Jillian Michaels on Confidence, Tenacity & Her Heroes

Health + Fitness

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Jillian Michaels, Trainer & Life Coach

Jillian Michaels, New York Times best-selling author, trainer & life coach on the NBC hit series The Biggest Loser and star of the upcoming NBC show Losing It With Jillian, tells us about weight loss, tough love, self-confidence, tenacity and her heroes.
What first attracted you to the field of personal training?

It's no secret that I was an overweight, troubled teen.  It was my own journey with health and wellness that brought me to the realization that when you are strong physically, you are strong in all facets of your life.  For that reason, my passion for getting people healthy is really about helping them build a life and returning the gift of transformation that was bestowed upon me in my younger years.
You have changed the lives of so many people who have learned so much from you. What have you learned from them?

You absolutely form powerful relationships with the people you train and coach.  Each relationship is unique, and you will have a different transference and symbiosis every time.  Some contestants have taught me about strength.  Some have taught me about resilience.  Some have brought me face to face with my deepest insecurities.  The key is to remember that all relationships are a two-way street and an opportunity for growth both personally and professionally.  I feel blessed and grateful everyday to do what I do and be in a position to grow and learn from incredible people.

You seem to be extremely effective using the “tough love” approach to motivate. What do you do when that doesn’t work?

Tough love is not the only utensil in my self-help toolbox.  I like to think of myself as a contractor building a home.  Some days I need a hammer, some days I need a drill, some days I need a paintbrush, and so on.  My point is that you wouldn't associate a contractor with a tool, you would associate him with the homes he builds. 

The blessing and the curse of The Biggest Loser is that it is an edited television show. When I watch The Biggest Loser I feel like I am looking at myself through a fun house mirror.  The message gets so warped and misrepresented. It's frustrating.  What you see on The Biggest Loser is a character.  It's not an accurate portrayal of who I am or how I work.  I believe that a person must help themselves, but I give them all the tools along with the education and support to use them.

How is tenacity and self-confidence related to successful weight loss?

Weight loss is a journey that doesn’t end until the day you die. The only way to be successful long term is to find a way of life that is sustainable, that you can stick to. Any form of success is a matter of fighting attrition.

Self-confidence is also critical in every self-improvement endeavor, not just weight loss.  People will do anything if they feel it's worth it and that they are capable.  So many people don't believe that they are capable and so they don't try because they fear failure. 

How can we boost these two qualities in ourselves?

I often hear the people I work with use the phrase "I can't." That is simply not true.  What they are really saying is "I won't."  They are fully capable of achieving the task at hand, they just aren't aware of their abilities because they haven't tried.

One of the ways to enhance your self-confidence is to take stock of your accomplishments – success brings success. Create a list of successes that you can refer to in times of self-doubt. This is a wonderful way to stay in touch with your inner strength and reinforce your ability to overcome obstacles. 

As you try new things focus on the sense of accomplishment associated with the result.  People feel validated and fulfilled when they are living up to the image of who they want to be. When people learn through personal hands-on experience that they actually can achieve their goals, they begin to believe in their abilities to achieve more.  With that confidence comes resilience and resilience begets tenacity.  You won't fear failure because you know you are strong enough to survive it and learn from it so you won't be inclined to quit.

One of your favorite quotes is "There is a special place in hell for women that don't help other women." What a fantastic quote. How have you lived this philosophy professionally?

Ahhhh, Madeleine Albright... one of my heroes.  Naomi Wolf wrote an amazing book about this phenomenon called The Beauty Myth.  In it she pointed out that the final frontier of feminism lies with us women.  We judge each other and compete with one another in a way that seems almost programmed into the collective psyche of the female being.  I find this type of behavior heartbreaking, but I am hopeful that this type of sociological dysfunction will soon be a thing of the past. 

For many years I longed for a female mentor to guide me in various aspects of my life. What I didn't realize at the time was that I needed to show those mentors I was worth their time and would be constructive with their tutelage in order to get their attention.  

In the last year I have been helped, guided, and educated by some of the most inspirational women of our time -- Maria Shriver, Suze Orman, Ellen Rakieten, Mary Steenburgen, etc. I know that I have been blessed with the gift of their friendship and that my responsibility is to pay it forward by personally educating, supporting, and loving any woman I meet.  I don't judge or compare myself to other woman.  I celebrate our differences and honor each woman as a unique individual being.   Instead of envying their accomplishments I allow myself to be inspired by them.  I don't fear the success of other women; I embrace it.  I know that when I help other woman achieve their goals it will all come back to me personally and professionally.  Gandhi said this best when he said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Jillian Michaels was a speaker at The Women’s Conference 2009. As one of the country’s leading health and wellness experts, Michaels has become a household name by helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.  Become a fan of Jillian on Facebook at, follow her on twitter @JillianMichaels and learn more at

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  • I know why I like Jillian so much as a trainer - because, at the end of the day, she doesn't take credit for her clients' efforts. I have never heard her say, "And ___ lost all that weight because of MY TRAINING TECHNIQUES!"

    She always acknowledges, above everything else, the personal contribution of the client to his or her own wellbeing.

    Posted by El_Kato, 7 April 2010.

  • I really enjoyed reading this! Insightful. One doesn't realize that 'character' we see on TBL has more dimension than we are seeing in the one hour segment. I can see how that would be frustrating for Jillian to be 'edited' in such a way that it may be out of context.
    I can see where if a person is strong physically, they become strong in other areas of his/her life as well. I applaud Jillian for helping men and women reach their fitness goals. She's an inspiration.

    Posted by holly-eldercare, 13 January 2010.

  • I don't know why I like Jillian so much as a personal trainer but she is my favorite. I think it's because she drives you to believe you can reach your goals. She absolutely drives you to meet the mark until you believe it yourself and start driving yourself.

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    Posted by regusshort01, 13 November 2009.