New Year, New Possibilities

It’s January 14th, and it has occurred to me that I never did my obligatory New Year’s blog post. So here it is — 14 days late, but still within the month.

Goal setting
New Year’s is obviously a time of reflection, and particularly in this country, a time of goal setting. We’re pretty obsessed with goals in the U.S. We’re also one of the unhealthiest countries in the world. According to a random statistics website I found (and the Internet never lies…), the number one goal for Americans on New Year’s Eve is to “lose some weight.” Following behind that is a mix of “spend more time with family” and “fall in love” kind of resolutions, and more health-related resolutions like “get fit” and “eat healthy.” And of course getting finances in order is up there, too.

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As Diabetians, we’re no strangers to health-related goal setting. We live our lives by the numbers on our little glucose meters. We have direct feedback multiple times every day for how well our decisions are playing out. Living with diabetes gives us a much more direct understanding of what it really takes to turn a goal into a sustained pattern of behavior. And we all know how long the average New Year’s resolution lasts. I’d put it around three weeks, if we’re being generous.

The reason these resolutions fizzle out the way they do is no mystery. A resolution is new, it’s an exciting goal on the horizon. It’s very easy to start a marathon. It’s much harder to finish it. After a few weeks of “being healthy,” cravings come back stronger than they were before. We find ourselves no longer “taking on a new challenge,” but going through repetitive boredom. And if we’re talking about a health goal, the results don’t really start showing up for quite some time. Work gets stressful again; family life hits road bumps; our team loses the Super Bowl 43 to 8 (and then bows out in the first round of the playoffs the next year in embarrassing fashion — fellow Broncos fans, you know my pain). After the momentary pause and revelry of New Year’s Eve, life resumes, and those goals that were so new and shiny fade into daily routine and lose their luster.

It’s not black and white
So how do we keep these resolutions? While we Diabetians are natural goal-setters and pretty darned good “goal-maintainers” when it comes to blood sugar and dietary goals, we’re just as susceptible to being pulled off course in those areas that don’t necessarily show up on our meters. Losing weight is one of those troublesome goals. Even for people with Type 2 (I’m Type 1 myself), it’s not like one hour of exercise equals some set number of a drop in blood sugar. It’s still something that pans out over a PERIOD of time. So you’re still left without the immediate feedback and subsequent motivation provided by a blood glucose meter. Laying off the large slices of cake? That shows up right away. And for me, that has always made a goal easier to maintain.

For a goal like “losing weight” (which, by the way, IS one of the things I need to do this year…), we need something beyond a “goal.” It’s not enough to just say, “I want to lose X number of pounds this year.” To me, that’s just a set up for failure. Instead, I have always thought we should be making “New Year’s Plans,” and those plans should be daily steps that lead us in the direction of our goal. To care for our diabetes, we have daily plans. We used to have meal plans. Then fast-acting insulin came along, and we were able to drop that a bit (Type 1s more than Type 2s). But we still have our daily blood sugar checks, our daily insulin regimen, our insulin-to-carb ratios, and more. We live by the daily routine, not the goal. We would never just say, “I want an A1c of 5.6,” and then make no plan for how to GET THERE!

In fact, we don’t generally talk about A1C “goals.” We talk about daily action steps with our doctors. Our A1C is a marker that informs how well we’re doing, but we don’t live by it. We live focused in the moment. And that’s a lesson we can apply to the rest of our goals.

I have found myself benefiting from this shift in focus for the past month of so (I was thinking about these goals before actual New Year’s Eve). I actually am slowly losing a bit of weight, and that’s great. But I didn’t set any kind of “X number of pounds” goal for myself. Instead, I made a daily plan for my eating habits the same way I look at my daily diabetes management routine. And I plan to do the same with exercise as soon as I get past an annoyingly tenacious cough that has been clinging to me since New Year’s.

So if anyone is struggling with “New Year’s Goals,” let me offer this little bit of advice: Drop the “goals” and instead create the daily or weekly plan. Just make sure that plan points in the direction you want to go, and then settle in to the boring daily routine of it. Don’t fret about the goal, just come back to the routine. And six months from now, don’t check to see if you’re “succeeded” or “failed,” just check where you are on the path.