Tony Robbins: How to Suffer Less (and Invest Intelligently)


Whether you’d like to avoid unnecessary emotional suffering or unnecessary financial suffering, this post has something for you.

In my second podcast with Tony Robbins, he said that all fear comes from three triggers: loss, less, and never. He mentioned this in passing, and many of you asked for more details. This post will cover that and much more.

There are two parts:

1) Part 1 — Tony’s discussion of suffering and his framework of “loss, less, never.” This is a abridged excerpt from Tony’s newest book, Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook.  It’s exactly what thousands of you requested.

2) Part 2 — Many of you ask about how I take notes, and what I record when I read 1-2 books (or more) per week.  This is an example. Specifically, my highlights and notes on Tony’s book and investing.  If you’re interested in investing, the mindsets of billionaires, asset allocation, or avoiding losses, you’ll enjoy this.


The human brain isn’t designed to make us happy and fulfilled. It’s designed to make us survive.

This two-million-year-old organ is always looking for what’s wrong, for whatever can hurt us, so that we can either fight it or take flight from it. If you and I leave this ancient survival software to run the show, what chance do we have of enjoying life? An undirected mind operates naturally in survival mode, constantly identifying and magnifying these potential threats to our well-being. The result: a life filled with stress and anxiety.

Most people live this way since it’s the path of least resistance. They make unconscious decisions, based on habit and conditioning, and are at the mercy of their own minds. They assume that it’s just an inevitable part of life to get frustrated, stressed, sad, and angry—in other words, to live in a suffering state. But I’m happy to tell you there’s another path: one that involves directing your thoughts so that your mind does your bidding, not the other way around.

Now, before we go any further, let’s just clarify the difference between these two emotional and mental states:

A Beautiful State

When you feel love, joy, gratitude, awe, playfulness, ease, creativity, drive, caring, growth, curiosity, or appreciation, you’re in a beautiful state. In this state, you know exactly what to do, and you do the right thing. In this state, your spirit and your heart are alive, and the best of you comes out. Nothing feels like a problem, and everything flows. You feel no fear or frustration. You’re in harmony with your true essence.

A Suffering State

When you’re feeling stressed out, worried, frustrated, angry, depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, resentful, or fearful, you’re in a suffering state. We’ve all experienced these and countless other “negative” emotions, even if we’re not always keen to admit it! Most achievers much prefer to think they’re stressed than fearful. But “stress” is just the achiever word for fear. If I follow the trail of your stress, it’ll take me to your deepest fear.

Everyone has his or her own flavor of suffering. So here’s my question for you: What’s your favorite flavor of suffering? Which energy-sapping emotion do you indulge in most? Is it sadness? Frustration? Anger? Despair? Self-pity? Jealousy? Worry? The specific details don’t really matter because they’re all states of suffering. And all this suffering is really just the result of an undirected mind that’s hell-bent on looking for problems.

Think for a moment about a recent situation that caused you pain or suffering—a time when you felt frustrated or angry or worried or overwhelmed. Whenever you feel emotions like these, your sense of suffering is caused by your undirected mind engaging in one or more of three particular patterns of perception.

Consciously or unconsciously, you’re focused on at least one of three triggers for suffering:

1. Suffering trigger is “Loss.”

When you focus on loss, you become convinced that a particular problem has caused or will cause you to lose something you value. For example, you have a conflict with your spouse, and it leaves you feeling that you’ve lost love or respect. But it doesn’t have to be something someone else did—or failed to do—that caused you to perceive the sense of loss. This sense of loss can also be triggered by something you did or failed to do. For example, you procrastinated, and now you’ve lost a business opportunity. Whenever we believe in the illusion of loss, we suffer.

2. Suffering Trigger is “Less.”

When you focus on the idea that you have less or will have less, you will suffer. For example, you might become convinced that because a situation has occurred or a person has acted a certain way, you will have less joy, less money, less success, or some other painful consequence. Once again, less can be triggered by what you, or others, do or fail to do.

3. Suffering trigger is “Never.”

When you focus on the idea or become consumed by a belief that you’ll never have something you value—such as love, joy, respect, wealth, opportunity—you’re doomed to suffer, you’ll never be happy, you’ll never become the person you want to be. This pattern of perception is a surefire route to pain. Remember: the mind is always trying to trick us into a survival mindset! So never say never! For example, because of an illness, an injury, or because of something your brother did or said, you might believe that you’ll never get over it.

These three patterns of focus account for most, if not all, of our suffering. And you know what’s crazy? It doesn’t even matter if the problem is real or not! Whatever we focus on, we feel—regardless of what actually happened. Have you ever had the experience of thinking that a friend did something horrible to you? You became tremendously angry and upset, only to discover that you were dead wrong and that the person didn’t deserve all that blame! In the midst of your suffering, when all those negative emotions were swirling inside your head, the reality didn’t matter. Your focus created your feelings, and your feelings created your experience. Notice too that most, if not all, of our suffering is caused by focusing or obsessing about ourselves and what we might lose, have less of, or never have.

But here’s the good news: once you’re aware of these patterns of focus, you can systematically change them, thereby freeing yourself from these habits of suffering. It all starts with the realization that this involves a conscious choice. Either you master your mind or it masters you. The secret of living an extraordinary life is to take control of the mind since this alone will determine whether you live in a suffering state or a beautiful state.


Our lives are shaped not by our conditions, but by our decisions. If you look back on the last 5 or 10 years I’d be willing to bet that you can recall a decision or two that has truly changed your life. Maybe it was a decision about where to go to school, what profession to pursue, or who you chose to love or marry. Looking back on it now, can you see how radically different your life would be today if you had made a different decision? These and so many other decisions determine the direction of your life and can change your destiny.

So what’s the biggest decision you can make in your life right now? In the past, I would have told you that what matters most is who you decide to spend your time with, who you decide to love. After all, the company you keep will powerfully shape who you become.

But over the last two years, my thinking has evolved. What I’ve come to realize is that the single most important decision in life is this: Are you committed to being happy, no matter what happens to you?

To put this another way, will you commit to enjoying life not only when everything goes your way but also when everything goes against you, when injustice happens, when someone screws you over, when you lose something or someone you love, or when nobody seems to understand or appreciate you? Unless we make this definitive decision to stop suffering and live in a beautiful state, our survival minds will create suffering whenever our desires, expectations, or preferences are not met. What a waste of so much of our lives!

This is a decision that can change everything in your life, starting today. But it’s not enough just to say that you’d like to make this change or that your preference is to be happy no matter what. You have to own this decision, do whatever it takes to make it happen, and cut off any possibility of turning back. If you want to take the island, you have to burn the boats. You have to decide that you’re 100% responsible for your state of mind and for your experience of this life.

What it really comes down to is drawing a line in the sand today and declaring, “I’m done with suffering. I’m going to live every day to the fullest and find juice in every moment, including the ones I don’t like, BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST TOO SHORT TO SUFFER.”


[TIM: The below is a small sample of my notes from Tony’s newest book, Unshakeable: Your Financial Freedom Playbook.  I originally captured these notes in Evernote.]

Paul Tudor Jones questions:

“Is this truly the hard trade (something others can’t easily replicate)? Does it really have asymmetric risk/reward? Is it a five-to-one or a three-to-one? What’s the entry point? Where are your stops?”

Pg. 36, -38% year — TF: How long to recover to baseline if you entered that year?

The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient—WARREN BUFFETT

****TF:  If corrections of 10% come once per year, couldn’t I hold cash and simply have that trigger purchases 1x per year?  Or wait for 20% “bear market” drop, then invest?

“Buffett did just that in late 2008, investing in fallen giants such as Goldman Sachs and General Electric, which were selling at once-in-a-lifetime valuations. Better still, he structured these investments in ways that reduced his risk even further. For example, he invested $5 billion in a special class of “preferred” shares of Goldman Sachs, which guaranteed him a dividend of 10% a year while he waited for the stock price to recover.”

And/Or: Go with index fund for 401(k) plan fees, etc. for Tony’s Creative Planning

pg. 78

In the interests of cutting through the confusion, I’m going to make this as simple and straightforward as possible. In reality, all financial advisors fall into just one of three categories. What you really need to know is whether your advisor is:

a broker,
an independent advisor (RIA)***, or
a dually registered advisor.

Now let’s break this down in more detail so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Question to ask: Do you act as a “fiduciary” [what you want] or a “broker” or both?

Wealth manager needs to understand taxes, insurance, etc.


1. Are You a Registered Investment Advisor? If the answer is no, this advisor is a broker. Smile sweetly and say good-bye. If the answer is yes, he or she is required by law to be a fiduciary. But you still need to figure out if this fiduciary is wearing one hat or two.

2. Are You (or Your Firm) Affiliated with a Broker-Dealer? If the answer is yes, you’re dealing with someone who can act as a broker and usually has an incentive to steer you to specific investments. One easy way to figure this out is to glance at the bottom of the advisor’s website or business card and see if there’s a sentence like this: “Securities offered through [advisor’s company name], member FINRA and SIPC.” This refers to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, respectively. If you see these words, it means he or she can act as a broker. If so, run! Run for your life!

3. Does Your Firm Offer Proprietary Mutual Funds or Separately Managed Accounts? You want the answer to be an emphatic no. If the answer is yes, then watch your wallet like a hawk! It probably means they’re looking to generate additional revenues by steering you into these products that are highly profitable for them (but probably not for you).

4. Do You or Your Firm Receive Any Third-Party Compensation for Recommending Particular Investments? This is the ultimate question you want answered. Why? Because you need to know that your advisor has no incentive to recommend products that will shower him or her with commissions, kickbacks, consulting fees, trips, or other goodies.

5. What’s Your Philosophy When It Comes to Investing? This will help you to understand whether or not the advisor believes that he or she can beat the market by picking individual stocks or actively managed funds. Over time, that’s a losing game unless the person is a total superstar like Ray Dalio or Warren Buffett. Between you and me, they’re probably not.

6. What Financial Planning Services Do You Offer Beyond Investment Strategy and Portfolio Management? Investment help may be all you need, depending on your stage of life. But as you grow older and/or you become more wealthy with various holdings to manage, things often become more complex financially: for example, you may need to deal with saving for a child’s college education, retirement planning, handling your vested stock options, or estate planning. Most advisors have limited capabilities once they venture beyond investing. As mentioned, most aren’t legally allowed to offer tax advice due to their broker status. Ideally, you want an advisor who can bring tools for tax efficiency in all aspects of your planning—from your investment planning to your business planning to your estate planning.

7. Where Will My Money Be Held? A fiduciary advisor should always use a third-party custodian to hold your funds. For example, Fidelity, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade all have custodial arms that will keep your money in a secure environment. You then sign a limited power of attorney that gives the advisor the right to manage the money but never to make withdrawals. The good news about this arrangement is that if you ever want to fire your advisor, you don’t have to move your accounts. You can simply hire a new advisor who can take over managing your accounts without missing a beat. This custodial system also protects you from the danger of getting fleeced by a con man like Bernie Madoff.


“The most important thing for me is that defense is 10 times more important than offense. . . . You have to be very focused on protecting the downside at all times.”

Paul Tudor Jones, who uses a “five-to-one rule” to guide his investment decisions. “I’m risking one dollar in the expectation that I’ll make five,”


“What I realized is nobody knows and nobody ever will,” he says. “So I have to design an asset allocation that, even if I’m wrong, I’ll still be okay.”


“Don’t even bring me an investment idea unless you first tell me how we can protect against or minimize the downside.”


Cap gains of 20% versus 50% for income. “Believe me, all the billionaires I’ve ever met have one attribute in common: they and their advisors are really smart about taxes! They know that it’s not what they earn that counts. It’s what they keep. That’s real money, which they can spend, reinvest, or give away to improve the lives of others.”

Tony: “Of course, I don’t start with taxes. That would be a severe mistake. I always start with a focus on not losing money and on getting asymmetric risk/reward. Then, before making any investment, I make a point of asking, “How tax efficient is this going to be? And is there any way we could make it more tax efficient?””  Focus on after-tax returns and consider MLPs (p. 108).


Diversify Across Different Asset Classes. Avoid putting all your money in real estate, stocks, bonds, or any single investment class.

Diversify Within Asset Classes. Don’t put all your money in a favorite stock such as Apple, or a single MLP, or one piece of waterfront real estate that could be washed away in a storm.

***Diversify Across Markets, Countries, and Currencies Around the World. We live in a global economy, so don’t make the mistake of investing solely in your own country.

Diversify Across Time. You’re never going to know the right time to buy anything. But if you keep adding to your investments systematically over months and years (in other words, dollar-cost averaging), you’ll reduce your risk and increase your returns over time.

David Swensen:

Of course, there are many different ways of diversifying. I discuss this in detail in Money: Master the Game, laying out the exact asset allocations recommended by Ray and other financial gurus, such as Jack Bogle and David Swensen. For example, David told me how individual investors can diversify by owning low-cost index funds that invest in six “really important” asset classes: US stocks, international stocks, emerging-market stocks, real estate investment trusts (REITs), long-term US Treasuries, and Treasury Inflation-Protected securities (TIPS). He even shared the precise percentages that he would recommend allocating to each.

Ray Dalio:

Aim for 15 uncorrelated bets. “The holy grail of investing is to have 15 or more good—they don’t have to be great—uncorrelated bets.” In other words, everything comes down to owning an array of attractive assets that don’t move in tandem. That’s how you ensure survival and success. In his case, this includes investments in stocks, bonds, gold, commodities, real estate, and other alternatives. Ray emphasized that, by owning 15 uncorrelated investments, you can reduce your overall risk “by about 80%,” and “you’ll increase the return-to-risk ratio by a factor of five. So, your return is five times greater by reducing that risk.”


Sir John Templeton’s famous remark: “The four most expensive words in investing are ‘This time it’s different.’

Tony co-author, Peter Mallouk: “Throughout the crash, we continued to invest heavily in the stock market on behalf of our clients. We took profits from strong asset classes such as bonds and invested the proceeds in weak asset classes such as US small-cap and large-cap stocks, international stocks, and emerging-market stocks. Instead of betting on individual companies, we bought index funds, which gave us instant diversification (at a low cost) across these massively undervalued markets”

On average, the market is down about one in every four years. You need to recognize this reality so you won’t be shocked when stocks tumble—and so you’ll avoid excessive risks. At the same time, it’s useful to recognize that the market has made money three out of every four years.

One reason why the best investors are so successful is that they override the natural tendency to be fearful during periods of market turmoil. Take Howard Marks. In the last 15 weeks of 2008, when financial markets were imploding, he told me that his team at Oaktree Capital Management invested about $500 million a week in distressed debt. That’s right! They invested half a billion dollars a week for 15 straight weeks during a time when many thought the end times had arrived! “It was obvious that everybody was suicidal,” Howard told me. “In general, that’s a good time to buy.”


Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS). I’m sure you know people who’ve done well by investing directly in residential property. But most of us can’t afford to diversify by owning a slew of houses or apartments. That’s one reason why I like to invest in publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs).

Private Equity Funds

Master Limited Partnerships. I’m a big fan of MLPs, which are publicly traded partnerships that typically invest in energy infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. What’s the appeal? As Tony mentioned in the last chapter, we sometimes recommend MLPs because they pay out a lot of income in a tax-efficient way. They don’t make sense for many investors (especially if you’re young or have your money in an IRA), but they can be great for an investor who is over 50 and has a large, taxable account.

p. 132 — Doesn’t like gold or hedgefunds


Burton Malkiel: Unsuccessful investors tend to “buy the thing that’s gone up and sell the thing that’s gone down.” One benefit of rebalancing, says Malkiel, is that it “makes you do the opposite,” forcing you to buy assets when they’re out of favor and undervalued. You’ll profit richly when they recover.

[Read more on investing from Tony here.]

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