Strange Bedfellows: Me and Tony Robbins

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Jeff Christensen/APTony Robbins wants to be the "face of the registered investment adviser business."
I am not a fan of most self-improvement gurus, but I admit to being jealous of their success. By some estimates, the self-improvement market is a $9.6 billion industry. You can seek to resolve your issues by studying books, videos, audio programs and infomercials; attending seminars, workshops and holistic institutes; and hiring personal coaches. Leading motivational speakers have become household names and enormously successful. At the top of the list is Tony Robbins.

The Flawed Premise of Many Self-Help Gurus

Unfortunately, many of the most popular self-help books are based solely on the views of the author, without reference to any data. Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine, correctly observed that despite the ready availability of a vast amount of research dealing with the subjects discussed in self-help books, the big sellers "seem to be completely disconnected from that evidence. What they are selling are made-up easy answers, personality and gimmicks."

The "common hope" of these books, Novella notes, is the flawed view that you can materially improve your life by just thinking about better outcomes. Much of the advice is demonstrably wrong, but the message and the messengers are very appealing if you're looking for an easy solution to complex problems.

For more information about the myths of the self-help industry, I recommend Annie Murphy Paul's article in Psychology Today: "Self-Help: Shattering the Myths."

The self-help industry wants you to believe your lack of success is the consequence of not thinking positively. If you buy into this view, you are likely to blame yourself for events not within your control. Robbins -- who has been called the "mahatma of motivation" -- is among the most notable proponents of the power of positive thinking. In July 2012, he sponsored an event called "Unleash the Power Within" that caused 21 hapless souls (pun intended) to be treated for burns to the soles of their feet when they were encouraged to walk barefoot over hot coals.

There is little evidence supporting the view that "thinking positively" correlates with an ability to walk on hot coals without suffering injury. There is a considerable amount of research into the science of fire walking. It boils down to this: Wood that has burned down to coals is a poor conductor of heat. When a bed of burning coals is covered with an insulating layer of ash, you should be able to quickly scamper over it without suffering serious burns -- regardless of your mindset.

Robbins' Foray Into Investments

Notwithstanding my skepticism about the lack of scientific support for some of Robbins' self-help theories, I welcome his recent foray into the world of finance. According to an InvestmentNews article, Robbins "hopes to be the face of the registered investment adviser business." He has written a book, "Money: Master the Game" (which I have not read) and has become an advocate for the fiduciary standard that requires registered investment advisers -- but not brokers or insurance companies -- to always act in the best interest of their clients.

Robbins intends to educate investors and help them understand how the brokerage industry traditionally puts its own interests ahead of its clients. This is a very worthy goal. In addition, he is developing an "adviser master program" that will empower advisers and others in the financial industry with inspirational messages, similar to those he has provided to entrepreneurs and chief executives.

I wish Robbins well in this new endeavor. I applaud his efforts to protect investors. Maybe he can use his celebrity status to overcome the enormous advertising budget of the securities industry and the daily grist of misinformation disseminated by its cohorts, much of the mainstream financial media. Investors would certainly be the beneficiaries if he succeeds in spreading his message.

We may be strange bedfellows, but we are on the same side of this issue.

Daniel Solin is the director of investor advocacy for theBAM Allianceand a wealth adviser with Buckingham. He is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books. His latest book is "The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read."
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