Everybody who has diabetes is going to change in the year 2013. The change coming to each of us will be significant or minor, planned or haphazard, for the better or for the worse.
But it’s coming, ready or not.
Change is an integral part of life. Scientists tell us that except for the neurons in our cerebral cortex the very cells that compose our bodies change every few years. Nothing is permanent and whatever lives changes more quickly and profoundly than inanimate objects.
We change our minds and habits a lot more often than our cells change. We can direct the change in what we do by putting our minds to it.
This is reason for the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. The trick is to keep the resolutions that we make so for us it’s not an empty, meaningless, and ultimately disappointing tradition.
We can start on the path to a healthier new year but setting aside a few minutes on New Year’s Day for reflecting on where we want to go and how we intend to get there. Each year a group that I belong to starts the near with the “Beginning Anew” ceremony, a ritual that Thich Nhat Hanh created to help us let go of the past and to set a clear, strong intention for the coming year.
Directed changes all start with intentions. In fact, even before we form a conscious intention, it starts with a thought, as this aphorism by an unknown writer beautifully traces:
Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
The thought that we start the new year with is what do we want to become, not just the list of things that we want to do. If we want to begin to control our diabetes rather than having the disease control our life, we start by resolving to do just that.
Ironically, we will be more successful in achieving our resolutions when we don’t set high goals. We are more successful when we limit the number of goals we set so we can focus our attention like a laser on achieving them over the coming year.
When we try to make too many changes or do too many things at once, most people will quit and fail to achieve their resolutions. When we make one change at a time, it will eventually become a habit. Then, we can move on to focus on the next change we want to make in our lives.
This means that the road to success in the coming year is not to make resolutions that we:
will be better at taking our diabetes drugs,
get more exercise daily,
reduce our level of stress, and
improve our diet so that we will weigh less by the end of the year.
That’s too many resolutions and the timeline is too long. Success will come when we work on one of these resolutions at a time — and for a short time. When we give it our all for even just a week or two at a time, we are setting ourselves up for success instead of the failure that we have always experienced when we try to do too much.
Do the one thing that you know will contribute the most to your goal of having a healthy new year. When you achieve that goal, you can start to think about moving on to the one that is next in importance for you.
New Year’s Day is still a few days away, but I have already made my resolution for a healthier year. When I think about the four cornerstones of diabetes management, I know that I need to be consistent in my daily exercise routine. While I hike or walk many miles each week, this winter I have often let two or three days go by without leaving my apartment except for running errands. I will exercise for at least 30 minutes no fewer than five days a week. My thought about this will lead to my action.
I could say that now that I am 77 years old, I am no longer young with only a few more years for me to live so it’s too late for me to begin anew. Thich Nhat Hanh says that thinking this way is wrong and that we can always begin anew.
This coming new year is a great opportunity for us to begin anew. “I will do better next year” is the promise that we can make to ourselves.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.