Working towards long-term diabetes management is a difficult, tricky road for everyone. We often go through periods of feeling very motivated to address the challenges of living with a chronic health condition, and times when we want to give up. Building motivation towards managing diabetes is a day-by-day process. We don’t go from 0% to100% in a single day. The key to building motivation involves finding an individualized plan that works for you, which may take some trial and error. If you are struggling to find a routine, the tips below may help.
Challenging the inner critic and errors in thinking
The saying is true: we are often our own worst enemy. Most of us engage in negative self-talk on a daily basis without even recognizing it. While some people believe that being critical of themselves can build motivation over time, the opposite is true. Negative self-talk has been shown to reduce motivation significantly.
We may also be experiencing errors in our thinking, which leads to lower mood, self-confidence and motivation. These errors in thinking are commonly referred to as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are universal human experiences, but become more frequent when encountering moments of stress such as challenges with diabetes. Examples of distortions in diabetes management may look like the following:
Labelling: Attaching a negative name or term to ourselves resulting in negative thoughts and emotions. “I slipped up on my diet today. I’m a failure once again.”
All or nothing thinking: Rigid thinking on opposite sides of the spectrum that leaves no room to recognize the grey area in the middle. “If I am not perfect with my diabetes 100% of the time then I’m not managing my diabetes correctly at all.”
Catastrophizing: Expecting negative outcomes or the worst-case scenario and making guesses about the future. “My blood sugars were higher than normal today. I can’t do anything right with my diabetes management. I’m never going to get on top of this, and I’m going to have drastic complications with my diabetes.”
Mind reading: Assuming we know what others are thinking. “My endocrinologist said my A1C is higher than last time. They probably think I’m not trying hard enough and am wasting their time.”
Cognitive distortions and negative self-talk can be deep rooted and challenging to recognize. The good news is there are many avenues to challenge them. There is a wealth of information online to help recognize and reframe our thinking to be more positive and realistic. Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be instrumental in helping to explore and fight back against these thoughts, and increase motivation. We don’t have to struggle with negative thinking alone.
Don’t set impossible standards
One of the key components of fostering long-term motivation in diabetes management involves acknowledging and accepting the realistic fluctuations of living with diabetes. We often strive to be “perfect” in our diabetes management, such as always being on target with blood sugar and never straying from goals related to diet and weight. However, the nature of diabetes is that it does change over time, and it is very normal to have difficulties along the way. If we hold ourselves to impossible standards and then inevitably experience some challenges, we only set ourselves up for disappointment which zaps our motivation. If we instead approach diabetes management from a lens recognizing that challenges are an expected part of our journey, it will be easier to stay motivated and recalibrate our goals when difficulties arise.
Balanced goal setting
Setting goals towards diabetes management can help build motivation over time, if done in a realistic way. However, we may be prone to setting impossibly large goals, which lead to decreased motivation when we experience difficulties reaching them. Breaking down larger, more challenging, goals into smaller ones helps us create more achievable targets which fosters longer-term motivation. Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day.
For example, perhaps we have a goal of starting to run as a way to support our diabetes management. If we make a goal to start running 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, after not having a regular running routine before, we’re unlikely to meet this goal, get frustrated and give up. However, if we break down this larger goal into smaller steps, we are more likely to achieve the larger goal, even if it takes more time.
Perhaps our initial goal is to go walking twice a week for 15 minutes for two weeks. After we achieve this goal, we may be more motivated to move to the next step of jogging twice a week for 15 minutes. Once we’ve completed this goal, our motivation increases again and sets us up to meet the next smaller goal on the journey towards the top goal of running 30 minutes 5 days a week.
There are a number of approaches to balanced goal setting. One such technique is developing SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. There is a wealth of information and resources online for setting SMART goals, which can be applied easily to diabetes-specific goals.
Find support in others
When approaching diabetes, the number one thing we should keep in mind is that we don’t have to go on this journey alone. Diabetes carries significant stigma and we often feel shame towards our diagnosis. This can lead to isolating ourselves or trying to treat this difficult condition on our own, when often the best way to approach diabetes management (and improve motivation) is by having a team to support you.
Think about personal goals that you may be having challenges with. Is there someone in your life who may be able to help you stay on track with this goal? Is there anyone you know who is also living with diabetes who can relate to what you are experiencing and help you work towards whatever it is you are passionate about changing? Having someone in your court who is compassionate and supportive can help you celebrate your successes and problem-solve the challenges.
Finding a supportive healthcare team can be instrumental in building your motivation towards diabetes management. The patient-provider relationship is one of the key aspects of managing any chronic condition successfully, including diabetes. If you feel your diabetes educators and other care providers are not being supportive, or are not providing the type of care you need, it is always okay to look for help elsewhere. Being your best self-advocate is important to managing your health and motivation over the long-term.
Motivation and diabetes is an ongoing journey. Factors such as mental health, how we approach meeting our goals and what level of external support we have are all significant components in maintaining our motivation towards chronic conditions. Given the nature of diabetes it is important that however we approach it, we be kind to ourselves. We attract more bees with honey, and we build motivation most through self-compassion and support.