Is Jillian Michaels Really A Life Coach?

Exercise regimeThere has been a very interesting conversation this last week on my Facebook page, one that provoked very strong opinions both in agreement with what I said, and against it.

Today I wanted to expand that debate for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I want to clarify and share my thoughts in one place rather than fractured across numerous conversations on two separate Facebook pages.

Secondly, I’d like your take.

As I said, some people thought I was out of line to ‘attack’ a public figure and that I should have made my point without naming names.

I’ll explain why I think that would have been an ineffective approach, even if it would have been taking the higher moral ground and as one person noted, acting in a more enlightened manner.

And thirdly, I badly want to get the message out there of what Life Coaching really is and what Life Coaches do, because there are more misunderstandings amongst the general public than if a blind guy was trying to explain to a deaf one the way out of the maze.

The Biggest Loser

I’m not a fan of the Biggest Loser, even the title, clever though it is, turns me off. I’ve seen maybe 4 or 5 episodes and couldn’t stomach the way the contestants were humiliated and belittled for TV ratings so I haven’t watched it in some while.

One of the people on The Biggest Loser who most irritated me was Jillian Michaels. If you don’t know who she is and would like to you can check out the video at the bottom.

It seemed to me her only tactic was to bully, cajole and harass the contestants in her team to lose weight and didn’t give a damn about any psychological impact the ritual humiliation she was dishing out on national TV may incur.

Now let me make one thing abundantly clear, I could be wrong. It may all be for show and that once the cameras stop rolling she turns into a empathetic sweetie pie who lovingly guides her team toward their goals.

I doubt it, but stranger things have been true I guess.

I’m sure the approach she takes may succeed with certain types of people when working on physical fitness, after all it appears to be successful for the Army.

Any job like the armed forces or endurance sports requires people to push, push and then push some more if they are to succeed.

It wouldn’t really work to tell a new recruit to go and have a lie down if he gets tired or an athlete to take the week off and pig out on burgers because discipline is needed and that is what Jillian Michaels delivers.

So maybe this approach is akin to creating a mini Stockholm Syndrome response in which people become so beaten down, humiliated and exhausted they eventually take a subservient role and start to form a strong bond with the person who is ‘in charge’ of them.

At this point you maybe wondering why I’m whining if I accept that this kind of approach can work with some people?

Surely if the contestants have signed all the disclaimers and are up for the treatment, then it should be down to them whether they want to be treated in such a manner, right?

Absolutely it should. I have no issue with that whatsoever, even if it’s not an approach I care for.

When Is A Life Coach Not A Life Coach?

My concern is that Michaels claims on her website to be a Life Coach.

She has perfect right to do so because as an unregulated industry literally any person drawing breath can claim to be a Life Coach.

However, professional Life Coaches don’t act like Michaels does on The Biggest Loser.

During the discussion on Facebook somebody said that they thought it was just about different styles of coaching, but it’s not even that.

There is no model of Life Coaching that calls for humiliation, verbal abuse and/or a lot of shouting. And do you know why that’s the case?

Because it rarely works in establishing long-term and positive behavioral changes.

There has been enough research done in the last ten years for us to understand without any doubt that the brain learns the quickest when it makes it’s own mistakes and also its own discoveries.

It’s obvious when you think about it. If that weren’t the case each generation would get progressively smarter and make fewer mistakes. All we’d have to do to better ourselves would be to ask for advice or read a few books.

Yet I have had several clients who have read more self development books than I have (and that’s a lot by the way), but haven’t quite been able to implement that information.

That’s where a good coach can be indispensable.

Don’t Hire A Life Coach To Provide You With Information

You shouldn’t hire a Life Coach just to fill knowledge gaps, you can buy a book or search the Internet for that.

You should hire one to help you sweep away all the mental clutter (in all its many guises) that can hold you back from fulfilling your potential.

Yet a knowledge gap can be exactly why somebody may hire a fitness coach. They may want specific personal advice on nutrition, or the best way to work out to see the desired results for their body type.

And of course they may simply want the ass kicking accountability a one-to-one fitness coach can offer.

Again I have no issue with that and I have worked with numerous fitness coaches.

The best by some margin though were two guys who never ever raised their voice, but exuded a quiet confidence.

They got my buy-in by explaining the benefits of what they were showing me and encouraging me rather than telling me to just do it. Pete Swaile and Ron Betta take a bow.

Every now and then I’ll meet somebody who on hearing I’m a Life Coach will respond with something along the lines of:



“I’d never pay somebody to tell me what to do with my life”

I always reply in the same manner. “Neither would I, so it’s fortunate that’s not what Life Coaches do then, eh?”

I have no right to tell my clients what to do, that’s a huge misconception. It’s my job to ask the right questions that will help a client shift their thinking so that they can find the answers inside of themselves.

In other words, coaching is about creating clarity.

Of course that doesn’t mean if a client wants to know more about a certain topic I won’t suggest a book I may have read, but I wouldn’t say, “You must read this book, you should start your own business, or even you need to start standing up for yourself more”

The client needs to come to their own realizations because that is when lasting change is going to be made.

I have seen plenty of websites with the owner claiming to be a Life Coach when they obviously have no clue as to what coaching is. In such cases I may shake my head or roll my eyes, but I’ll move on knowing in all likelihood they won’t be around for long.

Jillian Michaels however, has 1.4 million followers on Facebook and almost a million more on Twitter.

We Are Sending Mixed Messages About Life Coaching

She has massive reach all the way across the country. Each person who follows her and reads her website will be told she’s a Life Coach.

They will then think (presuming they don’t know any differently) that Life Coaches operate like she does, or at least her persona on TV.

Maybe she is a certified Life Coach. Maybe she has gone through training and worked with hundreds of clients over several year well out of the public eye, but I seriously doubt it.

And supposing that is the case, doesn’t she have a duty of care to her profession to stress the differences and not let people jump to inaccurate conclusions, even if that’s not intentional?

There has been a massive explosion of new Life Coaches launching businesses over the last couple of years and if the e-mail requests for help I get every week are anything to go by, that’s speeding up.

No doubt a small percentage that don’t get training will think the JM approach is ok because hey, look how successful she is, so it must work and they if they can just copy the in-your-face approach they too will be TV stars.

What About Adopting The Medical Approach of ‘First Do no Harm’?

However, they will not just crash and burn if they try and coach like that, but they have the potential to do harm to their clients.

I’ll give you a very stark and disturbing example of that.

One time I was working with a client who had been raped many years prior. I’m grateful I got the chance to work with her because her previous ‘Coach’ had told her to pull herself together and get over it.

And I say I was grateful because few people would have ever hired a coach again based on that experience. They’d think coaching sucks and who would blame them? So I had an opportunity  to show her a different side to coaching.

My issue isn’t with Jillian Michaels as a person or as a fitness trainer. She’s incredibly successful and I’m sure that isn’t just down to blind luck.

My issue is, she is at best confusing people about the role of a Life Coach and at worst turning them off from ever hiring a coach.

I suppose there is also a third option and that is people who follow her then hire a Life Coach expecting to be shouted at and humiliated and are accordingly disappointed.

As I said at the beginning I’d like your take. A few people disagreed with me on Facebook and I have no issue with that, I just wanted to explain in more detail why if I hadn’t used such a high profile example the whole point would have been massively diluted.

By the way if you’d like to know more about Life Coaching can you can download my free ebook on this page.