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Taking Stock of 2010: Your Annual Health Review

The time leading up to New Year’s is typically about everything but resolutions – or related reflection. With the seasonal slew of parties, shopping, and travel, resolutions too often emerge spontaneously from the hazy shadow of holiday recovery. Little wonder these last minute, little thought out pledges barely make it beyond the starting gate. Here’s a modest proposal to consider: forget the resolutions (for now). Instead of planning for 2011, take the day (or more) to mull, ponder, scrutinize, dissect, chew on, and generally pore over 2010. Think long and hard – from where you were sitting last January 1st to now. What kind of year was it for your health and overall well-being? (Do I hear applause, sighs, groans?) What were your successes? Your failures? Unfinished business? New or ongoing excuses? (Hint: Brutal honesty and unbridled inquest are key here.) Wherever you are in your Primal journey, this New Year’s Eve there’s a lot to gain from a serious and thorough self-review.

So, here’s the nitty gritty. Find some time when you can be by yourself (or at least be free from rampant interruption). Take out some paper. Yes, really. Commit to the process. Here’s a PDF [1] you can print off for this very purpose. (Added bonus: it pairs perfectly with the document in tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned.) Start perusing this year’s story.

Recall your triumphs and failures in all their revealing detail. Ask yourself what was behind the successes and shortcomings. Look your ghosts in the eye. Submitting yourself to this examination is a crucial step of the process. (You don’t want to be a step-skipper, do you?)

The principle behind the exercise is this: understanding where you’ve been – and how things have worked (or not) in the past – will help you create a more promising agenda as you move forward. On the subject of health and wellness, what did you attempt this past year? Where were you successful in your endeavors? What strategies, relationships, and other aids facilitated that success? Where did you fall short? What about your approach or motivation just didn’t get you over the hump? What excuses did you make? Write ‘em all down – every single one. What choices and situations contributed to your stumbling? What do you think could’ve helped you gain back your traction?

I’m sure you see what I’m getting at here. Examine your experience and learn from it. It’s not about kicking yourself for not following what “should’ve” worked. If you’re genuinely committed, it’s about setting yourself up for success – however that should look for you personally. We’ve all dealt in trial and error. It’s accepting the lesson that matters.

We’re all different, and some tactics do the job for some and not for others. As I’ve mentioned before, a dorm mate of mine long ago taped colorful drill sergeant like insults as “motivation” reminders in every part of the room. His note system scared off a few dates, but it worked for him. A reader I corresponded with earlier this year kept a multimedia journal tracing her personal experience going Primal. For her, it helped her get through the rough patches. Collages of family pictures – both those who’d passed from lifestyle conditions and those she wanted to live for – gave her perspective throughout her journey.

Likewise, I’ve heard from readers who followed what they read in a magazine but never fully made the process their own. Making a major lifestyle change involves more than some standard checklist. Yes, the logistical stuff matters, and for some it’s enough: amassing Primal diet tips and recipes, setting up a workout space or joining a gym, changing schedules to allow for more sleep. For most of us, however, the journey [2] takes on more personal dimensions. It’s about knowing yourself (which, for most of us, reveals itself in new ways throughout our transitions [3]). It’s about drawing out your deepest energies, your most creative and flexible thinking, your brave and better self. The situations and techniques that allowed you to do this in 2010 offer a good starting point for strategizing in 2011. Those that didn’t work in 2010 can generally be closed off as dead-ends.

Doing an annual review like this is foremost about strategizing, yes. However, it also offers the chance to formally let go of emotional disappointments and regrets. The other day I ran across a New Year’s e-card that drolly proposed, “Let’s never speak of 2010 again.” (Hopefully, your year doesn’t inspire that kind of reaction.) It’s not about satirical repudiation of course (what happened in 2010 stays in 2010), but about achieving a genuine mental release. New Year’s resolutions are so popular because the new year offers a clean slate, a second chance, a start over that lets anyone feel like they can steer their story in a more promising direction. There’s real power in that – but also obligation. To let go of what’s done – the failings, the stumbles, the shame, the timidity, and insecurities that may have held you back – requires examining them from every angle, turning them inside out, and finding a healthy way to relegate – and release – them to the past.

As you sit and think about 2010, try to create meaning from it, assign the role it will play in your learning process. Then decide what you will take with you. A couple years ago, I mentioned a Scottish tradition (also practiced in other cultures) of opening the door on New Year’s Eve to sweep out the preceding year and welcome in the new one. What will you be thinking of as the years cross paths tonight? What are you releasing, and what are you retaining to fortify your efforts in the new year? I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts. Enjoy a happy and safe celebration, everyone, and check back tomorrow for part two of this exercise!