What Golf Can Teach Us About Diabetes

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I was playing golf yesterday and it dawned on me that if people approached managing diabetes in the same way I approach playing golf, they would probably have an easier time with diabetes.

I’m not a good golfer by any stretch of the imagination. Actually, I’m a pretty mediocre golfer. I like to get out on the course and have fun. Sometimes, I hit a great shot. But most of the time, I don’t. No matter what, though, I always get the ball in the hole. Eventually.

There are definitely some lessons here that apply to diabetes.

Play Strategically

When I first started playing golf, I played as aggressively as possible. I took risks that had a really low chance of success. Over the water? Through the trees? On the green off the tee from 300 yards?

Trust me, I tried – and most of the time I failed miserably. I never even thought about playing smart and taking shots that I knew would actually get me to where I needed to go.

Once I started playing smarter – which usually means being more conservative and patient, given the conditions and my skill level, I usually got the ball on the green and in the whole a lot faster and I felt better about my game.

I felt a lot more confident about my golf game, my score improved, and I was a lot less frustrated.

This approach is also true for diabetes. Impatience and over-bolusing of insulin usually leads to trouble. Being intentional and strategic with your management decisions will almost always get you to a better place, faster.

Perfection is Not Possible

If I think I’m going to get a hole in one when I golf, I’m most likely going to be really disappointed. I’ll probably play too aggressively and land in a sand trap, or I’ll overshoot the green and end up out of bounds.

Diabetes is no different. If you are too aggressive with diabetes, it’s really easy to end up in trouble.

You may take too much insulin and then have a rebound high when you correct for going low. You may spend more time than you want to exercising, or you may skip a party because of the type of food being served. If nothing else, you’ll probably end up really frustrated with yourself.

Just like with golf, we can’t expect perfection with diabetes. Do the best you can and continually work to improve your game (your management). But thinking you can be perfect at golf (or your diabetes) is setting yourself up to fail.

Flexibility is Key

Golf is a game of problem-solving and the conditions that you face are constantly changing.

Before you tee off, you assess where you want your drive to go. Even when you hit a great shot, the wind might pick up and change the way you approach the rest of the hole.

When I play golf, I am mentally prepared for things not to go exactly as planned.

It’s helpful to take the same approach with diabetes. There are so many things that can affect blood sugar (diaTribe put together a great list) and sometimes it’s hard to know when you’ll hit a rough spot.

Just like with golf, if you’re mentally prepared for diabetes to not always to go as planned, it’ll be a lot easier to deal with whatever challenge comes your way.

A Fresh Start

In golf, every hole is a new hole. Just because I didn’t do so well on one hole doesn’t mean that I can’t (in theory) make a birdie on the next hole. Even when I’m feeling like a miserable golfer, each hole is a fresh start and a chance to redeem myself.

If you’ve had some bumps in the road with managing diabetes, that doesn’t mean you can’t start anew. Just like each hole is a new opportunity to play well in golf, each day is a new opportunity to do better with diabetes.

That doesn’t mean that all holes/days moving forward will be good, but there’s usually an opportunity to do better on the horizon.

As hard as I try and as much as I practice I can’t always control where my golf shots go. But that doesn’t stop me from getting out there and playing. As frustrating as it can be, playing golf is important to me. In the end, my score matters less than me getting out there and hitting every shot. Diabetes is no different.

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Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE
Apr 23, 2019

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