Are your systems helping or hurting you?

In my last post I touched briefly on the importance of the systems in your life to support your diabetes management.

Systems-talk is generally heard relative to companies seeking ways to improve  processes in order to increase profits and save time and waste. But doesn’t it make perfect sense that the same holds true for managing diabetes? Our systems either make us successful with less cost in time and energy, or foil us. Back to the company analogy, no matter how dedicated employees may be, if they’re working within a system that doesn’t support their intentions and efforts, they won’t accomplish their aim. Similarly, no matter how good your intentions, if your systems do not support your best efforts, success will evade you.

What does this really mean? We all have some kind of system we work within for the daily or weekly tasks we perform regarding our diabetes management. For instance, you have a system for feeding yourself – it may be skipping breakfast, eating a yogurt for lunch, then a candy bar in the mid-afternoon, and having dinner at fast food drive-ins half the week and pulling frozen entrees out of your freezer the other half. This system doesn’t support having your best health, let alone a desire to lose 10 pounds. A better system would be having a healthy breakfast, a larger healthy lunch and skipping the candy bar, and, going to the supermarket once a week to bring home nourishing foods. You might cook a week’s worth of dinners on the weekend, freeze them, and one day a week greet the loud speaker at Burger King, McDonalds, KFC or your fast food joint of preference.

Trust me, you have a system for everything. Take refilling your meds. It may be you open your pill bottle and you notice it’s empty, you grumble or shriek and then go to the pharmacy or call your doctor. Here’s another system that might be less stressful: when a new bottle of pills come into the house, if it’s for a 90-day supply for instance, write on a calendar 75 days from that day, “Reorder meds.”

Think about how diabetes fits into your day, or doesn’t? Is it the last thing you always seem to contend with? If so, your systems are not very efficient or supportive for managing your diabetes. How about your emotional system? Do you let loved ones help you in some way or shoo them away? Do you do enough of what you love to replenish your energy and positivity? If not, can you schedule that into your week?

The good news is you designed your systems, consciously or unconsciously, and can change them with a keen eye, some creative thinking and practiceLook specifically at what you’re having trouble with and then look at the system behind it. For example, if you forget to take your pill before lunch because you’re always stressed at work, or running into a meeting, how can you remedy this? Can you put a note where you’ll always see it just before lunch? Dan you keep an extra pill in your wallet if you carry your wallet or  purse into meetings? f you’ve been trying hard and not doing terribly well, don’t blame yourself, blame your system and then revise it.

My Systems

My system for taking my blood sugar approximately 5xday includes keeping my meter always in the same place, on my kitchen counter, my test strips always in my meter case, my lancing device  always on my kitchen counter. I work at home and this works for me. If I’m out of the house, I take my smallest meter with me so I can always test.

My system for eating is to buy mostly fresh vegetables, fruits, chicken and fish and do most of my own cooking. Every morning I make a bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Almost every lunch I have a spinach salad with an assortment of veggies, beans and some feta cheese. I mostly steam vegetables and broil or saute meats and fish for dinner. I eat beans in replacement of higher carbs, for instance, rice, pasta, potatoes. The few freezer products I use don’t have any added butter, cream, etc. I use vegetables a lot as foods to fill up on, and crunch on, when I need something crunchy. I like nuts for this too, and yes, I have to be careful not to sit down with the whole jar. I notice when I run out of healthy foods, I begin to reach for less healthy foods (my husband’s stock of crackers, licorice, etc) so part of my system is to always try as I can, keep an adequate supply of healthy foods in the house. I make sure I have 85% dark chocolate in the house and cocoa powder so when I need a sweet I can satisfy my sweet tooth and not go crazy. If I don’t do this, I’ll eat everything in my house and still feel unsatisfied.

My system for exercise is to every morning take a one hour walk around my local park typically from 9:30-10:30 A.M. Just after checking my email and before getting into any major project. If I miss my walk because I have an appointment, I try to fit it into the late afternoon. If my appointment is in the city, I’ll walk 40 or 60 blocks when I get out of my appointment to a subway station so I fit my walk in that way.

My system for emotional health includes doing lots of things I really enjoy that make me feel purposeful, and I get the rich reward of serotonin, the feel good brain chemicals from helping others. I spend time with friends who nourish me. I love reading and movies and indulge in both. When times are tough, I reach out to my partner who always listens and then see how much good I still have in my life. If all else fails I do something guaranteed to bring a smile, look at the pictures in my wedding album, call a dear friend across the country or just leave my house and go somewhere else from where life looks different.

I’m only telling you about my systems to give you an idea of how systems work. Admittedly, I have a lot of lattitude working for myself and working at home. I don’t want you to compare what you to what I do. I want you to look at your systems and your life and see if your systems support your best efforts and if not what can you do to improve them?

Here are some questions to stimulate your systems-thinking:

Q: Where are my supplies? Are they handy? As I said my meter is always on my kitchen counter making it easy to find and grab, no searching that might lead me to say, “oh what the heck, I’ll test later.”

Q: Am I always running out of my meds or test strips? Why? Can I guesstimate when it would be time to order more and work out a system for this? Is my husband or wife always at me about this and so do I put off reordering my meds just to bug him or her? Can I remedy this by having a heart to heart talk with my loved one and then do better for myself?

Q: How can I avoid all the tempting foods always at work from parties and meetings? Can I keep a healthier replacement treat at my desk, or give myself a reward when I pass up temptation like a movie or little trinket?

Q: I only seem to be getting to the gym a third of the time I’d planned because work or family obligations get in the way. Can my family help pick up some of the load by taking over some simple chores?

Looking at your systems, start with the assumption that it’s possible to refine them. And remember, to improve you can’t do what you’ve always done and expect different results. Sounds like common sense, but many people will often spend their energy trying harder in a failing system than change their system.

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