by Niall Doherty

Recently I’ve been reading Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins. I’ve found lots of good advice and food for thought in the book, and there’s one part in particular that I’d like to share here. It’s called The Precision Model, and it helps us cut through the mental fog and fluff and get to the heart of matters quickly. It can be used to greatly improve our communication with others, and to gain more clarity with our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

You can picture the five parts of this model on your fingers, as illustrated below.

Tony Robbins' Precision Model

Pinkies – Universals

The pinkies represent universals; words like all, every and never. Be careful with these type of words. If someone says they never win anything, is that really true, or just a generalization? Often it’s the latter, and such generalizations do us no favors.

I caught myself falling into this trap at a dance class a few weeks ago. After botching a certain step for the umpteenth time, I turned to my dance partner and said “I’m sorry, I always mess that part up.” I had to stop and ask myself, “Really? Always?” Besides the fact that I was being my own worst critic, I realized that saying such a thing didn’t send the best message to my brain. Think of a child who is constantly belittled and criticized by her parents. What kind of self-esteem will she have? What chance will she have to succeed in life? The same principle applies to your internal dialogue. Every now and then, stop and ask yourself if you’re feeding yourself accurate information, or if you’re selling yourself short.

Ring fingers – Limitations/Restrictions

The ring fingers represent limitations and restrictions in The Precision Model; words like should, shouldn’t, must, can’t and so on. Lots of people go around saying they can’t do something, or believing they have to do things they don’t like to do. You can break the cycle by asking certain types of questions. Examples:

  • What would happen if I did do that?
  • What would happen if I let that slide, if I just said no?
  • What would happen if I could do that?

The goal here is to train yourself to challenge the status quo, to see possibilities and opportunities instead of limitations and restrictions.

Middle fingers – Verbs

Middle fingers next, and these represent verbs. If someone tells you that they’re unhappy, or if you’re unhappy, you can’t do much to solve that problem until you find out how specifically you or that person is unhappy. You need to break through the fluff and get to the root cause of the unhappiness. So you probe and keep asking why why why until you expose the real problem, and then you can work towards solving it.

So the next time you tell yourself that you’re bored, lonely, sad or depressed, instead of just wallowing in your own misery, force yourself to be more specific. What is it in particular that’s causing you to feel that way? Drill down as much as you can; try to pinpoint the specific problem (a conversation with self might help you get there). Once you have it defined, there’s a much better chance that you’ll be able to move towards a solution.

Index fingers – Nouns

Index fingers represent nouns. You often hear people say “They don’t understand me… They’re never going to give me a fair chance… If it wasn’t for them…”

Who is they? Who is them? Are we talking about a whole group of people, or is it just one person in particular? Or do they only exist in your mind, some imaginary or overblown blockade you use as an excuse not to take action?

Another example: If you present a plan and someone says “That plan won’t work,” odds are that they only have a problem with a specific part of the plan, not the whole thing. So, again, you probe and ask why until you find out what the real problem is, and then you can work on overcoming it.

Thumbs – Comparisons

Lastly, the thumbs, which remind us to be wary of comparisons. When we say or think things like “That’s too much, that’s too many, that’s too expensive”, once again we’re restricting ourselves and often creating problems where there really aren’t any. For example, some of my friends here in the States think I’m too skinny, but back in Ireland I’ve never been called that. It used to upset me a little, but then I realized that in America I’m being compared to Americans, who on average are known to be a little on the chubby side. Once I saw it that way, being considered skinny was no longer problem for me. It was just perception, not reality.

A similar thing often happens with money or possessions, people thinking they don’t have enough. Consider who you’re comparing yourself to, and check if the problem is real or just something in your head.

So those are the five parts of The Precision Model. Once again, this model can be very helpful in communicating more effectively with others, and for sorting through your own internal dialog and figuring out where you might be limiting yourself.

To become more familiar with this model, I delivered a speech about it at Toastmasters this past Monday. You can watch it here (thanks to Darlyn for the camera work), with some notes below.

  • “You only have control over three things in your life — the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” That part of my presentation came from Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles. Thanks to some feedback after my speech, I’m considering that thoughts, words and actions might be a better trinity, since visualizing can be considered a form of thought. Also, the latter approach fits better with Gandhi’s teachings of non-violence: peaceful thoughts, words and actions.
  • Giving a talk on clarity and precision and my name tag was turned backwards the whole time. Oops.
  • I could have done much better with the visual aids. I took the diagram directly from the book but it wasn’t the best way of presenting the information to a live audience. I noticed at the beginning that everyone was gawking at the flip chart and trying to make sense of the diagram instead of listening to me. It would have been better to break up the visuals into more pages and step through them one at a time, revealing each part as I was talking about it. Lesson well learned.
  • Besides the flip chart, I didn’t use any notes and I cleared the lectern out of the way. I felt good about those things. I rehearsed the speech quite a bit at home (recording my practice runs on video and reviewing them several times) and so felt confident that I could deliver it without those common crutches.
  • There was quite a lot of content in the speech and I was pushing the 7-minute limit. One thing that helped me prepare for this was to practice delivering it as fast as I possibly could, trying to get everything said in 5 minutes or less. That forced me to organize my thoughts more quickly, cutting out a lot of the pauses where I was trying to think of what to say next. After doing that a few times, 7 minutes felt like an eternity. Some folks call this type of thing hyperclocking, and you can apply the concept to much more than public speaking.
  • Something I definitely need to work on: Vocal variety. I was at pretty much the same volume and speed for the whole speech. Not good for keeping the audience engaged.