Tony Robbins: Change Your State, Change Your Life

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

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Do you want to know more about the Tony Robbins change your state method? How can changing your posture and focus change your mindset? 

According to Tony Robbins’ change your state method, emotions and mood are products of your mental-emotional-physiological state. If you learn how to change your posture and focus, you can instantly change your mood and mindset. 

Learn about Tony Robbins’ change your state method below. 

Tony Robbins: Change Your State 

Although many people mistakenly think that emotions happen to them, emotions are actually the product of your mental-emotional-physiological state, which is determined by how you position your body (your physiology) and what you choose to focus on. This is the basis of Tony Robbins’ change your state method. Learning how to control your focus and physiology empowers you to manage your state, which enables you to feel whatever emotions you want, whenever you want. 

Since your emotions impact your actions, controlling your emotional state empowers you to promote the behaviors you want to sustain to improve your life. For instance, remaining calm in a situation that would have previously made you angry enables you to make clear-headed, constructive decisions instead of reactive, potentially damaging ones. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about Tony Robbins’ change your state method. Using this, you can always feel the way you want by:

  • Using your body 
  • Directing your focus 
  • Discovering how certain physical sensations (such as sight and sound) affect your state and learning how to manipulate them 

To learn how to control our mental-emotional-physiological states, we need to explore the factors that influence our states in the first place. As mentioned, your physiology—your posture, facial expressions, breathing, and gestures—and the things you focus on both determine your state. 

Most people develop physiological and mental patterns that consistently produce the same states. For example, if you have a habit of hanging your head down and dwelling on thoughts about your failures, you will habitually feel disheartened and depressed; as we know from our discussion of how habits are wired into the brain, the neural pathways for these postures, thoughts, and emotions become well-trodden, reinforcing the patterns. 

Developing these patterns creates two consequences: 

  1. You only experience a handful of emotions in your day-to-day life, which means that you miss out on a rich spectrum of emotional experiences. 
  2. If the patterns are disempowering, you are habitually in negative states. 

Let’s explore Tony Robbins’ change your state method, and how to break out of negative patterns by changing your physiology and your focus. 

#1: Change Your Body

First, develop patterns of physical states and movements that support a happy, powerful, strong emotional state. For example, if you’re standing tall and breathing deeply, you’ll feel more confident than if you have your shoulders slumped and your eyes down. 

To get started, try this exercise for the next seven days: Five times a day, spend one minute giving yourself a huge smile in the mirror. Each time you do, your smile will strengthen your neural pathway for happiness. Go a step further by also making yourself laugh three times a day. 

#2: Change Your Focus

In addition to adopting empowering physical patterns, make a habit of focusing on the positive aspects of your experiences. Your focus dictates how you view reality: Whatever you choose to focus on determines how you experience things and what emotions you feel. Therefore, if you focus on negative things, such as sad memories or future problems, you’ll feel negative, too. But, if you focus on positive things—like happy memories, or the good things about your present situation—you’ll feel positive.

Think of your focus as a camera lens and reality as a party: Your camera can only capture one small piece of the whole scene. If the camera focuses on a couple arguing at the party, it gives the impression that the party is full of conflict, but if you focus on a group of friends dancing and laughing, it makes it seem like the party is fun and lively. 

Your focus not only affects your interpretation of events, but also impacts your ability to overcome challenges. When you focus on the outcome you want, you will move toward it and increase your chances of reaching it. By contrast, when you focus on a problem or something that you’re afraid could happen, you’re more likely to manifest it—and if it comes to fruition, you’ll have wasted your time worrying about the potential problem instead of coming up with a potential solution. Similarly, when you’re driving a car, you subconsciously turn the steering wheel toward whatever you focus on, whether that’s the road ahead or the guard rail.  

Now that you know the positive effects of shifting your focus, let’s discuss several strategies for doing so. First, we’ll explore how to change your focus by manipulating the way you interpret your physical sensations. Then, in the next two chapters, we’ll talk about how to direct your focus through language—specifically, the questions you ask yourself and the words and metaphors you habitually use. 

Be Aware of How Your Sensations Affect Your State

The power of focus isn’t just about what you focus on, but also how you focus using your different senses. You experience everything through your five senses, but sight, sound, or touch impact some people’s emotional experiences more strongly than others. Whichever sense is most influential for you is your modality. 

The details within each modality—such as brightness for a visual modality or loudness for an auditory modality—are called submodalities. You have unique positive or negative associations with various submodalities, and when those submodalities are present, they make you perceive that experience more positively or negatively; in other words, if you have positive associations with brightness, you’ll feel more positively about a meeting in a well-lit conference room than a dim one. You can manipulate your submodalities to positively alter your feelings about your experiences. 

For example, if you have an auditory modality and you envision a stressful work meeting you had this morning, submodalities such as the speed at which you recall people talking and the pitches of their voices impact the emotions tied to that memory. (This doesn’t just apply to memories but also to future experiences that you’re anticipating.) As we’ll explain, you can replay a version of that memory that alters those submodalities, thereby changing your feelings about it. 

First, let’s talk about how to identify your dominant modality. Then we’ll discuss how to manipulate your submodalities to alter your feelings about an experience. 

Determine Your Dominant Modality

The first step in using your modality to influence your emotions is to actually identify what your modality is. Become attuned to which modalities are most powerful for you so that you can understand how they’re affecting your experiences and learn how to manipulate your submodalities to achieve the outcomes you want. 

If you have a visual modality, the intensity of your experience will be affected by submodalities such as brightness, color, distance, movement, and size. Additionally, you may say things like: 

  • Picture the outcome. 
  • That brightens my day. 
  • Let’s put it in perspective. 
  • You’re not looking at the big picture. 
  • The answer is staring you in the face. 

If you have an auditory modality, the intensity of your experience will be affected by submodalities such as pitch, tempo, tonality, and volume. You may use phrases like: 

  • I’m tuning that out. 
  • Your message is loud and clear. 
  • This sounds great. 
  • Progress came to a screeching halt. 
  • Listen to your intuition. 

(Shortform note: If you have a kinesthetic modality, the intensity of your experience will be affected by submodalities such as balance, pressure, temperature, texture, and weight.) You may use phrases like: 

  • It’s weighing heavily on me. 
  • The pressure is really on. 
  • I’m carrying a heavy load. 
  • He’s totally immersed in his work. 

Apply It: Map and Manipulate Your Submodalities

Once you know which modality is most powerful for you, determine how the submodalities affect you, and then adjust them strategically to alter your feelings about an experience. Changing your emotions about an experience could change your ability to take action, enabling you to make measurable improvements in your life. For example, if you have chores to do and a visual modality, build your motivation by envisioning a bright, vibrantly colored image of you completing those tasks.

First, use this exercise to create a identify which submodalities resonate most with you:

  1. Write down a happy memory from your life, and rate your enjoyment in that memory on a scale of 0 (not enjoyable) to 100 (the best experience ever). 
  2. Check your memory against each of the modalities and submodalities below, and determine which ones describe your memory. For example, do you envision your memory as a still frame or a moving image? Are the sounds in your memory loud or soft?
  3. Switch your memory to the opposite submodality. For example, if your memory was a moving scene, try thinking of it as a snapshot. 
  4. While your memory is in this different state, notice how it makes you feel. Rate how much enjoyment this version of the memory gives you, on a scale of 0 to 100.
  5. Compare your new enjoyment rating with your original one. 
  6. Revert your memory back to its original version.
  7. Repeat the process with the next submodality. 

Visual submodalities include: 

  • Bigger, smaller, or actual size 
  • Bright, dim, or dark
  • Color or black-and-white
  • Still frame or movie
  • Two-dimensional or three-dimensional 

Auditory submodalities include: 

  • Fast or slow tempo 
  • Harmonious or cacophonous 
  • Loud or soft 
  • Regular or irregular sound 
  • Your voice or someone else’s voice

Kinesthetic submodalities include: 

  • Heavy or light weight
  • Hot or cold temperature change 
  • Increase or decrease in pressure 
  • Rigid or flexible
  • Vibration or still

After you’ve run your memory through the various submodalities and noticed which changes raised or lowered your enjoyment, you’ll know how different submodalities affect you. Next, use this knowledge to change your emotions and, by extension, behavior. For instance, if you discover that turning your memory from fast-paced to a slow tempo raises your enjoyment, then when you think of a task you’ve been avoiding, imagine yourself doing it in slow motion. This will cause you to associate more pleasure with the prospect of doing the task, which will make you more likely to complete it. 

Ask Yourself Strategic Questions to Overcome Challenges

Another aspect of Tony Robbins’ change your state method is asking the right questions. It’s one thing to ask yourself empowering questions under normal circumstances, but it can be difficult to keep that mindset when you’re facing challenges. However, the questions you ask yourself when you come up against obstacles are critical to helping you overcome those challenges. Consider these five questions any time you’re dealing with a problem: 

  1. What’s good about this problem? This question shifts your mindset from being upset about the problem to focusing on what you can learn and gain from it. For example, if you’re busy and exhausted and feel overwhelmed by the dozens of phone calls you have to make, you could find good in the fact that you have such a robust network that there are so many people who want and need to talk to you. 
  2. What still needs improvement? This question looks for ways to solve the problem. Additionally, the wording presupposes that improvement is imminent and the situation will improve. For example, you may realize that you need to change your schedule and build in more time to rest and recharge so that you don’t feel overwhelmed again. 
  3. What am I willing to do to improve the situation? This question seeks specific actions that lead to resolution. For example, you may decide that you’re willing to make more space in your schedule by saying “no” to more commitments.
  4. What am I willing to stop doing to improve the situation? Since making lasting change requires starting a new behavior and ending an old, harmful behavior, this question aims to identify which disempowering habits you need to stop in order to reach a resolution. For example, you may commit to no longer agreeing to every invitation you get and you may also decide you’ll no longer complain about your schedule when you have the power to control it. 
  5. How can I enjoy the resolution process? Now that you’ve identified what the problem is and how you’ll tackle it, this question helps find pleasure in fixing it, which will ensure that you actually follow through. Additionally, when you answer this question, you may realize that you have resources that you had previously overlooked. In this way, questions influence what you believe is possible and, therefore, what you do to make that possibility a reality. For example, you may decide to make your phone calls from the Jacuzzi in your backyard, which will enable you to relax while being productive. The Jacuzzi is a resource that you’ve had the whole time, but you weren’t in the mindset to recognize it when you were feeling upset and overwhelmed. 

Besides questions that work toward a solution, you can also ask empowering questions that simply put you in a more positive state of mind, such as “What am I (or could I be) happy about in my life?” and “What can I learn from this problem?” When you’re in a more empowered state, you’ll be better able to identify resources and come up with a solution. 

Still, questions aren’t magic spells that effortlessly produce answers—merely reciting the words may not be enough. When you ask yourself questions, ask with the certainty that you’ll come up with an answer. You may even have to ask repeatedly; as long as you maintain confidence and conviction that you’ll find the answer, the question will keep your mindset on track as you search for a solution. 

Exercise: Control Your State

Brainstorm actions you can take to change your state anytime you want. 

  • List all of the emotions you experienced today, and the situations that triggered those emotions. 
  • List an emotion you’d like to regularly experience that you didn’t today. 
  • What kinds of postures, gestures, and other physical means can you use to bring on the emotion you want to incorporate into your daily life? (For example, if you want to feel more joy, make a point of smiling and laughing more often.)
  • How can you manipulate your submodalities to elicit that emotion? (For instance, if you want to feel more joy, and you have a visual modality and positive associations with light, you may benefit from making your workspace brighter with an additional lamp.)
Tony Robbins: Change Your State, Change Your Life

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Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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