Following Your Diabetes Plan: Tips For Better Self-Control

Willpower is the ability to control our actions, a determination that enables us to do difficult things such as sticking to a diabetes diet plan, day after day.

The trouble is that even for people who seem to have more of it, willpower is a limited resource.

For one thing, willpower typically fades as the day progresses. Willpower is strongest in the morning but begins to weaken by lunchtime. Many people who say no to sweets most of the day may raid cookie jars and pie tins in the evening.

Another issue with willpower is that individuals who think they have an abundance of it are those most likely to grab a donut when tempted. Studies show that over-optimistic dieters tend to struggle more with weight loss.

Tips For Better Self-Control

So, what are we wobbly-willed humans to do? Fortunately, research and experience provides some helpful hints:

  • Get Important Things Done Early in the Day. Since willpower diminishes as the day marches on make your shopping list, set up appointments, and check your diabetes supplies early as possible. If you leave things you don’t relish doing for the afternoon or evening, they may never get done. One caveat is that you need a good night’s sleep to enjoy a full morning’s supply of willpower.
  • Capitalize On Convenience. Make those things you need to do convenient, and those things you should avoid doing difficult. Keep your walking shoes next to your bed, or by the door. Store bags of cookies or candy at the back of the pantry’s top shelf. Have cut up veggies for snacking stockpiled at eye level in the fridge. Keep your glucose monitor and log book in an easy to access spot.
  • Habitual Influence. Establishing one healthy habit can influence us to create others. For instance, people who exercise regularly, even if it’s only two or three times per week, find it easier to make other positive lifestyle changes—and sometimes do so without giving it much thought.
  • Use The Body’s Wisdom. It seems that straightening our backbone actually gives us more backbone. Research shows that standing or sitting tall increases our ability to exert self-control.
  • Put It Off. When we say, “No,” to a piece of lemon meringue pie, it's hard stop craving the tart-sweet taste. What works better is to look at the beckoning piece of pie say, “Not now, but later.” Studies show that people who procrastinate on temptation, instead of denying their desires, are less bothered by visions of sweets dancing in their heads.

Unfortunately, no matter how many tips and tricks we use to harness our self-control, we will always make some unwise choices. When this happens, self-compassion works in our favor. Research indicates that compassion enhances willpower, while being self-critical erodes it.

Those who cut themselves slack for being human and continue doing their best generate better self-control, and are more likely to succeed.

Sources: Baumeister, Roy, F., Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Penguin, 2012;
McGonigal, Kelly, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It, Avery, 2011;
Duhigg, Charles, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Random House, 2012;
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Photo credit: Britt Selvitelle

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