A Growth Mindset: Changing Your Diabetes Management

The constant mental toll of managing diabetes can make it difficult to make positive changes. Experts at the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES) 2022 Annual Conference shared some strategies for changing mindsets and avoiding setbacks when trying to make lifestyle changes.

Diabetes distress is a common condition in people with diabetes. This can lead to feelings of isolation, exhaustion, or a lack of motivation to follow diabetes management routines. Even with the desire to change, these feelings can make it difficult to incorporate changes into daily life and sustain them over time.

Dr. Heidi Grant, social psychologist, author, and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University, discussed several strategies for overcoming these challenges in her recent keynote address at the ADCES 2022 annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

In his talk, Grant talked about his research, which aims to understand why people with diabetes find it difficult to change their behavior, even when they are motivated to do so. According to Grant, there are two main phases involved in behavior change: preparing for the change and making the change. Preparing and putting yourself in a position to succeed is a necessary part of the process.

To prepare for behavior change, Grant suggested adopting a “growth mindset,” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.” In a fixed mindset, people compare themselves to others, while in a growth mindset, people only compare themselves to their past.

Approaching the challenge of managing diabetes with a determined mindset can cause people to question their abilities from the start, she said. This can lead to anxiety and can make it difficult to complete the challenge to begin with. A growth mindset, however, leads to perseverance and resilience over time.

To shift into a growth mindset, Grant recommends a strategy she calls “notice, then change.” This involves “noticing” thoughts that contribute to a fixed mindset (like “I’m not good at this”) and turning them into positives (“I’m not good at this yet”). These small changes underscore that managing diabetes involves a constant, long-term process of improvement. Grant shared the mantra that worked for her: “It’s not about being good, it’s about getting better.”

When describing goals, Grant suggests using words like “grow,” “progress,” “develop,” and “improve.” Incorporating these words into thoughts and conversations can promote growth thinking.

After shifting to a growth mindset, Grant suggests creating “if-then” plans to help with behavior change. If-then plans are concrete, specific sets of actions on where, when, and what to do in a given situation. These plans take the form of “if situation X occurs, then I will perform behavior Y”. For example, “If it’s 3 p.m., I’m going to walk around the neighborhood for 20 minutes.”

Creating “if-then” plans for everyday situations can help establish daily routines and prevent situations where people decide whether or not to do the desired behavior when the time comes. Focusing “if-then” statements on replacing a habit with another action can help. Grant gave an example; instead of “if I see donuts in the break room, I won’t eat them”, think “if I see donuts in the break room, I will get water”.

Thinking positively about the process of improving diabetes management can go a long way in empowering people with diabetes to achieve their health goals. For more information on diabetes-related stress and managing your mental health, read these articles:

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Andrew Briskin joined the diaTribe Foundation in 2021 after graduating with a degree in Health and Societies from the University of Pennsylvania. Briskin is an editor for diaTribe Learn….
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