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Changing how you navigate your life is a must for people who live with diabetes. Even if you have the perfect regimen for nutrition, exercise, and managing stress, when diabetes enters the picture you need to change how you think about yourself nearly every moment. Gone are the carefree days of leaving the house without glucose or some bit of technology. No longer is food solely a thing of pleasure and connection. You will never have another day where thoughts of glucose levels don’t linger somewhere in your mind. Most of us enter a mental tug-of-war between what we “want” to do and what we “should” do.
Doctors are a wealth of information on the “should” part. A foundational principle of good healthcare is patient education. You are taught the mechanics of how diabetes works, so you can make the changes to live your healthiest life. The expectation is that if you know all the information, you will change. Makes sense. Right?
But change doesn’t happen that way. There are a LOT of other distractions – wants, needs and beliefs get in the way. Heck – life gets in the way and often you change in a direction you don’t want to go! As a species we seem to be resistant to change, or so we think!
Change is Always Happening
The truth is you change every day by default. You aren’t the same as you were 5 years ago, 5 months ago, 5 minutes ago, or 5 seconds ago – before you started reading this. Every experience you have shapes you in small ways that add up over time. These experiences are the well you draw from to make decisions. What you have learned, seen, tasted, heard, felt, smelled, and lived is the lens through which you decide what to do next. As you move through life, you constantly and unconsciously adapt and adjust.
Some changes require a LOT of mental energy and focus (like diabetes), but most of them just occur on autopilot. Which sock you put on first, how you like your toast, which finger you will stick for your glucose check, or what activities fill your day. It’s these little, seemingly inconsequential decisions that can have a BIG impact on your life.
It’s like the difference between running a marathon (lot’s of planning, training, and effort) versus walking around your house to get ready. Both get you “somewhere”. The marathon a momentous occasion and achievement, while the steps at home just navigate you around your life.
Most lasting changes don’t happen in big leaps, as you tend to fall back into old habits when things get tough. You might undertake an amazing new diet plan, but if your dog dies you may find it really difficult to avoid binging on some comfort food. Conversely, it’s those small baby steps you make each day without thinking that create the habits you fall back on in tough times.
Another way to think about it, is that you can’t jump to the top of the mountain, but you must climb it one step at a time. Each of those small steps ultimately get you where you are going. And each step requires some decisions about where you put your foot next. Along the way, you pick up some new patterns of behavior without realizing it.
Guiding your change
Leveraging this concept of small steps and small decisions is a proven strategy for lasting change. You just need to be a bit more aware of what is influencing each step so you can guide the direction you are going. From a holistic perspective, your body, mind and spirit all play a part.
- Your body has instincts, urges, and needs that will impact your direction. Very simply, it needs to be fed, watered, and safe. (oh and to recreate!)
- Your mind is constantly generating thoughts and ideas based on your experiences and environment. It offers many options for you to ponder.
- Your spirit pulls you towards your purpose and passions with a strong and steady influence. It can be an anchor in the chaos.
Your body, mind, and spirit continuously compete to guide your life. With diabetes, your body may want 14 cupcakes when your sugar is low, but your mind and spirit can keep your hand from reaching for one more. Your spirit wants you to pursue a lifelong dream, but your mind will likely chime in with all the reasons you should wait. And your mind might sign you up for a half marathon training knowing the benefits, but your knees may be singing another song.
The sum total of all your little decisions – consciously and unconsciously – orchestrate your path. They are the changes that stick.
There is a pivotal factor that determines what you choose to do. And that is your willingness to do it. Your willingness is a hodgepodge of what you body, mind, and spirit can agree to – or not! On some level you agree to turn right instead of left, to go for a walk or not, or to pay attention to your diabetes, or not. Focusing on what you are willing to do is how you make changes that last.
Making it happen
Of all the possible things you can and should do, focus on the ones you are willing to entertain. Start there. If you are willing to do a fingerstick instead of a continuous glucose monitor – do that. If you are willing to cut back on carbs, except for Mexican night – do that. If you are willing to see a nurse practitioner in town, but not the endocrinologist 30 miles away – do that. If you are willing to watch an educational video, but not read the book on diabetes – do that. If you are willing to write a note to your family member about something you need, instead of having a face to face conversation – do that.
You get the idea. It’s more important to do small things that make sense because you won’t resist them. If you are willing, it’s easier to move in that direction and take that action. Easy things happen more often and before you know it, it’s become second nature – and viola! You have changed!
To get started, think about where you want to go. Know that your body, mind and spirit will be pulling you in many directions. Then see what you are willing to do today that gets you closer to where you want to be. And do that thing. Tomorrow will likely be different. And you will be willing (or not) to do different things. As you face life’s decisions – big or small – focus on finding something you are willing to do – and do that!
Cheers to your willingness!
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