Obviously a check-in can be done any time, and the Gregorian calendar is a weird artifact of history that has no absolute meaning, but there are undeniable advantages to doing an annual review at the New Year. It’s up to you what you want to put in it, as well.
Lists of grievances and personal vendettas with matching caricatures
Inventions to patent
Obscure parts of the home to decorate and post on Instagram
Hopelessness seems to be a common response to the concept of a yearly review. I don’t get this at all. I can’t imagine why, other than social comparison, it would bother someone to think that you have the power to add more of what you like to your life.
If you want to be sad every day, can you sad more sadly? Nobody is going to stop you.
It doesn’t have to be perky, cute, cheerful, socially acceptable, or photogenic. It doesn’t need illustrations or a soundtrack. It just has to be yours.
It doesn’t have to be relatable, either. I believe this to my very depths, and that’s why I pursue my New Year’s perimeter check even though resolutions have been so unfashionable for so long. More than half of people refuse to set a resolution and of those who do, over 80% have quit by February.
Either it doesn’t work, nobody likes it, everyone is doing it wrong, or I am a freak. I’ve never let any of those things stop me before...
Here is a basic sense of what I mean by a ‘perimeter check.’
Who is in my life? What does my typical day look like? Where am I spending most of my time? What is that space like? What am I doing, and is it working?
How is my energy level?
What am I liking and not liking? What do I want more of, what do I want less of?
The people. Who are the five most important people in my life? Am I showing up for them? Am I letting the time I have for them be eaten up by people who are less vital to my life? (Example: arguing with an anonymous griefer or troll rather than talking to someone I know and love)
The routine. Can I quantify where my time goes, or am I losing track? Can I cut anything out of my schedule? Is it time to let go of a commitment to make time for something else?
The space. Space clearing! Is there enough room for me to live my life? Do I have somewhere to do the things I want to do?
The energy level. Am I tired all the time? Is there anything obvious in my routine, my space, or my social life that is affecting my energy level? How do I want to feel most days, and what am I willing to do or change to spark that feeling?
Like, dislike. Is someone else setting those preferences? Do I even know what I want, in major and minor ways?
More and less. More sleep, less scrolling. More face-to-face conversation, less reading the comments. Or whatever.
For the visuals, I like to draw a life wheel. Typically there are eight slices of the pie, but that can be adjusted to suit. Categories are up to you; for instance, one could be “tacos” and you could rate your year on quality and quantity of tacos. My categories are:
Friends & family
This is where I think the trouble starts, why this exercise can feel so depressing. What if you feel like you get a zero for everything?
I can say from experience that this is how it gets better.
It’s my perception that a lot of guesswork goes into a diagnosis of depression. We’re *told* that it’s neurochemical, without any literal, objective, actual bloodwork or brain scans going on. (Even though they are technologically possible). Prescriptions are written after fifteen-minute consults (if that, ha) and it can take several years to get confirmation when those initial diagnoses prove incorrect.
I think it’s helpful to point out that there are differences between depression, other neurochemical or physiological states that feel pretty depressing, grief, sorrow, and depressing situations and circumstances. Life review is a piece that can serve to figure this out, to get a better sense of what is going on.
If you have depression and you also live in depressing circumstances, then it may be possible to get faster results by working on the circumstances first.
If you actually do not have depression (maybe it’s medical, like low thyroid, did they check that?), then working on improving depressing circumstances may be all you needed after all. That, and a more competent doctor...
I used this same sort of rating system to track, analyze, and overcome chronic pain and fatigue, migraine, night terrors, and insomnia, among other things. Those problems were real to me - just as your pain and sorrow are real - but I didn’t lose my identity when they went away. It’s mighty interesting to get to know yourself, the you that exists under the shadow of your worst problems.
The emotions that I want to feel around my annual review may include elation, joy, and delight, but those are not the feeling states that drive me most of the time. I do aim for domestic contentment most of all, because I feel like it’s the most impact for the effort and it also benefits others around me. Happiness, though, isn’t always on my dial. What I prefer is to follow my curiosity. Intense interest is my preferred setting. Satisfaction is only possible for me, personally, through challenge. Serious challenge.
This is what happens when I do my annual review. I spend a few days sorting and getting rid of stuff, cleaning, emptying out the fridge, and maybe rearranging furniture. I evaluate the past year and make plans for the upcoming year, including travel and family visits. I make sure I’m starting the year without loose ends, like library fines. I do a broad overview of my finances and my fitness level. I try to be as accurate about the reality of my daily life as I can, because I’m the one who has to live it. I wake up with myself every day. Whatever else is going on, whatever external slings and arrows affect my circumstances, at least I can be clear about my own values and whether I’m living up to them. I can stand up for myself and be my own ally, even in the hardest years when I need myself the most. Even more, I can consider whether I am showing up for the people who make me want to show up for them.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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