Have you ever reflected on something bad that’s happened to you and found some positives from it? Earlier this year I put together a piece on some of the surprising ways Type 1 Diabetes has made me Better and it was published on a diabetes focused site called Thriveabetes. So I thought it would be worth sharing out here. Now don’t get me wrong, managing type 1 diabetes is not easy, however having it, and knowing there is no cure (yet) means you have to take control and face it head on. Here’s what I wrote. Hopefully it might get you thinking about something in your life that’s had some hidden benefits.
My grandfather used to say, “your health is your wealth” and like most of these common sayings, there is a lot of truth in them. However, like most twenty or thirty somethings, I took being healthy for granted. I might hear of others getting sick or being diagnosed with this or that. But never thought that it would happen to me.
When I got diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2012, it all of a sudden became very clear that the wealth I was chasing, financially, at work, and in all those other material pursuits were in fact not the real wealth at all. My real wealth, my health, now was at risk! It took this diagnosis, this wake-up call, to bring it firmly into focus.
At first, I was in denial. Surely there must have been a mistake? Then, I convinced myself I could find a cure. But after a few months, I started to realise that the only way forward was to embrace it: Talk about it and, if possible, start looking for the upsides, or positives, in my broken pancreas syndrome.
Now, 7+ years into my own Type 1 Diabetic journey, my life is a whole lot better than it was back then. The diagnosis marked a very real turning point in my life. A catalyst for real positive change. I’ve been reflecting on this for a while so this piece is a great excuse to get what the benefits have been. And as I put this piece together, I took to twitter to ask if others with Type 1 Diabetes can relate or if I was just crazy. The response was (and continues to be) huge. Benefits like improved patience, greater empathy, better planning, increased compassion, more responsibility, project management skills, and connecting with other like-minded & like-pancreas people are just some of the other benefits that came back. Here are the key ones I’ve notice.
Nobody wants to get Type 1 Diabetes and, of course, I’d prefer not to have it at all. It’s not fair, but it could be worse! I consider myself lucky in lots of ways. We live in a time when the disease was (and is) more manageable then ever. Technology breakthroughs have advanced management and control drastically and with more exciting advances on the horizon. Getting the disease gave me a bit of a wake-up call. I’m not immortal after all but I can still lead a full life. That’s a positive. It’s made me realise much more what I have and look for the positives. This mindset takes practice but if you look for the bright spots, you’ll find them.
Diabetes was a big factor in making me step back and create a better life balance. In the coaching work I do, I like to use a tool called the ‘whole life grid’ (check out more on it here). I would have struggled to populate half of this in 2012. I prioritized work over everything else, yet it wasn’t making me happy. I was pushing hard, close to burn-out but I didn’t have a clear understand of who I was and what I valued. Getting diagnosed was a point on my timeline where things started to turn. It made me re-evaluate and look at other areas of my life that were suffering and needed to be addressed. Since then, I’ve made a much more conscious effort to have a focus on the 9 boxes that make up my whole life and it’s turned out great.
Exercise and keeping fit were always on my radar. I had started running long distances about year before the diabetes blessing but after coming to terms with the news, I realised now that keeping fit and healthy were no longer optional. It became a must do! Since then, I’ve completed 3 Marathons, many adventures races, and learned to swim properly (at last). I get to exercise 4-5 per week. When the only real choice is to exercise on a regular basis, my inner gremlin voice doesn’t get much of a look in either.
Having Type 1 Diabetes motivated me to get a better and clearer sense of purpose. It forced me question what I stood for more and to challenge my own limiting beliefs. In 2015, through some professional development, I worked with an executive coach. This was a transformative experience. The work encouraged me to understand my ‘why’ better, clarify my values, and helped in identifying my identity and purpose. It also gave me a greater sense of self-confidence and self-acceptance. It further helped me realise that diabetes was something I should embrace.
I’ve always (from the age of 18 of course) been fond of a few drinks. Thankfully, I had the vast majority of craziness out of my system by 2012. When I was diagnosed it didn’t impact my social life too much. I still gave the nights out a good go over the following few years. However, the downside of the day(s) after began to far outweigh the upside. Add in the challenges of managing blood sugars on a night out, and the day after, made drinking less and less appealing as time went by. So, I decided to make that ‘I’m never drinking again’ statement a reality and since 1st January 2018, I’ve stopped drinking completely. It began as year-long challenge with a good friend. This became a two-year-long abstinence. Having Diabetes, while not the main reason, was a contributing factor in helping me achieve this goal. (I tracked the Dry18 journey in a series of posts that I shared out in an eBook – it’s free here).
My 1% Better Podcast Idea
Getting diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes set off a chain of events that have put me on a different path since 2012.
Having a more positive outlook helped me take on new challenges. This led to an increase in exercise. As I exercised more, I started to listen to more podcasts. I was hooked. I learned so much, all helping feed my curiosity. In parallel, after embarking on the coaching journey, initially as a client and them becoming an executive coach myself, my confidence and self-belief grew. I started to play with the idea of starting my own podcast, instead of just consuming them. It was a big audacious goal. One that scared the hell out of me but one that I felt I might be able to pull off.
So in early 2017, after months of planning and despite being wracked with self-doubt, I launched the RoboftheGreen platform and with it the podcast ‘1% Better’. Now, 140+ episodes later, still dealing with and pushing through the fears on a weekly basis, the podcast is growing bigger and better. It’s given me a platform to share stories, lessons learned and insights from a broad range of leaders across the globe. And also it’s been an channel where I could share interviews with other Type 1 Diabetics like Eoghan Quinn and Emma O’Toole. Both clearly show that Type 1 Diabetes can be an enabler instead of a disabler.
If I wasn’t podcasting, I wouldn’t have connected in with Thriveabetes. It was that connection that lead to this post. I’m really glad it happened as it’s helped me clarify a few things that were rolling around in my head. There can be a lot of positives to be taken out of almost any situation that might seem negative or bad initially. It will probably take work, effort, soul searching, but if you challenge yourself to look at things from a different perspective, I believe you’ll find a positive or two.
So, as it’s nearly the end of 2019, and a time for some reflection, what one thing could you identify that is your Type 1 Diabetes? That’s had some upsides from the initial downs?
Thanks for reading & till tomorrow,
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, leadership, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one! Rob recently published an eBook on giving up alcohol for 2018 called ‘Dry18’ and can be downloaded for free here.
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Right now, this very moment, as I write this, I’m fighting off a very strong temptation to begin this final piece of the Dry 2018 Post Series with an inspirational quote (from someone way more inspirational than me) with the key word ‘impossible.’ How else do articles start these days anyway? Especially ones that cover such a mammoth challenge as an Irish person giving up alcohol for a year.
A part of me really wants to go with the famous Mandela quote “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” Another part prefers the one from Audrey Hepburn “nothing is impossible, the word itself says “I’m possible”, and yet another tiny voice in me is championing one from a book I recently read by Yogananda Paramhansa with “nothing is impossible unless you think it is”. But no, I’m not going to go there. That would be way too predictable.
Why ‘impossible’? Well, 12 months ago, giving up drink for a full year did seem a little like that. Not just to me. Many that know me thought it too. And maybe a little bit outrageous. The Questions coming at me were “Why deprive yourself of it?” or “You work hard so why not have a few now and then?” followed by reassuring encouragement of “It’s not as if there was a problem with it. Enjoy it.”
To be fair, while I sensed deep down it wasn’t impossible, to go through a full calendar year without having any Alcohol was a bit daunting. Even if I had become a much more occasional drinker in the last number of years, giving up that glass of Red on a Friday night after a busy work week, or asking for diet Coke instead of a Beer when out for a Meal or at a work gathering was not going to be easy.
Thankfully, as the first few months flew by, I realized this task was far from unsurmountable. Like any Big Goal, if you chunk it up into smaller pieces, it becomes very manageable. So, an elaborate quote stating the ‘impossible’ doesn’t seem apt. As the year progressed, I noticed other words coming up that were more fitting. Words like ‘choice’, ‘options’, ‘simplicity’, ‘commitment’, and ‘freedom’. By removing the choice, and making the commitment, the freedom came, and life became simpler. I’m still working on how to make that into a profound quote to inspire but maybe this could work:
“Simplicity and Freedom comes when you commit to the choice” – Rob O’Donohue (various times during 2018)
Ok, not in the Mandela or Hepburn league but it’s one I’ve gone back to a number of times this year. I’ve noticed too that this approach can be applied to other Big Goals too.
So, as I finalize this post now, early in 2019 and reflect back, what are some big learnings that stand out?
Are you familiar with Pavlov’s Dog– the experiment that became famous over 100 years ago by Ivan Pavlov. He studied the behaviour of Dogs and developed a theory of classical conditioning. It explains how people associate two stimuli in their minds and react to one of them as though it was the other. Every time, after the right conditioning, Pavlov’s Dog heard a bell, it would salivate more expecting food.
For the longest time, when something momentous happened, something exciting, important, and worth celebrating, associating a few beers or a night out with it was the norm. Getting a promotion, completing a marathon, a holiday away, watching an Arsenal match, and so on. All would bring on a Pavlovian response within. Instead of salivating expecting food, it would be a signal to get the Beers in! I’d been conditioned that way.
During the year, one of the biggest ‘A-ha’s’ has been how this conditioning has begun to alter. I’ve been reprogramming myself to associate the excitement with a different response. Maybe that was to go for a nice meal, or to the cinema. Or do nothing at all and just enjoy the moment. It’s been an eye opener as I look back. Breaking habits can be tough, yet reconditioning is possible. Leading to a better outcome. And thankfully, no Dogs were harmed in this year-long experiment.
“You must feel great?” – asked by many all year!
My short answer is yes, absolutely, but not in ways you might expect. Physically, I’d feel ok a couple of days after a big night out. So that’s not been hugely noticeable. In fact, I’ve probably had more head colds this year than I’ve had in the last decade combined. The real improvements have been more Emotionally & Mentally. Having zero hangovers during the year has been amazing. It allowed me to stick to my routine and get more done. It also allowed me to do nothing more often too. I haven’t created more time, I’ve just been able to put it to better use. The Inner Critic, my Gremlin in my head, that lovely voice that’s always been there to give me a hard time after a night out. Well, he’s had a bad year. A quieter one for sure. I now find myself having the ‘Fear’ (which was explained in a previous post here) only when I think about actually having the Fear!
I’ve often compared my life in my twenties, when my social life was full on, to a game of Snakes and Ladders (for those millennials, it was a physical board game popular a long time ago – forgive me if it still is). I’d manage to make great progress up the board, ladder by ladder, skilfully navigating the many snakes there to set me back. But always before too long, the snake’s charm would be too much to escape. The snake here would be the alcohol of course. Or maybe it’s that Gremlin again enticing me into places where it knew I’d regret later. Either way, it led to a fall. Back down the board. Setting me back. This year, while there have been temptations, I’ve managed to navigate my way up the board much more mindfully.
“I personally believe that the majority of people who have down moments in their lives, they can actually trace it back, quite often, to alcohol. Perhaps the only days of my life that I feel lethargic is instead of having two glasses at night time I had five or six”. – Richard Branson
Dealing with downers!
I vividly recall hearing the above from Richard Branson in a podcast with Tim Ferriss in late 2017. It was around that time I was thinking about cutting out the booze totally and his words stayed with me since. As I reflect back on the years when I did drink, while alcohol been a catalyst for many great nights, I can relate to Sir Branson’s experiences. I’d safely say that 99% of the nights/days where I’ve felt very low have come very soon after alcohol. Combine that with a pre-disposition to overthinking, giving myself a hard time, and a lean towards anxiety and you have a dangerous mix.
Over the course of 2018, and none more so than in the last 8 weeks of the year, I’ve had to face tough times and deal with very real-life situations. It was difficult to look for positives, be optimistic, and try to reign in that very disruptive and over active critic in my mind. Difficult but manageable. I have no doubt, if I ever added a hangover to that mix, I’d have been in a different darker place altogether. So, from that perspective, my Mood, Emotional Agility and levels of Grit have improved this year thanks to less time on the rollercoaster that accompanies booze.
Other Hidden Benefits