This Single Moment Saved the World from Nuclear Annihilation — and Tony Robbins Found Out What It Was

By continuously practicing this technique, you can unlock a powerful moment in your own life.

Tim Denning
May 27 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for postImage for post
Image Credit: Getty Images

I eat self-help superfans, who love Tony Robbins, for breakfast.

Much of what Tony has to offer has been said and quoted to death.

I know someone close to Tony and I’m always trying to get the other side of the story from his usual self-help advice you can search online.

For example, when the Australian Bushfires hit, he was quick to react and help behind the scenes without anybody knowing. When a mystery health crisis came out of nowhere, he took some of his most expensive live experiences — that cost more than $10,000 — and gave them away for free in an online virtual summit.

What Tony has is stories from world leaders that will change you’re thinking entirely. Many of these stories are only shared at his events. I know Tony’s work so well that there’s almost no story you could tell me about him that I haven’t heard already.

After attending his online-only event that he donated, I got one story from Tony you’ve probably never heard before and I’ll retell it for you with a different focus than how Tony explained it. You will learn about:

  • The power of harnessing the moment
  • Not taking no for an answer
  • Reframing a question over and over
  • And how to get people (even world leaders) to give answers they’ve never given before

President George Bush Senior calls Tony up one day, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He invites him to an event. On the same call, like a stalker, Mr. Bush mentions that he has seen Tony’s schedule for his private jet. He noticed that another attendee of the event, the former president of The Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, needed a safe way to attend the same event.

The president asks Tony if he’d be willing to give a seat on his plane to Gorbachev. Now Tony is one of the most curious human beings you will ever meet so he wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

The secret plan was devised in his head to ask one question which everybody else had tried asking, but never got a proper answer to.

Gorbachev had helped bring down the Berlin Wall, transform the behavior of two societies, and change history as we know it. Naturally, the biggest, boldest question Tony could ask was this:

What ended the Cold War?

America and The Soviet Union could have blown each other up — and the world — during the Cold War, with Nuclear Weapons. Yet, they didn’t.

Once Gorbachev and Tony were on his Private Jet together, Tony was so excited to ask his one and only question. His dreams were shattered when Gorbachev’s translator said, “He’s really got a massive headache and he can’t talk at the moment.”

Tony didn’t take no for an answer and had to get a response. He believed the answer served the greater good if he could extract it.

So Tony started chatting to Gorbachev’s wife and the answers she gave to his questions made Gorbachev want to correct her. By correcting his wife, it became clear that he understood English and what Tony was saying, perfectly.

It was finally time for Tony to ask his big question: “What ended the Cold war?” Gorbachev did what plenty of people have done to me in podcast interviews and offered his typical answer. Tony says:

It’s obvious to me you’ve said that same answer 50,000 times. I want to know what was the “moment” that ended the Cold War?

(Notice the subtle reframe in Tony’s question.)

The first answer Gorbachev gave was okay.

It was the end of demonization that did it. Reagan used to call us “the evil empire.” I told him how bad capitalism was. We stopped the demonization and that’s what ended it [The Cold War].

Tony didn’t accept his first answer and asked again, putting emphasis on “the moment.” People had asked Gorbachev before about what ended The Cold War but nobody had ever asked him what the moment was, he explains to Tony on the plane. By adding that little phrase, he managed to get Gorbachev to think about the question more deeply, despite his throbbing headache.

Then all of a sudden he starts loudly smacking his leg and laughing uncontrollably like he’s drunk, says Tony.

I will tell you, I will tell you the moment.

Gorbachev goes on to explain that he was having this intense conversation with Reagan. Reagan was lecturing him on the evils of communism and Gorbachev was lecturing him about the evils of capitalism. Things were getting madder and madder and Gorbachev was becoming angrier.

All of a sudden out of nowhere, Reagan just stood up and looked at him and walked away. He walked four or five steps and then turned around and said, like a six-year-old kid/psychopath with a highly animated face:

Can we start fresh? My name’s Ron. Are you Mikhail?

Gorbachev began laughing and crying as he heard the question again in his head. “You had to love the guy,” he told Tony. On the one hand Reagan was crazy and insane in Gorbachev’s eyes, and on the other hand he was warm.

The craziness in each of them helped break the pattern that nearly led them to nuclear war.

Reagan’s character broke the tension between the two world leaders and it all started with, yet another unexpected question (this time a rhetorical one designed to be humorous).

If Tony hadn’t drilled Gorbachev for that answer and extracted this story out of him, we may not have ever known how to stop world wars with questions and the essence of our character — not bombs and machine guns.

Image for post
Image for postImage for post
Image Credit: wernerherzog.com

Reagan’s moment was different to Gorbachev’s.

In a separate interview Tony had with Reagan later on, he shares his answer to Tony’s question, “What ended The Cold War?”

Reagan and Gorbachev were in Russia and fighting like a divorced couple. In the middle of their lover’s tiff, Reagan asks a completely uncalled for question to his political nemesis Gorby, as he was often known:

“Mr Gorbachev, can we go for a walk?

In Gorbachev’s head he says to himself what is he thinking; it’s freezing outside; there’s snow outside. Then he replies:

“Fine!”

Gorbachev has to get up and put on his big ugly coat and go outside in the freezing cold. It changes the pattern of his physiology (and acts like an ancient war trick in their battle).

Instead of sitting across the table from each other, they are side by side, walking together.

This walk became famous. On that walk, they made the first agreement to destroy long-term nuclear weapons, in the history of the world.

That walk helped Reagan break Gorbachev’s focus and simultaneously his own. Had they not broken the pattern of fighting between the two countries with that simple, eloquent walk, things could have easily escalated to a nuclear war.

This was yet another demonstration of how a question nobody expects can change everything.

How to Get an Incredibly Rare Response to a Question

What you can learn from Tony is that there are multiple layers to every question. The first time you ask a powerful question is only the beginning.

It’s what you do after asking the question that matters. Here’s the approach Tony used with former president Mikhail Gorbachev.

  • Lead with your curiosity
  • Find a moment of courage to ask your question
  • Ask a big, bold question everybody else has probably asked
  • Have the answer to your question benefit others, not yourself
  • Don’t accept the first answer — it will be the most generic
  • Ask the question again with a subtle change to how you ask it
  • Shut up and listen to the answer
  • Ask follow-up questions once you’re on a roll to draw out more of the story
  • Share the answer to your question

Final Thought

One day I’m going to use this technique demonstrated by Tony, to ask him a question he’s not expecting.

I will then use this story to highlight my approach and why he must not give me a scripted answer (this is also why you must be the one to ask the question live, so you can utilize this technique — otherwise it’s completely useless).

Everything big in our lives comes down to a moment.

In that moment you change everything by asking a question and continually reframing it until you get the real answer — and perhaps the answer that has never been said or thought of before.

You don’t have to accept a generic answer.

Try reframing a question and digging deeper. You might just save the world from nuclear annihilation if you do.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.net

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 103,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Tim Denning

Written by

Aussie Blogger — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. www.timdenning.net

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 103,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store