How Pessimism Can Save Us All: The Anti-Tony Robbins quest for better living

“We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish.” This is Anthony Robbins promise if you want to “Unleash the Power Within.” According to his web site you can use your credit card to set your “level of commitment” which ranges from General Admission at $795 to Diamond Premiere Commitment for $2,595. Someone who pays almost $3,000 for a weekend of hope and a book, a DVD and a T-Shirt should be committed. You can interpret “committed” as you see fit.

The great thing about this bulletproof scam is that if you spend your money and don’t have all your dreams come true, you (not Uncle Tony) are to blame. Tony Robbins defies scripture. It’s not the meek that shall inherit the earth; rather, it is his Diamond Premiere committed people. The meek can have the scraps that the winners leave behind. I don’t think people are wrong to spend money on hope or Robbins is immoral to sell it but Buddhism, Twelve Step work or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy unleash the power from within and two out of three of these choices don’t want your money.

To be content, I need to feel like I make a valued commitment to life of meaning. Of course life doesn’t come with meaning or value; we assign meaning and value to our life. Today I want to talk about how pessimism can be a touchstone to greater happiness for anyone—certainly, to an addict in recovery. When I lower my expectations I am free of much anxiety. When I stop demanding that my world and the people in it meet my needs, my longing diminishes. When I see myself and everyone as flawed, forgivable and deserving of second chances, I am less critical, less dissatisfied and more connected to humanity.

Chris Hedges is not on the sidelines about peddlers of hope. In Empire of Illusion he breaks down what these snake-oil salesmen are spinning, “Once we adopt a positive mind, positive things will always happen. This belief, like all other illusions peddled in the culture, encourages people to flee from reality when reality is frightening or depressing.” The book dispels this illusion for the false idol we are really praying to, “The gimmick of visualizing what we want and believing we can achieve it is no different from praying to a god or Jesus who we are told wants to make us wealthy and successful.” (Empire of Illusion p 119)

In Damian Thompson’s The Fix we see how our societal aversion to pain and our communal attraction to pleasure has made us susceptible to addiction and a life of always reaching for but never tasting a carrot just beyond our lips. Thompson makes an important distinction about how it is not about liking things too much; it’s about wanting them too much. In Eastern philosophy these are the sins of attachment and longing. It is well and good for me to like being in a loving/committed relationship but it’s the wanting that can exacerbate to obsession and/or addiction.

We ritualize our addictive patterns. I bet the person who presses “add to shopping cart” on the Anthony Robbins Chicago seminar page will start feeling better about her or himself the moment the credit card is approved. In The Fix, Thompson describes rituals from his own addictive past, “This was a late stage in my addiction to alcohol, by which time most of my relationships were in ruins anyways and I was busily replacing people (with) things. So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I developed a ritualized relationship with zopiclone pills. There must have been an almighty dopamine rush when the chemist handed me that paper bag of goodies—not unlike the thrill the compulsive shopper feels when a credit card payment goes through. And I know that, from the moment I had the pills in my pocket, I was already planning what was, in effect, the ceremony of taking them.” (The Fix, p 163)

I know this to be true. Even before the effects of the bag of pot, horse-capsule of mescaline or bottle of gin I just bought had been consumed, I was comforted holding it close to my body, planning and excited about the process and ritual of getting obliterated that was coming. Like being excited about a date with the latest infatuation, I had a giddiness in my stomach and a lightness to my step.

I was resisting my life and my feelings about life. I wanted relief from my wants and uncertainty. Too bad I didn’t have the courage and/or tools to manage my longing and my loathing. Later in recovery I could confront uncertainty and make peace with the chaos of life. Existential angst led me to drink. The unbearable quandary, “Is that all there is?” had to be drowned. Today I can answer “Is that all there is?” with “Yes, Joe, that’s all there is and all that there is, is enough.” At times it is more than enough—it is wondrous—but for the most part, a flawed uncertain life is still a good life. The tragic flaw in our consumer lifestyle is that more must always be consumed, cast aside and replaced. Good isn’t good enough; we have to have great. Achievement isn’t enough; the competition has to be crushed. Love isn’t enough; I have to be adored. I wrestle with a core-belief that “there will never be enough.” This is a belief and not an absolute truth. There is enough love in my world. I am good enough, my family is good enough and the world is good enough. It’s good to like approval, accomplishment and a full tummy. It is the wanting I need to manage.

The Tony Robbins game feeds off of scarcity. There will never be enough love and money and happiness for everyone so hurry up, pay up and get your share. Scarcity is a belief that instills fear but is love and happiness scarce or infinite?

Before the “singleness of purpose” mongers had their way, there was a story in the Big Book called, “Doctor/Alcoholic/Addict.” Too many dually addicted members were pointing to this passage as justification about identifying as an addict in AA. Did the zealots have their way in changing the title to “Acceptance was the Answer?” Nevertheless, the strength of the story remains about how for this AA member, when he is unhappy, some person, place or thing isn’t exactly how he wants it to be. His serenity is directly proportional to his level of acceptance.

On page 420 of the Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, we read, “Perhaps the best thing of all for me is to remember that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of Max and other people are, the lower my serenity. I can watch me serenity level rise when I discard my expectations. But then my ‘rights’ try to move in, and they too can force my serenity level down. I had to discard my ‘rights,’ as well as my expectations by asking myself, ‘How important is it, really?’ how important is in compared to my serenity, my emotional sobriety? And when I place more value on my serenity and sobriety than on anything else, I can maintain them at a higher level—at least for the time being. “

In Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, explains how Christianity does a pretty good job at lowering folks expectations—for this life anyway. We are weak, life is suffering and we will be cursed with desire, loss and eventually death. de Botton blames secularists for creating an expectation that anything is possible, all will be revealed and life is infinite possibilities. That’s a pretty good formula for disappointment, isn’t it? “…we are usually cast into gloom not so much by negativity as by hope. It is hope—with regard to our careers, our love lives, our children, our politicians and our planet—that is primarily to blame for angering and embittering us. The incompatibility between grandeur of our aspirations and the mean reality of our condition generates the violent disappointments which rack our days and etch themselves in lines of acrimony across our faces.” In his book, de Botton goes on to describe what many of know to be the relief that comes from Twelve Step fellowship in the rooms, “ … our very worst insights, far from being unique and shameful, are part of the common, inevitable reality of mankind. Our dread that we might be the only ones to feel anxious, bored, jealous, cruel, perverse and narcissistic turns out to be gloriously unfounded, opening up unexpected opportunities for communication around our dark realties.” (Religion for Atheists, p. 181)

It is hard to stay present when we are brainwashed into consumerist mentality. We are longing and loathing, wishing and regretting, wanting something more and something else, a good deal of the time. The meek do inherit the earth. To have and appreciate life we have to like what we have, not have what we like. To be meek who are humble and patient under the provocation of others are more attuned to the world and the moment that someone hell-bent on change.


10 comments

  • ireallymeanthis

    ireallymeanthis Colchester,UK

    Excellent piece this. I am in a position of trying to persuade my brother and wife

    Excellent piece this. I am in a position of trying to persuade my brother and wife

  • porky

    porky

    This is weak

    This is weak

  • Rebellion Dogs Publishing

    Rebellion Dogs Publishing

    Weak, excellent, thanks for the feedback. We're not looking for bobble-headed agreement, just engagement. Thanks for chiming in. "We're all in this game of life, together."

    Weak, excellent, thanks for the feedback. We're not looking for bobble-headed agreement, just engagement. Thanks for chiming in. "We're all in this game of life, together."

  • Anon

    Anon Montreal

    We all have to wipe our ass and when someone claims he knows how to do it better than you, my advice is to smile, nod gently and run away. Thanks for this piece.

    We all have to wipe our ass and when someone claims he knows how to do it better than you, my advice is to smile, nod gently and run away.
    Thanks for this piece.

  • Rebellion Dogs Publishing

    Rebellion Dogs Publishing

    The most profound statements come in everyday language. Good advice, Montreal :-).

    The most profound statements come in everyday language. Good advice, Montreal :-).

  • Joel

    Joel Australia

    Interesting ideas. I think you're a little hard on the guy- sure he's a billionaire who makes his money by getting everyone (suckers like me) to jump up and down and shout "YES" in a dizzying world of hypnosis and positivity. Sure he could probably be a little more altruistic and make less money off of it and give more back to the people. And his stuff isn't for everyone and neither should it be. But as the saying goes "don't knock it 'till you try it". I genuinely believe he's just trying to help the world a little. Or maybe its just the mind control device he had secretly implanted in me. I think you'll find what you finished with is kinda what he's all about anyway - gratitude.

    Interesting ideas. I think you're a little hard on the guy- sure he's a billionaire who makes his money by getting everyone (suckers like me) to jump up and down and shout "YES" in a dizzying world of hypnosis and positivity. Sure he could probably be a little more altruistic and make less money off of it and give more back to the people. And his stuff isn't for everyone and neither should it be. But as the saying goes "don't knock it 'till you try it". I genuinely believe he's just trying to help the world a little. Or maybe its just the mind control device he had secretly implanted in me. I think you'll find what you finished with is kinda what he's all about anyway - gratitude.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    Well, I got Anthony Robbins book for free at the library. So I didn't spend millions of dollars on it. And, it changed my life for the better. Prior to reading is book I was caught in a victim mentality that stuff happens to me and I don't have any control over it. After reading his book I realized that is a lie. I have control over my life and I can change it. I put his practices into work in my life and I can definitely say that I am happier, more balanced emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I have better relationships with others and my life is 100% better then it ever has been. I have a great job, that I love and a live I enjoy because I took this free book from the library read it and did what it said. Ironically, I actually did the exercises in the book in order to prove him wrong and to show that he was just another crappy self-help author that didn't help at all, and that the book was crap and instead ended up having a better life and more fulfilling life then I ever thought I could. And yes, I tried other "self-help" books and spent money on a therapist that didn't do 1/3 of what I got from reading this book FREE at the library. So before you go ranting and raving that he's a scam artist and that all he wants is money I think I can say that's not the case. We spend thousands of dollars going to therapists and we don't think that is a scam, but a guy who is enthusiastic about helping people.. Oh ya.. he's got to be a scam. right? Really? give me a break.

    Well, I got Anthony Robbins book for free at the library. So I didn't spend millions of dollars on it. And, it changed my life for the better. Prior to reading is book I was caught in a victim mentality that stuff happens to me and I don't have any control over it. After reading his book I realized that is a lie. I have control over my life and I can change it. I put his practices into work in my life and I can definitely say that I am happier, more balanced emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I have better relationships with others and my life is 100% better then it ever has been. I have a great job, that I love and a live I enjoy because I took this free book from the library read it and did what it said. Ironically, I actually did the exercises in the book in order to prove him wrong and to show that he was just another crappy self-help author that didn't help at all, and that the book was crap and instead ended up having a better life and more fulfilling life then I ever thought I could. And yes, I tried other "self-help" books and spent money on a therapist that didn't do 1/3 of what I got from reading this book FREE at the library. So before you go ranting and raving that he's a scam artist and that all he wants is money I think I can say that's not the case. We spend thousands of dollars going to therapists and we don't think that is a scam, but a guy who is enthusiastic about helping people.. Oh ya.. he's got to be a scam. right? Really? give me a break.

  • Manuel Gomez Rydholm

    Manuel Gomez Rydholm Stockholm

    Hello, I think you worry too much, Regards, Manuel

    Hello,

    I think you worry too much,

    Regards,

    Manuel

  • asd

    asd asd

    asd

    asd

  • Max

    Max Munich

    It’s his business. He helps a lot of people. You are to negative bro

    It’s his business.
    He helps a lot of people.

    You are to negative bro

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