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Jillian Michaels Says Finding Your "Why" Is the Key to Fitness Success

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Photo: Daniel Zuchnik / Getty Images

Jillian Michaels has been gracing our television screens, bookshelves, and magazine covers for over a decade. But even pros had to start somewhere—and for Micheals, the motivation was emotional.

Michaels found her passion for fitness after enduring a childhood of bullying. "My own journey with fitness allowed me to appreciate exercise as not necessarily a means of looking better, but as a way to empower myself," she recently shared with Shape at the BlogHer 18 Health conference in New York.

She says the emotional connection is something that we must always keep at the forefront of our minds when cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Knowing the "why" is what makes the journey enjoyable, and consequently, sustainable. "Work with purpose is passion. Work without purpose is punishment," she says.

Finding that passion may require more psychological insight than you think. What is it about junk food, alcohol, or even over-exercising that creates addictive harmful behavior in us? "People engage in destructive behavior because they are coping and survival mechanisms, which is why letting go of it is so hard," Michaels says. But with hard work, this level of genuine self-awareness can be the impetus to a life-altering transformation. After all, you can't take the courageous steps to change without first identifying what's problematic about your current behavior, she says. (Related: Jillian Michaels' One-Minute Workout for Busy Moms

Michaels says she's experienced this kind of transformation firsthand. "I've changed my position over the years…I had to do this with my third book [after] the nutritional advice I gave in books one and two [were] way off base," she shares.  While she's been coined the "Queen of Mean" in the past (it's what made for great television on The Biggest Loser), this newfound self-awareness paired with becoming a mother changed her outlook and overall approach to fitness; it softened the way she engages with people. 

In other words, making mistakes—and then addressing them head-on—is all part of the journey. "It's about patience and fortitude," Michaels says.

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