I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. This probably stems from my life experiences. Every year at my fitness club, the place is flooded with new faces from January until late February. Then, as the days tick by, the club becomes less and less crowded.
Likewise, at the beginning of each semester at the university where I am employed, the school is packed with students, all of them buzzing with excitement and conversation. The stairwells are crowded, there are lines for every restroom, and signs advertising student events are posted on every flat surface. Then about a month in, the parking lots become sprinkled with open spaces, and the classroom where I teach has empty desks.
Resolutions come and go. The word “resolution,” it seems, implies a dream or a wish, not a goal. And really, there is nothing magical about January first. People believe that the first day of the year is a fresh start, a chance to do the right thing, finally, for real this time. But soon, the willpower, conviction, and focus dwindle, and people fall back into their usual pattern of being complacent about whatever it was that they were dissatisfied with before the first of January.
How can you really make a change in your life? In particular, how can you keep a vow to better care for your diabetes?
Know why you are making the change. What is your motivation to make a change in your life? Charity Lampretch, a fitness instructor, decided to drastically change her diet after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. She says, “Real change happens because the thought of staying the same becomes worse than the fear of change.” She knew that a failure to change could lead to spending some of her younger years in a wheelchair—something that she desperately wants to avoid. Suzanne Bourgeois has had type 1 diabetes for nearly twenty years. Her motivation to become a “born again diabetic” a few years ago came from the realization that her lack of diabetes control meant that she might not have the future she wanted: a husband and children. Suzanne worked to stop her unhealthy behaviors and is now married and expecting a baby in April. For me, keeping my diabetes under control means that I feel healthy and strong enough to care for myself and my family. Establishing your “why” give you something to fall back on when you begin to waiver.
Recognize what might make you stumble, and be ready to combat. Charity notes that because temptation is all around us, we can expect to face challenges when making changes in our lives. Suzanne shares that ultimately, each person is in charge of his or her own health and, thus, his or her destiny. The stumbling blocks can add up and eventually wear down a person, so you must be prepared. For example, celebrations and holidays present me, like most people, with the challenge of unhealthy food options at every turn. To combat this, I always take a healthy dish to share, and I make sure that I eat only small servings of foods like desserts, which are always my favorite. Having a plan is empowering and will help you stay on track. Jean Weiss, a woman who recently was diagnosed with fibromyaligia, notes that each of us must either choose to change or, ultimately, choose suffering. Although suffering is sometimes easier initially, change will ultimately lead to better health and satisfaction.
Set a reasonable goal. Vowing to start going to a gym five times a week, throw away all of your favorite junk foods, and drop twenty pounds in a month isn’t reasonable. Although each of those is a healthy goal, each one takes careful planning and execution. Choose one goal to start with, and make sure that what you are changing is something that can be changed reasonably. Suzanne shares that when she experiences a high blood sugar and corrects it, she recognizes that she has met a goal. Sometimes I have a daily goal, such as making sure that I have vegetables at each meal or checking my blood sugar more frequently. Diabetes management is all about reasonable, frequent, and small changes.
Meet with a professional. If you want to make changes to your diet, a dietitian can help. If you need to start or change your exercise routine, try a personal trainer or a motivated, knowledgeable, and physically fit friend. If you are just frustrated with your diabetes, start at square one and see your endocrinologist or certified diabetes educator, or ask your general practitioner to refer you to one. By consulting a professional, you’ll be better prepared to set a reasonable goal and to approach that goal with realistic expectations. Michelle Preston, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian, suggests that a medical professional like herself can offer solutions, support, and encouragement when it comes to a patient’s diabetes. I have found in my own walk with diabetes that my issue with change isn’t really something practical like eating healthier: The real problem I face is a lack of encouragement and possible, reasonable solutions.
Speak kindly and visualize success. Remember the childhood chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? This is simply untrue. Words are powerful forces. Post favorite quotes or single words of motivation around your home, in your car, or at your desk at work. Upon getting my A1c down recently, I posted the lab report on my refrigerator and wrote, “I CAN DO IT!” in large letters on the paper. Every time I went into the kitchen, I was reminded of my goal to make good food choices. Likewise, each morning I remind myself of one of my favorite Bible verses: “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Camille Subramaniam, a woman who recently left her teaching job to pursue her dream of writing and traveling, says, “Once you change your mind, your entire life changes. But truly changing your way of thinking and envisioning a new you is like scaling Mt. Everest. I’m still training, but as I get further up the mountain, the world’s opening up for me in incredible ways.”
Reward yourself. Have you ever witnessed parents toilet training their children? The parents get creative, offering their children incentives like stickers, candy, or coloring books. Remember the gold stars from grade school, or the bonuses offered by employers? Reward systems are strong motivators, and they work. Charity suggests that after you meet a goal that you’ve set, reward yourself with something you enjoy, such as a massage, a new item (a pair of shoes, for example), or time to yourself (an afternoon of book browsing). Be specific when setting the goal (is it attainable?) and the reward (is it inspirational?).
Change is possible. And many times, it’s necessary in order for you not only to live, but also to live well with diabetes. May you find the conviction and motivation to make the changes you need to right now, no matter what the date on the calendar!