Meditations on motivation

TWO weeks ago, I attended a daylong Anthony Robbins seminar. For the uninitiated, Robbins is a motivational guru who makes millions of dollars a year whipping stadiums full of potential achievers into a frenzy of can-do attitudes. I was not sure what to expect. I merely wanted a day out of the office.

To get an idea what it is like to attend one of these screaming hug-fests, picture yourself standing on the game floor of a sports arena surrounded by 15,000 other secret achievers all of whom are wearing some version of khaki pants and polo shirts. Now, picture your hands and 30,000 others balled into fists punching the air above your heads. You are yelling - hollering, really: Yes! Yes! Yes! The concrete floor vibrates as you and your new best friends stomp your feet in a fury of motivational passion.

Picture football fans erupting as their team scores the game- winning field goal with two seconds left on the Super Bowl clock and you have some idea what I am talking about. Unrestrained mania. Mass celebration. Utter, physical, feel-it-in-your-teeth glee.

I found the whole experience a bit unnerving.

On the stage was Anthony Robbins, jumping around in a tailored black suit and headset microphone looking like a commodities trader lip-syncing Madonna. In the audience were thousands of seemingly normal people frothing at his every command. And we wonder how Hitler came into power.

At one point, I caught sight of an older gentleman in a knit vest and brown polyester slacks/trousers painfully trying to play along. He looked as if he were trying to lift an imaginary weight off his shoulders and above his ears. His fists were moving up and down ever so slightly, as he looked left and then right like a caged wolf.

Boy, social conformity is a huge motivator, I recall thinking as I leapt into the air along with everyone else. Actually, I was not thinking that. At the time, I was more concerned about my blouse coming untucked.

But afterward, I did think a lot about the strangeness of the whole event. I do not disagree with Robbins' basic cheer - that we can control our own destiny - it was just a little too simplistic. Maybe it is because he spouted a lot of fortune- cookie phrases like, "Looking back will never move you forward". And, "Who you spend time with is who you become".

Or, maybe, I am being critical because I failed one of the first exercises. Robbins had directed us to stretch our right arms in front of us, point to the horizon, and then slowly twist our arms and bodies clockwise and backward as far as they could go. With my arm stretched elegantly in front of me, I twisted my body around until my right index finger landed squarely on the beige corduroy crotch of the handsome man standing behind me. Fortunately, he was too busy trying not to smack the chest of the woman behind him to notice. The activity was intended to show how visualisation can improve performance and since there had been no crotch in my visualisation, I felt like a flop.

Despite these mishaps, it really was not the seminar itself that bothered me. We can all benefit from taking time out to review our purpose in life. Instead, it was the fact that so many people felt compelled to spend $169 (Rs. 7,874) a piece to be motivated. What does it say about our culture when we have to pay a celebrity guru to help affirm our own unique goals? Why are we more willing to discuss our secret desires with total strangers in a sports arena than with our friends and family?

While I am a firm believer that one person cannot motivate another, that inspiration must come from within, I do believe encouragement, support, affirmation and positive feedback is something we can give to each other. Judging from the near sell- out crowd at Denver's Pepsi Centre two weeks ago, we are clearly not doing enough of this for our friends, our co-workers, our employees and our children.

The second issue that has gnawed at me since the event is that we still seem to equate success with such things as titles, fame and money. It did not help that Donald Trump was also on the agenda that day bragging about his fashion-model girlfriend who probably would not be with him if he did not make gobs of money. Probably wouldn't? I hate to tell ya, Donald.

While Robbins did make casual references to such things as having a good marriage or losing weight, the overall feeling I got is that success is about big, external, American profit-driven goals. Maybe this is because 67 per cent of audience members were pager-wearing, commission-counting salespeople and profit is the measure of success in their work. But I take issue with the fact that success should be solely - or primarily - equated with work, money and notoriety.

I know miserable millionaires and very happy housepainters, and to me, the painters are more successful. But let us face it: our culture and our companies do not teach or encourage people to have balanced, happy lives. Robbins probably would not fill as many stadiums teaching people to be content - that is a little too Zen-like for our culture. But I would rather learn contentment than how to jump in the air like a cheerleader with new panties to show off.

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Shari Caudron is motivated by visions of a corduroy-free future. The writer is an award - winning journalist and corporate communications consultant based in Denver, Colorado, U.S.. E-mail her at OTCHindu.@aol.com