Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
2 Jan

11 Questions to Ask Yourself at the Start of a New Year

New Year QuestionsYesterday, we shared our new year visions with each other, and we took a look at some of the resources you have at your disposal here at Mark’s Daily Apple and PrimalBlueprint.com. Today, I’d like to help you further explore your goals and motivations, and assist you in establishing a concrete plan of attack for 2014. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is in my own life is to ask myself tough questions about my successes and failures, and to be brutally honest with my replies. In this article, I’ll suggest you do the same.

Now, this exercise must be done with some dedicated effort. A passing read through the questions while nodding only to forget about them in twenty minutes won’t get the job done. Discuss them with a friend, spouse, or loved one to make them real. Write them down on a piece of paper, or type your answers out. However you pay special attention to this exercise, give careful, thoughtful answers. This is about resolutions, but even more than that, this is about dialogue. Open, honest dialogue between your multiple selves, between the person that should be doing this or would rather be accomplishing that, and the person who does neither but desperately wants to. The resolutions will come, but expect it to take a little work. Let’s get to it…

1. What were your biggest failings or mistakes this past year – healthwise – that were preventable or avoidable?

As you do what we all do and revisit the ups and downs of 2013, focus on the downs that you could have prevented, the downs that you brought about by your actions (or inactions), because that’s where the meatiest, most relevant resolutions lie. That’s where you’ll discover what you don’t want to happen in the new year, and what you can do differently to ensure a positive outcome. Some of your mistakes were technically preventable but totally unforeseeable, and by identifying and reflecting on them you can see the warning signs next time.

2. What were your biggest health problems that were not preventable or avoidable – and how did you respond?

We learn amazing things about ourselves and our capacities when faced with unavoidable hardships that must be endured. A freak slip on ice that leads to a torn ligament and weeks of forced sedentism. The emergence of a health condition determined by genetics and chance. These reveal weak points, and strong points. They reveal room for improvement and areas where we deserve congratulation.

3. Which food consistently has the worst effect on you? How does it make you feel (or look, or perform)?

Food is a powerful determinant of our health, perhaps the most powerful. Avoiding food that makes you feel awful, then, is one of the most basic, fundamental resolutions a person interested in self improvement can make. You don’t want to resolve to stop eating food that hypothetically is bad for you, though. That can be a part of your resolution, but it’s not the focus point. Avoiding food that has already been shown to have negative effects on you? Now that’s a resolution that will definitely make a difference. By listing, in lurid, excruciating detail, the effect this food or foods have on you, the resolution will fall into place on its own because “how can you possibly ignore it?”

4. What concrete step or steps will you take to fulfill a more abstract resolution?

“Eat healthier” is a worthy goal. “Improve my fitness” is great. “Get outside more” is an admirable goal, but how do you actually do it? What does it mean? How are you going to accomplish those things? Those are abstract resolutions, the kind we all make, because they’re simple and easy to come up with. Everyone wants to “be a better person.” But it’s ultimately meaningless unless direct actionable steps are taken that get you closer to its realization.

5. Why are you where you are?

It’s a very fundamental question that works on several levels. What lifestyle choices led up to your current standing? Make any dietary changes? Exercise more, exercise less, exercise differently? How was the sleepstresssex? If “where you are” is a bad place, understanding how you got there will show you what to avoid in the future. If you’re in a good place, understanding how you got there will help you maintain the upward trajectory. You can’t establish causation or isolate all variables, but this isn’t peer review. This is about making some good, effective resolutions.

6. How will you hold yourself accountable?

Many, maybe most, New Year’s resolutions go unresolved because they exist only in the ether. No one but the person making them knows of their existence, and even that person usually avoids taking any real steps to make sure he’s sticking to the plan – if there’s a plan at all. So ask yourself how you’re going to avoid that common pitfall. Maybe you tell a friend. Maybe you track your progress in a Primal journal.

7. What kind of criticism have you received lately?

While we all need to look inward, self-reflections are often (or maybe always) biased. We see what we want to see, even when we’re trying to do some serious soul-searching. To bypass that potential problem, take a moment to think back on any criticism you’ve received from other people, even off the cuff stuff. What might have seemed like a malicious, undeserved attack at the time – “You’re so selfish!” – could actually be a legitimate fault that you should probably try to correct, or at least confront. Answers lie outside of us, too. How you appear to others might be an indication of how you actually are. Even it’s not an accurate portrayal and they’ve got you all wrong, you should figure out why you come across that way.

8. What are you willing to do to change?

We make a lot of resolutions that sound awesome, giving little thought to the fact that many changes are hard. They require work, and sacrifice, and, well, change – which is hard in and of itself. You’ve got a few vague ideas about changes you’d like to make, or maybe even some definite ones. Lay out all the things that might go into your resolution, and be a little pessimistic. Make it sound worse than it (probably) will be, because things rarely go smoothly. Do you still want to make that change?

9. What are you physically unable to do (comfortably) that you’d like to be able to do (comfortably)?

Just as the most effective type of exercise is the kind that you actually enjoy and are willing to do consistently, the most effective kind of fitness resolution aims to solve a problem that you actually have. Think about the physical acts you’d like to be able to perform but currently cannot, like comfortably sit in a squat for ten minutes, play full-court pickup basketball on the “good court,” hike the local mountain without feeling like you’re dying, do a pullup, or deadlift twice your bodyweight. It could be anything, really, as long as it’s something you actively want to do. To arrive at a fitness resolution that will serve a needed deficit in your life, identify the deficits.

10. What, or who, stands in your way?

Know your enemies. Size up your opponents. Take stock of what you’re up against, even (or especially) if its your own procrastination. That way, you’re not blindsided when stuff doesn’t fall into place immediately. And hey, you might even make mini-resolutions to deal with these opponents (you might have to, in fact). Let’s hope you don’t have an actual human arch-nemesis who’s trying to thwart your every move and sporting an evil-looking pencil thin mustache (although on second thought, that could be an incredible motivator) and you’re only talking in the abstract here.

11. If you could do anything with your life, and money were no object, what would you do?

It’s a common question, for good reason: it gets to the heart of what makes you tick. Knowing what you want out of life – in a big picture kind of way – will help you formulate effective resolutions that will actually get you closer to that goal. The funny thing about this one is that having excellent health usually figures prominently in the answer.

Spend some quality time going over these questions, either with yourself or with someone else. Talk them out. Write your answers down. Then, see how you feel about your New Year’s resolutions. See if you want to make any new ones or modify the ones you already have.

I hope these questions aid you in the eternal quest for New Year’s resolutions that actually happen! Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I would like to be a Registered Dietician but then again that field of study would have to stop being B.S. first!

    Groktimus Primal wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • That has been my line of thought as well! I would like to help others, but I fear what currently qualifies as ‘sound nutritional advice’ goes against everything I have experienced and know first hand in nutritional terms.

      Danielle wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • Robb Wolf is going to be doing a nutrition cert in the near future. Not sure if it’s just for healthcare providers or not. I plan on taking it, regardless. There are also other organizations that offer nutrition classes for lay people.

      Erin wrote on January 2nd, 2014
      • If you are in Australia I recommend the Food Coach Institute.

        Nate wrote on January 9th, 2014
    • I recently had an email exchange with a nutritionist who wrote an article for the newspaper. Most of it was the usual erroneous BS; some of it was utterly ridiculous. (I doubt she’s ever heard of MDA.) She was claiming that markets and restaurants should be required by law to “help” overeaters. This was supposed to be accomplished by keeping candy and junkfood items away from the cash register and keeping restaurant portions much smaller. I had to wonder, did she seriously think such measures would deter the hardcore food junkies? I was so frustrated by her asinine theories that it was difficult to remain civil.

      One has to have the desire and the willpower to be thin and healthy. If that’s missing, all other measures will fail.

      Shary wrote on January 2nd, 2014
      • People like that are scary – they feel they need to make decisions for everybody, under the pretence of trying to be helpful. What she actually craves is to be part of a dictatorship with her making the decisions.

        Arctic Fox wrote on January 2nd, 2014
        • How about this: Rather then remove the food from “overeaters”, empower them by teaching them to take charge od their own health, like MDA does, and to think for themselves. Unfortunatley this means that we will no longer have a use for her…

          Arctic Fox wrote on January 2nd, 2014
      • Shary, I share your frustration. I wrote about essentially same thing in the “about me” section of my site:

        “I paid big money to attend medical school in the United States and I did not learn anything about ideal nutrition. Can you guess what medical students in medical schools across the country are told about nutrition? We learned the same unhealthy focus on grains that everyone else hears from the US FDA. “Eat 6-11 servings of breads and cereals every day.” Considering the impact our food choices have on our health, it ought to be a doctor’s top priority to teach people how unhealthy the FDA food pyramid actually is.”

        And have you heard recently about a Canadian mom who had to pay a $10 fine (yes, a FINE – that’s how they do it in Canada) for sending her child to school with home-made roast beef, potatoes, carrots and oranges and but no grains? The school sent her a note that supplemented her child’s lunch with Ritz crackers.

        paleocrush mom wrote on January 2nd, 2014
        • That is just over the top – I thought Canada was a democracy ? – the flaw in a control system such as that, is when the prescribers stop questioning themselves, they become dictators.

          Arctic Fox wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • Wenchypoo wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • As a registered dietitian I can tell you that the current curriculum for RDs is seeping with CW and inaccurate information. They still push for low-fat, whole grains, etc. Much of the corruption lies within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Suffering through that curriculum not only helped enhance my passion for REAL knowledge for nutrition but I also think it has helped me in my quest to enlighten others as well (both future RDs and not).
      It is frustrating to have so much bad information out there to the public and even worse that RDs are encouraging it. I tend to roll my eyes whenever a dietitian (or doctor for that matter) speaks about healthy diets. But! Have faith that we aren’t all sitting around telling our clients to cut back on the fat and eat grains and drink soymilk to lose weight and get healthy. Some of us (more and more, I suspect) subscribe, prescribe and live the primal/paleo way!

      Claire, PrimalRD wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • I’m in vet school now and went in knowing I’d have to suck it up and be a parrot for four years before I got my degree and could do what I want with it. I want to have a very holistic practice but until then, I’ll just smile and nod at their band-aid/downstream approach to medicine, how vaccines are the greatest things ever, and how we should pump our animals up with flea/tick/heartworm preventatives.

      Natalie wrote on January 4th, 2014
      • Oh, and don’t forget the bribery to feed my patients the SAD-equivalent of pet food.

        Natalie wrote on January 4th, 2014
        • I switched our cats to Acana and never looked back :)

          Claire, PrimalRD: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is likely getting a ton of money from wheat farmers.

          paleocrush mom wrote on January 4th, 2014
    • I hear you Claire! I, too, am a registered dietitian that is sickened by the influence of Big Food (and I use the term “food” loosely) on expert recommendations. The science is clear, and I encourage anyone looking for sound guidance from an RD to find one with a focus on integrative and functional nutrition. I am saddened that so many of our peers simultaneously have the right motives and downright awful guidelines. I’ll go enjoy some pastured bacon and eggs (WITH choline-rich yolks) now :) to everyone else– I promise that we scientifically sound RDs are out there!

      Real science RD wrote on January 5th, 2014
  2. Great advice and reflections to enhance all vectors of life in 2014, in addition to health – career, finances, relationships, parenting, friendships, etc. Thanks and happy new year!

    Paula PaleoParisian wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  3. Great! will share this :D

    Lovelyliller.com wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  4. Number 4 is where the rubber hits the road! I like 9 too. I like adding a physical improvement or feat as a resolution. Mine will be a back handspring!

    Luke wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • Exactly. I think everyone should hack away at a performance goal. I had a lot of success this year from stregth training and the feeling you get from increasing weights is awesome.

      mmajunkie87 wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  5. In 2013, I learned that a great support network can make all the difference in the world. I also learned that everyone has very strong opinions about what Paleo/Primal actually mean. And Paleo people are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met.

    For 2014, I want to continue to push New Orleans toward accepting healthy lifestyles. Together we can change the statistics and no longer be known as the most unhealthy city in the US. My goal in 2014 is to get more restaurants willing to accept the idea and at least offer us more primal choices!

    We came along way in 2013 (almost 400 members strong now) and shooting for 1000 members by the end of 2014!

    Tamara (New Orleans) wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  6. I really love questions 9 & 11!

    9. What are you physically unable to do (comfortably) that you’d like to be able to do (comfortably)?

    I’m setting a goal to be able to do 100 burpees in 5 minutes! I just tested myself, and I got 46 burpees. I think a year to achieve the goal will be reasonable, if I chip away it it a little bit each week!

    11. If you could do anything with your life, and money were no object, what would you do?

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately! I’m working towards being able to spend most (if not all) of my time helping others rather than spending so much time working to earn a paycheck! Once again, baby steps each week will help towards reaching this goal.

    Thanks, Mark, for the thought-provoking questions, and Happy New Year everyone!

    Carrie wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  7. I want to keep simplifying, simplifying, simplifying…and like always, being less judgemental of others.

    Nocona wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  8. If money was no object, I’d go to every PrimalCon and Luxury Retreat!

    Elaine wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  9. I had neurological issues for several months that I wrote off as old age and arthritis, until I landed in the ER with *maybe* a TIA (the neurologist still isn’t sure.)

    My best friend criticized me for sometimes saying “I’ll do whatever I want to do” without regard for the effect on others. (She and my family went through hell because the doc said I might die or wind up unable to speak.) She meant refusing to take meds like statins, which I still refuse to take. But I realized it could apply to eating whatever non-Primal food I wanted.

    So, I am much stricter now. I do eat (organic, pastured) dairy because my ancestors did and it seems to work well for me. After I got out of the hospital, the doc said I might have early stage Parkinson’s or something similar, which according to tests I do not, so I started eating tons of healthy vegetables as Wahls recommends, and being stricter about carbs. I’m gonna go on doing those things despite apparently not having a neurological disease.

    Harry Mossman wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • I have been dealing with many neurological issues for many years although not as critical. I have made an incredible breakthough this last year. I have learned that most neurological symptoms come from your gut!!!!!! There is almost direct wiring between your gut and your brain. My symptoms were so bizarre and varied that all health care practitioners just thought I was a complainer or a crank. Anyhow, I finally found help. If you are adhering to a grain free and sugar free diet and still hae these symptoms, you may have a low level intestinal infection like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
      They now have a test for this! And treatment! Look for the work of Dr. Alison Seibecker, in Portalnd OR (naturopath). Good luck in 2014.

      AnneK wrote on January 4th, 2014
  10. Gav at Zen Pencils did an illustration of the eleventh one (an Alan Watts quote). (Search for Zen Pencils #98.) I find the illustration helps some people visualize it better.

    Jaber wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • Love this, but what do you do when you can’t answer the question?

      Paul wrote on January 2nd, 2014
      • I suppose it’s like when you start your health journey, and you make it back from “terrible” to “not terrible.” You haven’t yet experienced “health” or “great health,” but you ask “Am I healthy?” from time to time and know that you’re getting better. The journey reveals a continuum of health.

        I myself haven’t been able to answer Watts’ question, but by asking it every day, I’ve learned what things I *don’t* want to do, and I’ve changed accordingly.

        I’ve still a ways to go on the continuum of happiness, but I also know I’m not a gambler or long-term planner and that there’s no Go Directly to Happiness trick or five-year plan. I figure it’s a question to ask myself every day and react accordingly.

        We can always improve, but we always normalize — I believe that the saying, about how all lottery winners are no more happier than they were before within months of winning, holds true for every new level of happiness achieved. So even if we’ve “made it,” we still have to be able to answer Watts’ question again and adjust.

        Jaber wrote on January 3rd, 2014
    • Oh, what a beautiful and fun illustration! Thanks for sharing that.

      tkm wrote on January 3rd, 2014
  11. Part of my new year food plan is to include more salt. In medical school I always heard “limit sodium” – it became gospel.

    http://j.mp/indefenseofsalt

    Too little can actually harm health.

    paleocrush mom wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • When Mark said we need about 2 teaspoons salt a day I was surprised, I do NOT eat enough at that rate. Sometimes I put a little sea salt in my water so I can keep the BP up where it should be.
      I think I just printed a recipe of yours, thanks!

      2Rae wrote on January 2nd, 2014
      • I heard a rule of thumb – put a haf-teaspoon salt in a glass of water and take a sip – depending on how “salty” it tastes gives you an indication if you are deficient, the more salty it tastes, the less you need. Also urine colour is an indicator.

        Arctic Fox wrote on January 2nd, 2014
      • you’re welcome :) let me know how which one and how it turned out.

        paleocrush mom wrote on January 4th, 2014
    • I salt my food after it’s cooked and I use the pink Himalayan salt. I find that processed and prepared foods have way too much sodium for me, and when I season my own cooking, I know I’m using less salt than if I had bought the food as a prepared item.

      My cooking tastes just fine salt-wise so I figure I am where I need to be regarding a salt intake.

      I used to always be really, really thirsty after eating out or eating a prepared item, but now that I salt my own cooking, I don’t have that problem. Pink Himalayan Salt is a mineral rich salt and readily available for a reasonable price — in fact, Costco sells it in chunky crystal form with it’s own salt grinder for less than $4.00!

      I used to suffer from really major severe leg cramps at night, but when I finally got smart and started to use more salt (Pink Himalayan) the leg cramps were gone and have stayed gone! Just a suggestion, people —-

      PrimalGrandma wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  12. Very pertinent questions for the new year. I will be taking the time to go through them and create a game plan to help me realize my resolution: Eat the way that makes me feel good physically (and not purely emotionally).

    meg wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  13. Wow! very informative and sheds some light on quality questions we should be asking ourselves. #mobiusfit

    jammie wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  14. I would move to the middle of nowhere, plant my own crops have a few cows and pigs, Have a little cabin next to a wide river in a valley with trees that actually shed leaves. snow on mountain peaks. Rain in the winter with the occasional frost. I would have three or four Labrador mixes. Maybe a horse. Read a lot more!

    Samantha wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • +1

      aly c. wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  15. These questions are really helpful and I don’t know why I didn’t think to ask myself these questions before instead of blindly making more resolutions or the same resolutions I didn’t achieve last year. I especially think the question about criticism is interesting as often I try to shut negativity out– but using it constructively is such a better alternative!

    Florence wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  16. My goal for the year: Be able to complete slow and controlled muscle-ups on both the straight bar and rings, and be able to perform 12 deep pistol squats on each leg, unassisted. This all must be done in perect form. No “springing” or jumping cheats allowed

    Arctic Fox wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  17. I would like to deadlift 200lbs. I’m not sure I can get there in a year. I’m pretty old and it takes a long time. I’m deadlifting around 150lbs now.

    Diane wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  18. my goal is to overcome the availability of food. when I was single, I just didn’t keep certain foods in my house. no problem. now there are things in my kitchen that my family can eat healthily, that I cannot. but because it’s there, and it’s yummy, I indulge and suffer. my goal this year is to make a habit of choosing to NOT eat what does NOT work well for me.

    aly c. wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  19. great way to start the new year…early last year i let myself get derailed with a move and have only returned to primal in the past month…hope I make it past #1, that reflection could take a while!

    primaldawning wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  20. My fitness goals goals for 2014 are to join the 1000lb club (squat, bench, deadlift), lose 2% more body fat, and become more flexible measured by grabbing foot during hamstring stretch. My diet goals are to limit continuous nut butter and dark chocolate snacking, as well as to increase green vegetables. I will blog about progress at least weekly and use my girlfriend to keep me accountable.

    BFBVince wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  21. If money were no object, I would purchase a nice house with lofted ceilings, lots of windows and some elbow room near the ocean somewhere. Oh yea, and have a hammock and a fishing pole nearby.

    TLady wrote on January 2nd, 2014
    • Yes Please!

      Marion wrote on January 4th, 2014
  22. My biggest problem area has been and continues to be.. a lack of sleep.
    It lowers my willpower, destroys my energy level, and sours my mood.

    I think I need to find a solution for this issue in 2014.

    jefferson wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  23. First order of business for me this year – heal wounds. I have too many minor wounds and complaints to get into detail. It would take too long. But new year’s eve I got attacked by a friend’s dog and it did a number to my hands. I had to get some stitches. It was getting hostile with me for some reason at the start of the night, then I was able to get friendly with it by letting it smell my hands and hair and get used to me, then later on it got hostile again and I tried to let it smell my hands again, bad idea.. it started chewing them up, so I reacted and threw some punches at it and just kind of grazed its face, then I stopped and just held my fists there thinking it might back down and it clamped onto one. I had the deepest, widest gash on my palm near my thumb that I’ve ever had in my life. There was a lot of blood. I smelled the gash and I could actually smell the flesh, not just the blood. It smelled like raw beef liver. While waiting a ridiculous amount of time at the hospital I had an ice chip from the ice machine sitting in the cut, it. I will heal fine though.
    By the way I saw Mark on TV this morning. There was a feature about how giving up grains solved all his problems and showed him doing some beach running, which was good, though I was a bit disappointed that there was no mention about anything else primal and the caption said Mark’s Daily Apple but never said it was a website.

    Animanarchy wrote on January 3rd, 2014
    • editing made me mess up a sentence.. = ice machine sitting in the cut, it was that deep.

      Animanarchy wrote on January 3rd, 2014
    • So sorry about the dog attacks! I knew a little girl that would get bit by dogs because she had a slight tremor due to her health issues. They would like her until they would see the tremor and then attack her. It was dangerous for her to be alone with dogs for sure.

      2Rae wrote on January 3rd, 2014
    • And no anesthetic for the stitches. Not that it was necessary since it was new year’s eve. Still, when I refused the freezing needle the nurse and doctor seemed to think I was a bit crazy. I had my arm and hand flat on the table and held it still at the wrist with my other hand, wincing. I remembered to add that just now because a recent chainsaw massacre movie is on and the guy was sewing someone else’s face onto his own.

      Animanarchy wrote on March 15th, 2014
  24. This is a great set of questions. This exercise definitely allows for some great introspection and evaluation.

    Captain Competition wrote on January 3rd, 2014
  25. This was a great exercise to go through…it helped to clarify a lot of loose thoughts that have been bouncing around. And hopefully the clarity will translate to better focus in 2014!

    JG wrote on January 3rd, 2014
  26. This post came right at the right time for me. My primal diet 2nd anniversary is a few days away, and it has been a truly life altering time for me. Now, after taking the past year to reevaluate my goals, I’ve finally decided on pursuing a career in whole foods nutrition. I tend to stand in my own way, and having numerous food allergies has been a struggle for me both emotionally and physically. This year my goal is to respect my true nature by giving myself the time and space I need to recharge, and also to legitimately NOT eat the foods I’m allergic to.

    Mikel wrote on January 4th, 2014
  27. We really enjoyed this post. We love writing goals + breaking them down into smaller steps to make them acheivable.

    From your post we are going to look at what foods consistently have the worst effects on us? We already eat paleo but continually consume foods that we know don’t nourish our bodies and make us feel sick. We will create a list and write the effects down to remind us why we shouldn’t eat them!!

    Thanks!!
    Emma + Carla

    The merrymaker sisters wrote on January 6th, 2014

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