Type 1 Diabetes and Motivation

By Michelle Lowry - D1 Now Support Worker

Motivation and WHY it can be so Difficult to Maintain with Type 1 Diabetes?


  • There’s no break! The relentless nature of managing a lifelong condition such as type 1 diabetes can be exhausting – there’s no break so maintaining motivation is bound to be a challenge from time to time!
  • Outcomes Vs Process! Often times – the traditional medical model focuses more on the outcome (the blood sugar no.s, HbA1c results) rather than the process (the behaviors that contribute to the outcomes). It can be so disheartening when your ‘performance’ feels measured by the results of a test and ignores all of the context of your life and the individual challenges you may also be managing alongside your diabetes self-management.
  • We are not 100% in control! We are not 100% in control of our diabetes – there are a no. of external factors which can also impact on our blood sugar levels. This can be a tad frustrating!!!
  • Can’t always ‘see’ the benefit! Sometimes we can’t always ‘see’ the benefit of all of the effort we are putting in right now. In a lot of situations whereby people put in significant effort into certain health behaviors they reap positive rewards such as physical fitness, improved physical appearance, enhanced energy. With type 1 diabetes it can be particularly hard when we feel that the best we can hope for with all of this effort we are putting in is to try to imitate ‘normal’ pancreas function (which everyone else has) and potentially avoid some future serious diabetes complications.
  • Sometimes life gets in the way! The nature of actions required of us in maintaining diabetes self-management can often interfere with other life areas and priorities. Integrating self-management into our lives, particularly as our lives are ever changing and priorities may shift, can be super challenging!

So HOW can we Motivate Ourselves with our Diabetes Self-Management?


Tip No. 1 – Establish why diabetes self-management is important to YOU. Connect with your own values which underpin your motivation for doing this stuff.

Our values connect us with what really matters in our lives and can motivate us to push through the challenges we may face. Remember that your health is a resource for living – not the objective of life. Looking after your diabetes is one really important way for you to maintain your health so that you can live the life that you want to live.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What really matters to me in my life?
  • What important roles does looking after my diabetes allow me to fulfill in my life?
  • What values will I be living by engaging in this diabetes self-management activity?





Tip No.3 – Prepare to deal with the internal barriers that can show up

It is often the case that when we say ‘I have no motivation’ – often what we really mean is ‘I don’t feel in the mood’ or ‘I don’t have the energy’ – which is completely understandable in the context of the relentless nature of type 1 diabetes. Often we get hooked with the thought that ‘until I feel like doing it I’m not going to do it’. If you rely on your feelings and allow yourself to get pushed around by your thoughts in this way – it can be really difficult to stay motivated.

  • When we are trying to do something that is challenging like diabetes self-management, we can expect our minds to come up with lots of reasons why you can’t, shouldn’t, or shouldn’t even have to take action – thoughts such as ‘what’s the point’ or ‘I hate having this condition, I shouldn’t have to think about this stuff’. We can’t stop our minds from saying these things but by anticipating the reasons our mind is likely to come up with, we may be better able to ‘unhook’ from them and prevent them from getting in the way of our goals.
  • We can also expect some feelings of discomfort – such as feelings of frustration and disappointment or even physical sensations and urges. We need to be willing to make some room for this discomfort in order to face the challenges that diabetes self-management can inevitably bring.

Be kind to yourself as you open up to these feelings of discomfort and unhook from unhelpful thoughts. Try to reconnect again with your values which underpin your motivation for doing this stuff. 




Tip No.2 – Set realistic goals – which focus on process rather than outcome

  • A major barrier to motivation is often related to unrealistic goals. Sometimes we try to do too much – or do it all at once. There are times when we can have an ‘all or nothing’ mindset and expect ‘perfection’ which can really trip us up. There are even sometimes when we are trying to do things for which we lack the resources (such as time, money, energy, health, social support, or necessary skills)?
  • In diabetes, we often tend to focus our goals on numbers which are more outcomes orientated (our BG readings, our HbA1c result). Try instead to focus your goals on the behaviors (process) within your control which can contribute to these outcomes eg: checking your BGs, engaging in some exercise, drinking more water or improving your sleep routine.
  • Try to be more realistic when setting goals. Make them smaller, simpler, easier, matched to your resources. Start with a goal area which you feel will be the easiest to achieve.
  • Try writing down your goals and score each one between 0–10 in terms of how confident you are that you will be able to achieve that goal. If any score less than 7, you need to make them smaller, simpler, easier - or change them completely - until you can score it at least a 7.


Some Useful Resources


The content shared here was inspired by a form of behavioral therapy called Acceptance and Commitment (ACT) therapy. Here are some videos which expand a little on the ACT approach if you are interested in checking them out:

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