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

woman journaling goalsOne thing I like to do at the end of every year is look back on how I spent the last 12 months. This past year was like no other. There were a lot of surprises. A lot of reasons goals were more difficult to achieve. A lot of forces in play.

It’s possibly more important to reflect on this year than any other year. My reflection practice follows loosely the same structure every year. I’ll go through my usual practice of asking myself tough questions about my successes and failures — and to be brutally honest with my replies. But this year, there’s another layer.

The overtone is, what did I overcome? 

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…

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1. What health practices did you let go of in the face of uncertainty?

Over the years, you may have adopted health practices that made you feel better in your day-to-day life. Maybe you kept your sugar consumption low, you gave up alcohol, or you pass on grains. If you brought old habits back when times got tough, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’ve identified something you need to look out for when you’re under stress. Don’t punish yourself for it. Recognize it as something you learned about yourself.

Frame it as: When things feel hopeless, I crave sugar, so I know now to know to be ready for sugar cravings when I’m stressed. 

Not: I was such a bad person for eating so much sugar in 2020.

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

Maybe you got a new diagnosis, or you caught what’s going around. Maybe you had some shakeups in your career. We learn amazing things about ourselves and our capacities when faced with unavoidable hardships that must be endured. These reveal weak points, and strong points. They reveal room for improvement and areas where we deserve congratulation. Reflect on both sides of it.

I suspect a lot of you overcame a lot, and deserve a lot of credit for how you faced your individual challenges.

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

If you defected from your normal eating patterns this year when things got rocky, look at it as an opportunity. There’s a good chance you felt the effects, and the effects were probably more pronounced than before. Use this as information and as an impetus for action. Avoiding food that makes you feel awful, then, is one of the most basic, fundamental resolutions a person interested in self improvement can make. 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. “Learn this skill” is one of my favorites. “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? What external forces landed you here – economic or pandemic related? If “where you are” is a bad place, understanding how you got there will show you how to approach 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 journal. Work in some form of accountability.

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 could actually be a legitimate blind spot that may serve you well to confront. Answers lie outside of us, too. How you appear to others might be an indication of how you actually are. A lot of the time, the other person’s insecurities makes them say things that have no merit, but it’s worth evaluating.

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?

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.

TAGS:  goals

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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61 thoughts on “11 Questions to Ask Yourself at the Start of a New Year”

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    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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…

      2. 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.

        1. 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.

    4. 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!

    5. 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.

      1. Oh, and don’t forget the bribery to feed my patients the SAD-equivalent of pet food.

        1. 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.

      2. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on the monthly dose of heartguard being recommended. I found a site that says every 3 months is plenty of protection, but the mainstream over and over again says once a month. Any resources you’d recommend to find the truth on this?

    6. 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!

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. I want to keep simplifying, simplifying, simplifying…and like always, being less judgemental of others.

  6. If money was no object, I’d go to every PrimalCon and Luxury Retreat!

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. I, too, have begun trying to follow the Wahl’s protocol. I suspect that it will help with any issue that has to do with neurological health, and really, ALL kinds of health! Who would not want to maximize their mitochondrial health and nerve function?! Good luck to you!

  8. 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.

    1. Love this, but what do you do when you can’t answer the question?

      1. 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.

    2. Oh, what a beautiful and fun illustration! Thanks for sharing that.

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

    2. 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 —-

  9. 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).

  10. Wow! very informative and sheds some light on quality questions we should be asking ourselves. #mobiusfit

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. Aly, maybe it would help to put the foods that you need to avoid in a special spot? It may help you set barriers…

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

    1. editing made me mess up a sentence.. = ice machine sitting in the cut, it was that deep.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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!!

    Emma + Carla

  24. Nice Article. Hope this year will be good for every business and people. Our Digital Textile Printer business too suffered due to covid.

  25. I am glad you didn’t give any affiliate link here and gave direct link.