How to Develop Your Diabetes Action Plan

Learn how setting goals can help you stay on top of your diabetes management.

a middle aged Black woman sits on the edge of her bed and writes in her journal

Updated on March 15, 2024.

Managing diabetes requires care, commitment, and planning. With your diagnosis, it’s helpful to create an action plan that is specific to you.

To develop this plan, you’ll likely work with a healthcare provider (HCP) to decide which goals are best for you and how you’ll reach them. Here are some tips to get you started.

Try the S.M.A.R.T. method for setting goals

To manage your diabetes in the way that’s best for you, it may help to follow a method of goal-setting called “S.M.A.R.T.” These types of goals are:

Specific: It helps to think about what you want to achieve and how that will look. You might say, “I will walk one mile every other evening on a path I map through my neighborhood.”

Measurable: Measuring your progress lets you know when you’ve hit your goal. For example, if you set a goal of walking every other evening, log your progress in a calendar, notepad, or on your phone.

Attainable: Make sure you have what you need to achieve your goal. If an evening walk is part of your plan, ask your partner, a neighbor, or a friend to watch your kids while you get your walk in. 

Realistic: Your goal needs to be something you know you can achieve, and you need to feel a commitment to it, not just an obligation. You might create a "mission statement" for yourself to follow, like, “Committing to exercise as a lifestyle change is important to me and this plan will help me achieve that change.” Meanwhile, if you are new to exercise, start by walking a mile at a time rather than five miles. 

Time-bound: This means setting a realistic timeline or deadline for yourself for meeting your goal. As in, “By the end of the first week, I will have walked three times, for a total of three miles. By the end of the month, that will be 15 walks and 15 miles.”

What kinds of goals should you include?

There are several areas to focus on to manage your diabetes and blood sugar levels. These include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Regular physical activity
  • Medication adherence, such as taking your medication if you have a prescription
  • Checking your blood sugar levels on a regular basis
  • Developing problem-solving plans
  • Reducing risks associated with having diabetes
  • Mental health, such as coping with your diagnosis and its management

These seven areas of management are what the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES) calls the "ADCES7 Self-Care Behaviors." Talk with your HCP about appropriate goals for you in each of these areas. Everyone’s needs will differ, and your plan should be personalized to your situation.

And you don’t need to set big goals for each of these. You can create small steps and short-term targets. For example, a reasonable goal might be, “Eat two servings of vegetables every day this week.” Then re-evaluate how your plan has worked for you as you reach each deadline.

Remember not to overlook the mental health aspects of your plan. Getting a diabetes diagnosis can be upsetting or even shocking, so be sure to include goals related to maintaining a healthy outlook and getting support when you need it. That may mean taking time when you can to talk about your feelings and mood with a trusted friend or loved one.

A special case: illness

Even well-designed plans can be interrupted when you have an unexpected illness. That includes your diabetes management plan.

As best as you can, try to stay up-to-date with healthcare visits and screenings that are recommended for your age, health history, and sex. These steps might include getting regular blood pressure checks, screening for breast and colon cancer, and ensuring that your vaccinations are up to date. An HCP can offer guidance on what care is right for you.

But even the most careful attention to such details can’t completely protect you from illnesses like the common cold. That’s why you’ll need an alternative plan in case you get sick. This kind of planning can fall under the “problem-solving” area of your management plan. 

If you get sick, you might adjust your diabetes management plan by checking your blood sugar levels more frequently, staying hydrated by drinking more water, and having your HCP's number handy in case you need more help. As with all parts of your management plan, these sick-day steps should be developed in coordination with your HCP.

Evaluating your success

Each time you reach a significant moment in time (such as the end of a month), it’s a good idea to pause and look back at examples of where you met your goal or where you fell short. If you didn't make your goal, look at the factors that affected your progress and see what you can do to reduce those obstacles for your next steps. Talk to your HCP about ideas for adjusting a goal or minimizing setbacks.

These moments of self-evaluation are also your time to establish your next set of goals, in partnership with your HCP.

The process of managing diabetes is an ongoing one. Maintaining the beneficial changes you make in your lifestyle is key and refreshing your goals as you assess your progress can help.

Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself for meeting your goals. Include in your plan some small but special prizes for achieving your goals. That might be a long, quiet bath, or taking a break to watch your favorite TV show.

Article sources open article sources

SAMHSA. Setting Goals and Developing Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound Objectives. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Nguyen-Vaselaar HT. 847-P: Goal-Setting Behavior for Physical Activity in Diabetics: A Quality Improvement Project. Diabetes. 2021;70(Supplement_1).
Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. The Framework for Optimal Self-Management. Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Eating right doesn’t have to be boring. Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. It’s a great time to get moving. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Joslin Diabetes. Joslin Diabetes Center’s Clinical Guidelines for Management of Adults with Diabetes. Approved February 13, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. Where Do I Begin with Type 2? Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Blood glucose can make all the difference. Accessed December 1, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Problem Solving to Improve Diabetes Management. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Prevent Diabetes Complications. Last reviewed November 3, 2022.
American Diabetes Association. Understanding diabetes and mental health. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists & Kolb L. An effective model of diabetes care and education: the ADCES7 Self-Care Behaviors. The Science of Diabetes Self-Management and Care. 2021;47(1), 30-53.
American Diabetes Association. Flu and Pneumonia Shots. Accessed December 1, 2022.
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Managing Diabetes. Last reviewed December 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Managing Sick Days. Page last reviewed February 28, 2022.
Abbott. What to Know: The Flu and Diabetes. November 13, 2018.
Petry NM, Cengiz E, et al. Incentivizing behaviour change to improve diabetes care. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2013 Dec;15(12):1071-6. 
LSU Health. Changing Behaviors to Help Self-Manage Diabetes. Accessed December 1, 2022.

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