How Michelle Obama Quiets Negative Self-Talk

The former First Lady is opening up ahead of the release of her second memoir.

Michelle Obama and Her New Book Cover
Getty Images.

It's been four years since former First Lady Michelle Obama published her memoir, Becoming. The book's release came as both Obama and the country were going through immense change following her husband's historic presidency and the ushering in of a very different kind of leader. So, it's only fitting that she unveils her new book, titled The Light We Carry in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required everyone, including Obama, to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Stories of overcoming obstacles, both literal and mental, punctuated by anecdotes that make the former First Lady feel like someone you could easily be friends with given the chance, comprise the new book. While her writing has a way of making it seem like she has all the answers to life's quandaries, both big and small, it's not her intention to offer "a how-to manual" to anyone, she explains in the introduction of her book. Rather, her sage words of wisdom read like welcomed advice from someone who's once stood in your shoes.

Ahead of the book's release on November 15, Obama reveals what's in her mental health "toolbox," what strength means to her, and how she tames her "fearful mind" with Shape. Keep reading for a glimpse at how she approaches these three concepts found throughout her second memoir.

Keeping Up a Balanced Routine

For Obama, the most valuable habit in her "toolbox" from a health perspective is maintaining a balanced routine. "I think this is one of the things young people haven't learned: that what you eat, how much you sleep, how you move affects your emotional and psychological state," she explains.

"When we were going through the pandemic, we all kept a pretty regular schedule," says Obama. "We set our alarms. We woke up. We did a workout. We tried to have dinner at a certain time, meals at a certain time," she continues. "A certain amount of routine and predictability can help keep your mood up in ways. I don't know the chemical reasons for it, but I find that if I wallow in my depression, I just get more depressed."

Instead, Obama makes it a point to go through the seemingly simple motions of daily living as a way to move forward through tough times. "If I get up, get out, change my clothes, take a shower, fix my hair, even if no one's going to see it, that practice and that routine often brings my spirit up," she says.

Michelle Obama on the importance of a routine

I don't know the chemical reasons for it, but I find that if I wallow in my depression, I just get more depressed.

— Michelle Obama on the importance of a routine

"If you're feeling down, think about how much sleep you're getting," she suggests. "It may be a direct correlation to the fact that you're living off of three hours of sleep as to why you feel tired and sad. Have you eaten a vegetable in the last month?" she asks, letting out a laugh. "Small things like that actually matter."

Michelle Obama and Friends
Photo: Jill Vedder.

The Meaning of Strength

Sticking with a daily routine through tough times requires inner strength — something Obama understands. "When I was growing up, being a vocal, tall, opinionated, physically strong girl wasn’t something to strive for — it wasn’t something it felt like the world wanted to see," she explains.

"Plus, I had no role models who were tall and strong and powerful, who made me feel confident in being the young woman that I was," she continues. "This was before Venus and Serena Williams, before the WNBA. So I had to build my own sense of inner strength and resilience — I had to strive for what I didn’t see. That wasn’t always easy."

Thanks in part to Obama herself, there are more strong women for young people to look up to. "We have incredibly powerful role models for girls all over the world to learn about and aspire to — Venus and Serena, yes, but also Beyoncé, Oprah, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and so many more," she says.

"And through their examples, we are seeing how the definition of the word 'strong' is changing," continues the former First Lady. "It’s not just about physical strength; it’s about being strong in mind, strong in heart, strong in spirit. And thankfully there’s a better understanding that moments of vulnerability and tenderness are examples of strength, too. That’s saying something about how our society has changed."

Michelle Obama on the meaning of strength

To me, being physically strong isn’t just about your muscles. It’s about flexibility and endurance and how you move.

— Michelle Obama on the meaning of strength

For Obama, even the concept of physical strength is multifaceted. "To me, being physically strong isn’t just about your muscles," she says. "It’s about flexibility and endurance and how you move. In the same way, being mentally or spiritually strong isn’t just about being resilient. It’s about confidence and independence and being willing to speak our minds with dignity and with grace. It’s about understanding who we are and who we want to be."

She offers an important reminder that strength comes in many different forms. "All of us can be strong, no matter what we look like, so long as we’re always working toward that fortitude of mind, body, and soul," says Obama.

Michelle Obama Knitting
Photo: Merone Hailemeskel.

Quieting Self-Doubt

Obama has faced her fair share of self-doubt and negative self-talk over the years. It's something she refers to as her "fearful mind" in The Light We Carry. "That ruthless, naysaying part of me that was sure nothing ever would — or could — work out," she writes in the book. But she's learned ways to cope with this too.

"Now that I'm 58 years old, I have 58 years of understanding that growth and possibility lie on the other side of that initial emotion to stay still and hold back," she says. "Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life have been because I pushed back that initial jolt of fear."

Obama points to a few examples of when something great was on the other end of fear and uncertainty. "Going to a magnet high school rather than staying in my neighborhood high school changed my whole trajectory about the college I would go to," she says. "Making the decision to leave home and go to an Ivy League school with rich kids changed my trajectory. Marrying a 'swerver' who was a young community organizer with a funny name changed my life, and on, and on, and on."

Michelle Obama on overcoming self-doubt

Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life have been because I pushed back that initial jolt of fear.

— Michelle Obama on overcoming self-doubt

Perhaps the most frightening venture of all was becoming America's First Lady. "It was a scary proposition," she admits. "It wasn't something I would've been inclined to do, but on the other side of that was seeing my country in its wholeness, meeting millions of amazing young people, and maybe changing a life or two by simply shining whatever light I had onto them."

It's these experiences that allow Obama to quiet the part of her brain that threatens to catastrophize a situation. Now that she's familiar with the feeling, she knows how to control it. "For me, possibility lies on the other side of that fear," she continues. "So I have to remind myself of that. Don't hold back. Just lean into it."

Michelle Obama 'The Light We Carry' Book Cover
Photo: Miller Mobley.

To glean more insights from the former First Lady, you can order her new book, The Light We Carry, available on November 15, 2022.

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