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Sport and Exercise Psychology Services

Practise what you preach!

Oh yes! As a sport psychologist my mind loves giving me nuggets of advice like this. Sometimes I act on them and other times I view them for what they are - simply thoughts. I shall now recount a recent experience where following my mind's nugget of 'practise what you preach' was helpful to my performance. I have been a type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic for nearly 30 years and have played lots of sports over that time. Tennis, Golf, Swimming and Beach Volleyball predominate. Each one provides its own very unique challenges both within the techniques needed to play well but also for my diabetes management (explosive action compared to steady exercise; immediate uncontrolled hormonal and glucose release vs no glucose release; need to reduce insulin vs need to increase insulin). Attending a four day diabetes management course recently gave me a perfect opportunity to do exactly what my title suggests - to practise what I preach. Diabetes has considerable hidden psychological impacts. Becoming aware of those psychological impacts (self-confidence, self-image; emotional control; fear of failure) is a step to improving control of the condition. Whilst on the diabetes management course I was scouring different sources for further assistance and came across an intuitively appealing tip on twitter - "Don't attach emotions to your blood sugar readings". On reflection, I realised that the advice (what to do) appeared sensible, what was missing was the key component of "how to do it". Emotional states change so quickly, even before one is aware of them. By the time we recognise them they have already had an impact. This is also the case when doing sport psychology consulting with athletes - for example "just relax" is great advice for coping with nerves, but "how to" relax when nervous is not so easy! Keeping an emotion diary or journal is often a good way of understanding your feelings. It is a common recommendation made to athletes to aid understanding and awareness. Therefore, I decided to keep an emotion diary each week to gain an understanding of my fluctuating emotions relating to my blood sugars. This was very revelatory. I was suddenly able to talk with more accuracy about the emotions that I was experiencing throughout my diabetes management. This increased awareness was heightened by a feeling of pressure release to release my mind and body of the emotion itself and its impacts for every blood sugar reading - both good and bad. Over time I noticed patterns in my emotional response to my blood sugar readings. 'Happy' with myself when they were in an acceptable range, 'frustrated' or 'angry' with myself when higher than this range. I also noticed that the destructive psychological impacts of those emotions reduced as I became more comfortable in, and aware of, their presence. The judgemental nature of diabetes self-management is something that will never be fully removed - I can too quickly judge when I have had too little or too much insulin and penalise myself for that. It has been a lifetime habit and will not change overnight. However, by applying my psychological knowledge of sport performance to my diabetes, I can start to improve my performance in managing my diabetes. If I continue to maintain motivation to manage my diabetes well by practising what I preach, I can make better friends of those emotions that could, otherwise, make my life very tiring. Happy self-monitoring!
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