years from now? You haven’t passed a budget. Even Democrats aren’t supporting you much. And why didn’t you support Simpson-Bowles?” The audience was a bit shocked.