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In his new book, “Bright Spots & Landmines,” Adam Brown takes a close look at how little wins (Bright Spots) might be a better thing to focus on. This book is a quick read, fun, and full of actionable ideas that you can try right away.
As Adam says, “By nature, many of us tend to focus on problems and mistakes,” or what he calls Diabetes Landmines. “This has some value – identifying what doesn’t work and trying to less of it,” he continues, “but it can also drive a lot of negative feelings and finger-wagging advice.”
On the other end of the spectrum are Bright Spots; things that work well. We don’t usually pay as much attention to those. No surprise there, right? When things go well, that’s how our bodies are supposed to work (if it weren’t for our messed up endocrine system)!
But Adam’s approach in this book is that we have much to gain by paying more attention to what’s working well for us. “Bright Spots are actions and habits that consistently yield positive results,” he says, “and these should be at the center of diabetes care, personal habits, and even healthcare.”
Such a refreshing approach! I love it.
But to his credit, it’s not all about the positive. Adam’s way too pragmatic for that. He encourages a careful approach to identifying Landmines (mistakes and pitfalls) at some level because you’ll need that information to develop a plan of attack.
Examples of Landmines include overeating to correct lows; asking unproductive, self-blaming questions; and thinking about exercise with an “all or nothing” mindset. Each Landmine in this book includes Adam’s actionable tips to address it.
I’ve been a fan of Adam’s work for a long time. Through his acclaimed diaTribe column, Adam’s Corner, he’s taught me many things and opened my eyes to a ton of different perspectives. And now we have a WHOLE BOOK full of his magic. I’m so excited!
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And thanks to the generosity of Adam and the diaTribe Foundation, we have TEN signed copies that we need to give away! Woohoo! Head over to our Facebook page for your chance to win (submissions end at 12:00 AM on Friday, May 19, 2017).
Q&A with Adam
I was able to catch up with Adam via email and ask him some questions about the book, the process, and what he’s learned along the way.
Q: How can people get Bright Spots & Landmines?
- Download a PDF at diaTribe.org/BrightSpots – it’s a “name your own price model” ($0+), and 100% of any optional donation benefits The diaTribe Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The PDF is gorgeous and reads really well on the computer, a tablet, and even a phone.
- Get a paperback copy on Amazon for $6.99
- Get it on Kindle for $1.99
Q: What do you hope readers take away from Bright Spots & Landmines?
My main goal in writing this book was to make it so actionable, meaning anyone with diabetes can pick it up and immediately improve some aspect of his or her life: more time in an ideal blood glucose range, less time managing diabetes, less stress and guilt, better relationships and energy, and a happier mental state. With that in mind, I hope readers:
- Learn some new, useful diabetes tips related to food, mindset, exercise, and sleep. Everything in Bright Spots & Landmines has made a positive difference in my life with diabetes, and most things include a small step that can be taken today.
- Learn what works for them and what doesn’t. Each chapter includes a series of guided questions to help readers find their own Bright Spots & Landmines. The book also concludes with a cool question guide that pulls everything together.
- Introduce this framework of “Diabetes Bright Spots” & “Diabetes Landmines,” with a major focus on the former, into their therapy. Bright Spots are so often overlooked and undervalued, but they are far more impactful than Landmines.
- Leave with a more positive, productive, inspired lens for living with diabetes.
Q: What makes Bright Spots & Landmines different from other diabetes books?
- Focused on direct actions that people can take to improve their lives.
- Grounded in four areas not often addressed in a single guide: food, mindset, exercise, and sleep.
- Relevant across the entire diabetes spectrum: type 1, type 2, and prediabetes, whether newly diagnosed or 50+ years of diabetes. (This was a goal of mine from the start, so I made sure to include all of these groups in the feedback process.)
- Written from a person-with-diabetes perspective and based on tens of thousands of hours of personal experiments and nearly a decade of professional diabetes writing.
- Vetted by a world-class advisory board and over 500 years of combined diabetes experience in the feedback process.
- Filled with illustrations, pictures, and real-life examples – it’s a fun read!
- About half the length of a typical non-fiction book and written in an easy modular style – readers can gain tons of useful insights without reading cover to cover.
- Non-perishable advice – my goal was to write a book that will be relevant for years and not tied to a particular device or drug.
Q: How has writing Bright Spots & Landmines positively impacted your diabetes?
In the book’s conclusion, I mention how clarifying my Bright Spots & Landmines in one guide has been like writing an operating manual for my diabetes. It’s amazing how useful it is to reflect on your diabetes successes and mistakes and develop a plan of attack: How can I increase my Bright Spots and avoid my Landmines more frequently (and ideally, automatically)? What systems and routines can I set up? This is a book about how I’ve done that.
Writing everything down has also forced me to follow my own advice! Now, I don’t reach for the fridge when I’m low; I choose my automatic, hypoglycemia correction (glucose tabs). When I feel stressed, I remember the zoom-out visualization or some of the quotes in the Mindset chapter (“Worry is like a rocking chair; it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” – Vance Havner). When things feel enormously busy, I remember that “five minutes of exercise beats zero minutes.”
When I look back at my time in range (70-140 mg/dl) over the course of 2016, it noticeably improved as the year went on. I think this was partially due to writing this book, finishing it in the fall, and then reading it over and over again.
Last, it’s also been amazing to involve my wonderful girlfriend in this project, Priscilla Leung. She designed the whole gorgeous interior of the book and the cover – I’m as proud of the design as I am of the writing! She understands my diabetes thinking even better, and I understand her perspective even better.
Q: What was your favorite chapter to write?
I’m enormously proud of all four chapters, but I love the Mindset chapter (#2) the most. I felt like I had to put Food first in this book, but Mindset is like rocket fuel for doing better with diabetes. Even on the toughest days, a productive, positive, Bright Spot mindset makes an enormous difference for overcoming daily challenges and setbacks. The Mindset chapter shares tons of tips related to motivation, stress, perfectionism, goal achievement, behavior change, and beyond. I’m a voracious reader of psychology and nonfiction, so this was a fun opportunity to share some of the nuggets I’ve learned.
Q: What are three Diabetes Bright Spots you would single out, and how do you encourage them?
1. FOOD (Bright Spot): Eat less than 30 grams of carbohydrates at one time: Carbohydrates are the biggest driver of blood sugar spikes; reducing them takes out the biggest variable in my diabetes, keeps me much safer when dosing insulin, cuts my stress and worry, and lets me put diabetes in the background. This is the opposite of what I was told at diagnosis: “Eat whatever you want, as long as you take insulin for it.” That advice did not work.
How I encourage it: I have a bunch of fast, go-to meals and snacks that I like and don’t increase BG significantly. The book shares a ton of options, like nuts and seeds (chia seed pudding!), veggies (fill half my plate), eggs, giant salads, almond flour recipes, etc. My diet is actually high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs. What a gamechanger it has been!
2. MINDSET (Bright Spot): Remember why an in-range blood sugar benefits me TODAY: better mood, relationships, energy to do things that make me happy. The WHY in diabetes is critical, and “avoid long-term complications” is often not the best motivator. Complications are definitely scary, but they are also vague, far away, negative, and often not a compelling reason to make a different decision right now. In fact, I can rationalize my way out of making good decisions very easily: “Yes, that brownie looks good. What’s the harm in just one? I’ll get back on track tomorrow.” Finding positive TODAY reasons to take care of my diabetes and health makes a tremendous difference.
How I encourage it: I’m constantly reminding myself that to be a better human being and maximize my time on this planet TODAY, I need to keep my BG in range more often. I also try to pair how I feel and act with what my BG actually is. CGM is the most powerful tool for understanding this relationship, but a glucose meter works great too. What is my mood, energy, and thinking like at 50 mg/dl versus 100 mg/dl versus 250 mg/dl?
3. EXERCISE (Bright Spot): Walk, especially after meals and to correct a high BG. Without a doubt, walking is one of the most important therapies I use every day to benefit my diabetes, but it’s also one of the most underrated. It predictably drops blood sugar (especially after meals), helps correct high BGs more quickly than with insulin alone, lifts my spirits, is easy to do, gets me outside, and the time can be combined with other enjoyable activities (calling family, listening to podcasts, deep breathing). Plus, walking is free and can be done anywhere at nearly any time of day.
How I encourage it: Wearing a step tracker (I like Fitbit or Apple Watch); using our treadmill desk at work; taking walking breaks in the middle of the day; adopting a dog!; and evening walks with my girlfriend.
Q: What are two Diabetes Landmines you would single out from the book, and how do you avoid them?
1. FOOD (Landmine): Hypoglycemia Binge: overeating to correct a low or using it as an excuse to “treat myself”
How I avoid it: (i) Have go-to automatic corrections for hypoglycemia that are quantity limited and unappealing to overeat (glucose tabs and Smarties); (ii) Fill in the blanks: Eating ___ (amount) of ___ (food) raises my BG by ____ mg/dl (e.g., one glucose tab raises my BG by 20 mg/dl – this helps me take the right amount of carbs to get back to target, but no more); (iii) Do NOT use hypoglycemia as a justification to eat junk (I always regret it); and (iv) CGM often has lag time in hypoglycemia; it should not be the only indicator of “I’ve recovered” or “I’m still low and need to eat more.”
2. MINDSET (Landmine): Unproductive, deflating, blaming questions: Why am I so terrible at this? Why is this not working? Could diabetes be any worse? How could I make the same mistake again?
How I avoid it: Pay attention to the diabetes-related questions I routinely ask myself, especially when things aren’t going well. Am I asking Bright Spot or Landmine questions? Can I change the wording of my Landmine questions to make them more solutions-oriented and motivating? For example: What can I learn from this? What is one thing going well in my diabetes, even if it’s small (checking BG before breakfast)? How can I build on that? Is there anything I can do differently tomorrow to keep my BG in range? What are some different choices or experiments I can try this week?
Q: What things did you agonize the most over?
1. The title! We went through many iterations, including “Diabetes Bright Spots & Landmines” (too long), “Solving Diabetes” (a bit too presumptuous), and the original (read: terrible) title, “Make Diabetes Awesome.” Probably the worst title in the original brainstorm was, “Diabetes should be less awful and more awesome.” Haha! I’m so happy about the final title:subtitle combination, since it really illustrates the key takeaways and why I wrote the book in the first place.
2. How to make it look great, but price it as LOW as possible to ensure anyone with diabetes can get it. I love the model we ended up with – a free/name-your-own-price PDF download in full color; a print copy on Amazon ($6.99; black-and-white interior); and a Kindle version in color ($1.99).
3. Whether to do Kindle. I was ready to throw in the towel and not do Kindle at launch since I wasn’t happy with how it was looking. I’m sure glad we did it in the end!
Q: What are some of the most unconventional pieces of advice in the book?
- Chia seed pudding for breakfast
- Using Stickk.com as a commitment device, with the “stakes” as a donation to an “anti-charity” (an organization I don’t support)
- Focusing on TODAY reasons to care about diabetes, as opposed to long-term motivators
- Walking with a weighted vest
Q: What’s next?
Short-term, I’m super focused on finding every possible avenue to get this book into people’s hands – whether that’s print copies or digital versions.
We have plans for follow-up Adam’s Corner articles that talk about different pieces of the book. I’d also love to do an audio version, video snippets of different Bright Spots & Landmines, weekly Facebook Live Q&As with readers, and perhaps translation into other languages. If you have any ideas you’d like to see, please let me know at brightspots@diaTribe.org!
Thank you, Adam! This has been fun!