Motivation vs Inspiration: Why You Need to Know the Difference

When it comes to achieving fitness goals — or life goals — we often use the words "inspiration" and "motivation" interchangeably. But there is a crucial difference, says fitness expert Jillian Michaels.

Jillian Michaels:  I think the number one question that I get asked is about motivation, right. And they’re constantly seeking motivation outside of themselves. So first we have to appreciate that there’s a very big difference between inspiration and motivation. And inspiration is great. Inspiration is a source of, a catalyst if you will of change that comes from outside of you. So it could be an episode of Big Think that you watched. It could be a song you heard, a book you read, a memoir that you saw on who knows, some episode of television and you say, you know what? I’m inspired. If they can do it, I can do it. And it gives you the little jumpstart on the engine, right. And the car gets going and then in a month, maybe two all of a sudden you kind of peter out and the battery dies again. And that’s because you need motivation to stay in motion. And motivation is that why that comes from inside of you. And so you get in these situations where somebody might be inspired and then find their motivation and then they get all the way down the road and they come right up against that goal. And this is when they get confronted with losing the very thing that that defense mechanism and destructive behavior was providing them.

And this is where you may find that you sabotage yourself right at the one yard line right before you’re about to leap into that end zone. And I would say at that point get into some counseling and do some deeper work. Find out what it is that is holding you back, that you’re engaging in these behaviors for and then be loving, be nurturing, be understanding. Find ways that are life affirming to comfort yourself and to provide a sense of control that are not self-destructive. And on top of that there should always be a look towards the future. We’re always growing and evolving and progressing. There is no finish line in life ultimately. And I think that’s tough for some to accept because we think okay, you know, I crossed the finish line, now what? You’re not dead. There’s more work to do. Look at that. Take a hard honest look at yourself at why you’ve engaged in these behaviors. Get rid of some of those destructive incentives whether it’s dysfunctional relationships in your friendships. Set boundaries with people if it’s in your family and you can’t control it. Remove negative impacts in your environment. And that’s one of the things that’s so good about actual things is that if you change them, they stay changed. There’s no fighting back. But do some deep self-reflection and consider getting into some counseling to look at those things and get the tools to turn them around.

When it comes to achieving fitness goals — or any life goals — we often use the words "inspiration" and "motivation" interchangeably. Whatever moves us to action is good enough, and we do not often feel the necessity to dig deeper into our subjective experiences. But as fitness expert Jillian Michaels explains, a little introspection is essential.


Inspiration, says Michaels, is a more fleeting sensation because, while it does move us to act, the impulse comes from outside us. The New Year often inspires people to achieve new fitness goals, for example. But when the initial inspiration begins to wear off, we need motivation to carry us through to the end. Motivation, says Michaels, is an impulse that must come from the inside. If you find yourself responding to inspiration, but a little lacking in the motivation department, Michaels has some good advice...

Michael's book is Yeah BABY! The Modern Mama's Guide to Mastering Pregnancy, Having a Healthy Baby, and Bouncing Back Better Than Ever.

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