I was asked recently what keeps me motivated to manage my diabetes. I thought it was a great question. On the surface, it sounds pretty simple — what motivates us to manage our diabetes is a desire to stay healthy, to stay alive, to avoid pain, all of that basic, instinctual stuff. But motivation is a much more complicated thing than that.
We all know how finicky motivation can really be. And that’s true even for something as serious as diabetes. We know that complications can arise from poor management; we know the seriousness of the consequences. And yet those consequences are abstract possibilities in the future, not something staring at us right now. People have a very hard time modifying behavior based on abstract possible future outcomes; we’re much better at dealing with the here and now.
We can respond with great urgency to perceived immediate danger. If you were walking down the street and saw a tiger running toward you, you’d do everything in your power to get out the way and out of danger. But we can walk down that same street and make many small choices that may be equally harmful. We might smoke; we might eat something sugary without taking insulin; we might decide to skip the salad and have a burger and fries; and whatever else. You get the idea.
All of this got me to thinking about something. If abstract concepts of future consequences are inadequate motivators, we need to find motivation closer to home. We need to find that source of motivation that we can see, feel, and touch in the here and now, and let that remind us WHY we work so hard to keep our diabetes in good control.
I manage my diabetes first and foremost for my wife. I love her more than anyone in this world, and I want to live well into the future with her. I don’t want that time to be spent in sickness. My motivations are as simple as watching a movie on the couch with her on a Friday night, or walking through the neighborhood on a Sunday morning. Any time I feel my motivation slipping, looking at her is all I need.
Next up on my list is music. I play piano, and this is one of the most joyful things in my life. I have played music since I was six years old, and it has never left my life. I spend my days teaching it to young people, and I spend many of my nights performing it. I have played in dive bars, concert halls, and mountain festivals. In every setting, the act of making music brings sheer joy. I know that diabetic complications could end my career. Playing music is a physical activity, and failing to care for my diabetes could spell the end of my life’s greatest passion.
What keeps you motivated? Who are the people, what are the passions, that give you tangible, real, and immediate reminders of WHY it’s so important to manage this disease? One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to make a list of these important motivations in my life and keep it with me all the time. I didn’t do this to limit myself or constrict my actions. I eat things like donuts here and there, of course. We all do. But that list helps me keep those choices in moderation, and to NEVER ignore my blood sugar.
Yes, motivation can be tricky. But it gets easier when you take stock of those people and passions that make each day worth living. Those are the pillars of diabetes management. And if that’s not motivation enough, I don’t know what is.