This is what I looked like right before firewalking. Can't you tell how much I still wanted to be an awkward people pleaser?
I get why Tony Robbins turns people off, really I do, and why firewalking seems idiotic (especially in the wake of all those people getting burned), but hear me out on this one: It's a life-changing, completely empowering experience.
If done correctly, you do not get burned. You just get huge reserves of confidence.
Think about the scariest thing you've ever done in your entire life -- and how different you were afterward. You grew so much stronger, right? Less afraid? That's what firewalking is. Except way more intense. Because you're walking on motherfucking fire.
I did firewalking for the first time a few months ago -- in April -- when Tony Robbins' "Unleash the Power Within" seminar came to New Jersey, and I was fully, fully stoked to experience the man in person thanks to an invite from my friend Jenny Hutt. I've always had a soft spot for good old lame-ass uncool hilariously parodied Tony Robbins. I was ready to unleash my power! No, really. I actually was.
You see, he completely changed the way I saw the world when I first listened to his CDs in 2005. I stumbled on them by accident when rooting through my roommate's drawer looking for a DVD. At the time, I was so paralyzed with fear and stress that my body had almost totally shut down -- I hadn't gotten my period in six months for no other reason than pure stress -- and it was like a breath of pure sweet clarity and momentum to listen to his seminar on "The Pleasure/Pain Principle."
Here is my one main grain-of-salt preface about Tony Robbins: You have to be careful with him. If you are a compulsive spender or find yourself constantly searching for that Next Big Thing that will let you "finally be happy in life," then you might accidentally end up dropping a few thousand dollars on, like, every seminar he's ever done. So, be careful with that. Maybe get a little therapy under your belt first. And if you're the kind of person who hesitates when you're walking across coals and freaks out, then definitely don't do it.
Having said all that crap, firewalking is completely and totally awesome.
As if the experience alone wasn't surreal enough, I did it behind Gayle King! Gayle Freaking King! Then I told her how she inspired me to quit The New York Post. For real! It was really spectacular and totally synchronicity filled. (By the way, I always think I'm on the right track when stuff like that happens in my life. Like if I see little signs or hear a word and then read it at the same time, I'm like, oh cool, God is winking at me.)
Quickly, since it's relevant: My story on Gayle inspiring me to quit The Post is kind of similar to my whole Bethenny takedown story. I was asked to do something dishonest, finding sources that would fit the made-up angle of how "secretly Gayle King was thrilled to finally escape Oprah" -- in spite of how Gayle told me the exact opposite and we bonded over it in person. Thankfully, because I'm a fairly powerful, fairly scary bitch I minimized damage in the final piece. Let's hear it for fairly powerful, fairly scary bitches.
Anyway, I saw Gayle at the seminar in New Jersey (we were all sitting in the first three rows) and I told her this whole story. Then Tony Robbins turned up the music, asked everyone to dance and told us to go up to strangers and yell: "You freaking rock!" So a few hours before firewalking, Gayle King and I fully told each other at the same time: "You freaking rock!" Awesome.
To make the whole firewalk experience even more symbolic, everyone was asked to write what specific fear we wanted to get rid of and throw it into the big outdoor fire pit beforehand. I wrote my fear as "caring what other people think of me." Be gone, people pleasing, be gone!
Then Tony Robbins told us a theory that I have not been able to get out of my head since. It is just that good. Here goes.
It is YOUR STATE (how you feel) that affects YOUR STORY ("Can I do something or not?") which then affects YOUR ACTIONS (doing it successfully or not).
So why does that matter? YOU HAVE TO PUT YOURSELF IN THE RIGHT STATE TO SUCCEED. I.e., getting fully pumped and doing silly things like yelling, "You freaking rock!"
Honestly, though, I will say that when I approached the coals a few hours later, my heart was beating nervously and fast and I was a little freaked out. Maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe I could just watch the others. Maybe it was a dumb risk. Maybe I was too chicken.
Then: BOOM! Gayle went straight across. Killed it. Cheers from everyone. There was no backing out for me now. Tony put his hand on my back, whispered supportively in my ear and I walked calmly across the hot coals. 1-2-3-4-woah-I-did-it. Calmly, boldly and strongly.
I had actually walked on fire. And I didn't feel an ounce of fear.
There are powerful lasting lessons I took away from firewalking that apply to, like, going to that party I'm nervous about or whatever the scary challenge at hand may be. I think the first time I did stand-up was like firewalking, actually. Probably scarier, even.
Firewalking lessons that last:
1. Actually believe you're going to be okay. Believe it. It will make all the difference in the world. Say you can't? Guess what, you're right.
2. You have to take the first step. Don't talk about it. Don't think about it. Do it. Do it do it do it.
3. Do not stop or lose momentum or get stuck in your head. Know what comes after the first step? The second. And the third. Don't stop.
4. Put yourself in a positive pumped-up mental state where "I CAN DO ANYTHING" which dramatically then affects the experience you have from there. Visualize yourself doing whatever you need to do successfully. Say it over and over if you have to.
So I am more than a bit curious: Is anyone else a fan of old Tony Robbins? Or do you think self-help is a sham and does way more damage than good? And how do you work on that creepy-scary-paralyzing junior-high fear of being afraid of what others think of you? I feel like getting rid of (most of) my people pleasing has been one of the biggest victories of my adult life.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.