Russ Dowling’s life changed the day he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. As a man who works on his feet all day, he was anxious about complications like heart disease and peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves in his feet) and was at a loss about what to do to turn things around. That was two years ago. Today, after taking the Diabetes Self-Management Classes at Yavapai Regional Medical Center, working with his physician, and asking lots of questions, he’s 100 pounds lighter and his blood sugar levels are normal. His journey hasn’t been a straight shot (a budding pepperoni habit recently tripped him up a bit), and he’s still adding new, healthy habits into the lifestyle he enjoys. He’s learned that change is a process, not an event, and that change doesn’t happen overnight!
Before the diagnosis of diabetes, Russ described himself as a man who was “living the dream”. He ate whatever he wanted and remarkably, all of his labs were normal. When results from labs drawn for a physical at work confirmed diabetes, he felt like he had been handed a ‘death sentence’. Russ states, “I really had no idea what to do. I needed help and information and I got all of that in the diabetes classes offered at the YRMC Del E. Webb Outpatient Center in Prescott Valley”.
Gathering information is an important first step anyone can take toward gaining a sense of empowerment and control in managing a disease like diabetes. However, information alone often fails to sustain healthy habits. Likewise, fear of complications from a disease might initially trigger a desire for change, but fear fades as time goes by, making room for old habits to return.
Debbie Peterson knows all about the challenges surrounding lifestyle change. As a Professional Certified Life Coach (PCLC), DBA Coaching Clarity by Definition, she works with people who are looking for support in creating new habits. Debbie states, “The emotions and attitudes we have, as well as the value we place in changing lifestyle habits all predict our success”. She defines attitude as an emotional tie to beliefs about ourselves (and others) and emphasizes the big role that feelings and emotions play in making lifestyle changes that stick.
Developing awareness of the feelings you have about making specific lifestyle changes can help clarify what motivates you to adopt new habits, as well as what holds you back! Practitioners of Motivational Interviewing (MI), a client/patient-centered counseling approach that helps people find their own motivation for change, view the conflicting feelings we often have about change as rich sources of useful information that can actually help people move forward. After all, while there are usually very good reasons to adopt a healthier diet, to drink more water, or begin a regular exercise routine, there are also good reasons to maintain the status quo! With any change in life, there are things to gain, but also things to lose, like comfortable routines and familiar ways of being with yourself and others. Simply writing down the pros and cons of adopting a new habit can help you honestly assess and come to terms with the up- and downside of change.
Russ was fortunate to see mostly the upside of a new diet, weight loss and good blood sugar control. He wanted to keep working to support himself and his family, and he didn’t want anything to interfere with a big love in his life – travelling the country on his motorcycle. However, he did struggle with feelings about missing favorite foods and the comfortable habits he shared with others in his life. Making compromises and setting realistic goals has helped Russ maintain his (mostly) healthy diet. Debbie Peterson emphasizes the importance of being honest with yourself about change. “Having unreal expectations will foster feelings of disappointment that can sabotage your efforts and lend a hand to failure. Even though disappointment is nothing more than a feeling, we tend to experience that feeling when we buy into the anxiety of wrestling with our comfort zone”. She adds, “Keep your expectations real for each habit change. Most of the time we know what’s right, but choose what’s easy”.
The power to make our own decisions and be the primary movers in our own lives lies at the heart of most successful lifestyle changes. By gathering information, honestly assessing the pros and cons of new habits, and being realistic about expectations (remember, nobody is perfect), we can dramatically increase our chances of creating healthy, lifelong habits!