Taking Control of Your Life: Advice From Tony Robbins

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Unlimited Power" by Tony Robbins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you lack a sense of control over your life? Do you feel torn between different goals, unsure where to channel your energy?

According to Tony Robbins, taking control of your life starts with taking control of your mind. In practice, this means aligning all of your thoughts, beliefs, and actions with your goals. In other words, making sure that what you think and what you do are really getting you closer to what you want. 

Let’s discuss three of Robbins’s tips for how to gain power over your mind by aligning your goals, thoughts, and beliefs.

Tip #1: Reprogram Your Mind

One way to take control of your mind is through a practice called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). 

Robbins says that all people’s nervous systems—meaning both the brain and the body—work in more or less the same way. Nervous systems are like computers all using the same operating system. Therefore, whatever one person can do, any person can do; it’s just a matter of running the right mental “programs.” This theory is known as NLP. 

Robbins believes that NLP provides a method to accomplish anything you can imagine. Furthermore, because people’s minds all work with the same programming, you can figure out which programs to run by observing and imitating people who have already done what you’re trying to do. 

For example, someone who wants to become a better martial artist might study Bruce Lee: how he moves, how and when he strikes, and even how he breathes during a fight. Robbins calls this process modeling.

However, there’s more to NLP than just copying the person’s physical actions. Robbins says you have to copy that person’s mental state, intentions, beliefs, and values. If you want to achieve what someone else has achieved, then you must—at least for a short while—think and act exactly like that person. 

(Shortform note: Although NLP has been debunked, scientists agree that imitative learning (learning by watching others) is an effective way to develop new skills. In fact, people—particularly children—learn through imitation so effectively that they’ll often successfully imitate irrelevant or inefficient actions if the person modeling the skill does them first. For example, if a mother picks up a toothbrush and sets it down several times before actually beginning to brush her teeth, her children are likely to imitate that behavior even if they know it’s unnecessary.

Tip #2: Control Your Mind by Controlling Your Body

Another way to take control of your mind is by stimulating your body

Robbins says that mental and emotional states are closely linked to what your body is doing. For example, someone who’s afraid will probably be tense, have an elevated heart rate, and breathe quickly and shallowly—these are all physical responses to the emotion of fear. However, the connection goes both ways. This person can bring his fear under control by relaxing his muscles, sitting up straight, and taking slow, deep breaths; a physical state associated with calmness and confidence.  

The same goes for any mental or emotional state: You can create the state you want by recreating the physical cues that go along with it. For instance, if you want to improve your focus, you could lean forward; if you want to feel happier, you could force a smile. Just as your body naturally reacts to what you think and feel, your brain naturally reacts to what you do

(Shortform note: Recent studies have confirmed a link between physical cues and mental or emotional responses. Psychologists hope that they can take advantage of that connection to improve patients’ mental health—for example, they might be able to trick patients’ minds into thinking that upsetting situations are actually happy or pleasant by having them smile at stressful stimuli.)

Robbins adds that, while you can influence your emotions with short-term bodily mastery as explained above, a major part of taking control of your life is through long-term bodily mastery—or in simpler terms, physical fitness. A strong body is a source of endless energy, both physical and mental; you can use that energy to help you accomplish your goals.

Tip #3: Control Your Beliefs

A crucial part of taking control of your mind is to make sure that you have powerful beliefs rather than disempowering ones. 

Robbins says that everyone has a belief system that they’ve built—largely without realizing it—based on their upbringing, personal experiences, and knowledge. Those beliefs create the boundaries, or the lack of them, that person operates within. 

In other words, you can do whatever you believe you can; conversely, you can’t do what you believe you can’t. 

For example, suppose two scientists each get the chance to present their work at a large and prestigious conference. One believes that he doesn’t deserve the chance—that his work isn’t important enough, and that he’s not experienced or knowledgeable enough to stand in front of a room full of famous scientists and teach them something new. He believes that he can’t do it, so he declines the invitation and remains in obscurity. This scientist’s beliefs got in the way of him achieving his goals. 

The other scientist believes that she’s as good a scientist as anyone else at that conference, that her work is as important and as well-done as anything the other attendees produced, and that all she needs is the chance to prove herself. Therefore, where the other scientist saw a frightening and overwhelming event that he wasn’t prepared for, she sees an opportunity. She presents her work, her name spreads through the scientific community, and she gets a large influx of funding to continue her research. This scientist’s beliefs drove her to achieve her goals.

Taking Control of Your Life: Advice From Tony Robbins

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  • How to harness your thoughts and beliefs and turn them into purposeful action
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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