Michelle Obama is exemplary for at least three million reasons. She’s brilliant, insightful, inclusive, and iconic. I’m a fan. I’m her mentee and she doesn’t even know me. Years ago, when the world first noticed and admired her beautiful arms, she shared a few details about her work out regimen. I jotted down her tips and then left them to simmer in a notebook for a few years. As with all great advice, you cannot embrace it until you’re ready. At the time, the thought of working out at a specific time each day without distractions was intimidating and unrealistic to me. I spent a lot of time wanting to be a better woman and change the world while laying on my couch, scrolling Instagram and snacking on vegan treats with way too much soy and zero nutrients.

I was 20-something with good intentions and a lack of energy. I’d tried several ‘no carb, no joy’ diets and I was over all of the quick fixes and expensive popular solutions. The temporary solution was to dream about my ideal weight and continue doing what I’d been doing. Going to the gym was habitual, therapeutic and necessary. But none of the go-to exercises I’d been clinging to for a decade were changing my body.

The Universe knew I’d never open that dusty notebook and revisit those tips without a nudge of repetition. I bought Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming”. She gracefully and transparently reflects on some of the busiest, unpredictable transitions of her life. I learned that working out at 4 a.m was a necessary and critical way for her to hold on to normalcy. She needed something, each day, that would allow her to think about herself in a healthy positive way.

I realized I needed the same opportunity. The best fitness advice I’ve ever received turned out to be about something much more substantive and life-altering. Rather than list the exercises she did in the gym before sunrise every day, Mrs. Obama gave me a thoughtful glimpse in to the life of a phenomenon. The gem? “Put yourself first.”

And I get it! We’ve heard it before. We’ve read it, pinned it, and posted it. But never before had I seen the mantra lived out so literally. Michelle Obama woke up at 4 a.m and worked out before her daughters started their day in order to literally and consistently put her health at the top of the priority list daily. What I had to realize is that if I don’t live at the top of my own list of priorities, my body and my mental health will reflect that neglect and mediocre effort.

After reading Michelle Obama’s book, I immediately changed the reason I work out. I shifted my “why” from carnal and shallow motivation. I decided to work out earlier in the day to set a tone for the rest of the day. And I stopped eating soy.

There’s so much I could add about what I’ve learned to do in the gym to make every workout more effective. But that’s not what this is about. This is about prioritizing. I made myself a priority and, consequently, changed the way I live my life.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

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  • Natasha Nichole Lake

    Author + Mental Health Enthusiast

    I’ve studied communication, business, and behavioral patterns that increase joy and strengthen mental health. I define success as having the resources and energy to serve others. I hope to spend the rest of my life contributing to communities committed to inclusivity and compassion. I write books and articles about mental health which is a topic that is pertinent and personal to me. I believe my life's purpose is to encourage people to be authentic + unapologetic about who they are and what they're here to do.