A Student of Diabetes

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We are (as a species) so GOOD at starting things! And we’re so bad at following through. Now, as someone who has spent a lifetime practicing piano and refining my skills in that particular niche, I can often get on a high horse and lament the “lack of willpower of this generation.” I often do, going on and on about how my students don’t practice, how they say things like, “I want to be a famous musician,” and then proceed to spend maybe 30 minutes during the course of an entire week practicing their instrument.

And yet… I want to lose weight. And what do I do about that? I make feeble attempts to start, substituting a salad for a sandwich here and there, riding my bike every now and then. But really, I go about this the same way those students I so freely lampoon go about their practice. I’m great for a week or two, and then right back into procrastinating and avoiding.

And it’s not just dieting where I run into this. I want to do more on the business end of my music career, but I thoroughly despise the business side of music. And the result is I create great schedules, plans, checklists, and more to organize myself and get myself ready to become the greatest self-managed band since The Clash, spend one week making initial calls to clubs, and then fail to follow up with ANY of them because The Great Muppet Caper is on TV five times the next week.

As with many things, diabetes should have taught me better. You see, with so many of these things, the problem is what we in psychological circles call “delayed gratification.” With dieting, the obvious problem is this: A salad pays off in six months, IF you continue to build on that same behavior day-in, day-out for that entire six months. A hoagie tastes good RIGHT NOW. Now, in the first few weeks of salad-eating, the adrenaline and the novelty of what we’re doing can help us overcome this. But once THAT wears off, we’re just left with salad.

The same thing happens with the business plan. The first few weeks is run on pure adrenaline, but after that? It’s a series of annoying phone calls to booking agents who probably won’t respond, half of whom won’t offer you a gig, and most of whom will try to haggle you down to a payout that barely covers your gas money to the gig.

And so the problem is a feedback loop that just takes WAY too long to give us the result we want. Or so we think. I live with a daily feedback loop that actually REINFORCES healthy choices on a daily basis, on a level of immediate gratification. When I’m eating well, I know the end result down the line is good for me, but I can also see it RIGHT NOW. I see my insulin is more effective. I see my blood glucose is less likely to jump around on me. In short, I see that even when I think the only payoff is years down the road (in the form of limiting complications, better health, and all that), that payoff is happening right away in more subtle ways.

If I take that lesson and apply it to my business plan, I can see similar patterns. Sure, the phone calls themselves aren’t fun, but there is a kind of rhythm of work that I get into that is ITSELF gratifying, leveling, calming, and energizing. I’m less worried with no monkey on my back, no “thing that I should be doing but I’m not,” sitting around building up anxiety.

Yep, I should have learned this from diabetes by now. Of course, I’ll never be perfect. None of us will. But I could stand to apply some of this to these areas of my life. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I tend to talk fairly often about diabetes as a teacher. The teacher is giving me the lesson, now I need to take it home and study.

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