When then-President Bill Clinton was facing impeachment, a 31-year-old Tony Robbins got the call. “They’re going to impeach me in the morning, what should I do?” Robbins remembers Clinton saying. Since then, Robbins has coached a wide range of powerful people through very difficult times, often at a moment’s notice.
In conversation with Dr. David B. Agus on Monday at the Fortune Brainstorm HEALTH conference, Robbins discussed his journey from a difficult childhood to becoming a successful speaker, author and entrepreneur who has worked with every living U.S. president (except President Trump, who has yet to reach out). In a session titled “The Secret To Tony Robbins’ Success,” he shared lessons from his life and career, including the importance of learning from failure and the value of addressing problems before they become crises.
Learning through experience
In 40-plus years of experience and “deep practice” helping people, Robbins explained, “I’ve put myself in enough crazy environments that I’ve had to adapt to so many things,” adding, “there are only so many problems and there are unlimited ways to solve them.”
He processes his experiences by looking for patterns, “so that hopefully I can compress decades into days,” he said. “I can learn from those decades of life experience, save it, bring the answer here to myself and others, and see a measurable impact.”
Referring to Clinton’s phone call on the eve of his impeachment, Robbins joked that he wished Clinton had called him sooner, but also said that is part of his learning process. “I fly without a net and that’s part of why I’m good,” he said.
Learning from the best
Robbins also looks to learn from people who are the best in the world at what they do. “When I hear about someone who is brilliant, I seek them out,” he said. And he wasn’t just talking about influencers and professionals. He used the example of a couple that has been together for 65 years and managed to keep the passion alive in their relationship. “They’re not lucky, they’re doing something different,” he said.
Learning through failure and hardship
Robbins told Agus (a member of Thrive Global’s Board of Directors) about his difficult childhood, growing up with an abusive mother who was addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol. He said, “If my mom had been the woman I’d hoped she’d been, I wouldn’t be the man I’m proud to be.”
And he explained how one particularly painful childhood memory sparked his desire to give back. “I was fed when I was 11, on Thanksgiving. I had no money and no food,” he said. “And it changed my life.” Now, Robbins has partnered with Feeding America to feed one billion people by 2025.
Though he has written books on finance, he believes that “money doesn’t change people, it just magnifies their nature.” He told Agus, “What you get will never make you happy… Who you become, that will make you very happy or very sad.”
Learning to take care of yourself
At 58, Robbins has learned to make taking care of himself a priority. He recently changed his sleep schedule, for example, with positive results. “Most of my life it’s been five or six hours but now I’m making myself sleep closer to six as much as I can.”
When it comes to improving his health, Robbins said, “I’m using every tool that I can find.” That includes cryotherapy and going outside of the country for stem cell treatments. He’s trying to “kill the monster when it’s little, not wait until it’s big.”
He likened some of what he does in his life and work to healthcare and the need to focus on preventative care. “I also get people when they’re at a position of a challenge, because that’s when people actually start to pay attention, just like they do in health,” he said. “They should have taken care of it all along the way, but now there’s a crisis and now they’re willing to do something.”