As the Congress debates health care reform in Washington, New Year's offers us an opportunity to do some personal health care reform of our own. But instead of making individual resolutions which are often times quickly forgotten, New Year's is a good time to take personal inventory of our lives, says Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.
"In so many fields we take stock, we take inventory, we take a pulse at the end of the year," says Farley, a professor at Temple. "Sports commentators are going to be reviewing the year in sports and pundits will be doing the same for politics. Even businesses do an end of the year inventory and balancing of the books.
"But we are not so good at doing that about ourselves, reflecting and assessing how we've done this past year," he says.
Historically, says Farley, the end of the calendar year has enormous impact on us as we construct our lives to a very large extent around the calendar, with December 31 being a very important date.
"I don't think it is trivial this time of year to take psychological stock or personal stock of ourselves, and try to decide, 'Ok, I'm going to work on this, I'm going to do that,'" he says. "The taking stock, whether you make resolutions or not, is very helpful at the end of the year and the end of the decade as we are now.
"And we might need to know where we stand this particular January 1, because we are in the midst of a 'perfect storm' of stress and challenges in this country, with a highly unpredictable economy, with unemployment at the highest levels in decades, with two ongoing wars, and with a relatively new administration in Washington," Farley adds. "These developments have a common thread, uncertainty.
"What will 2010 bring; how shall we proceed as a nation, and individually, in the face of all this?" he says. "Planning and knowledge are important antidotes to uncertainty and the fear that uncertainty can bring. Setting goals and personal strategies for your entry into the New Year can help reduce the uncertainty and thus the fear."
Farley, a past president of the American Psychological Association, suggests making a list of things that are absolutely essential that you have to deal with in the coming year. "We do that in a sense everyday; lots of people keep 'to do' lists in one way of another, but this one should be more reflective and it often isn't."
In addition, making a list will give you more focus and direction in how you can concentrate on those items that you wish to deal with, he says.
Once you have made your list of things "to do" or resolutions, Farley recommends sharing them with family or friends as a sort of support system for seeing your resolutions through.
"There is often a flip, glib or impulsive quality to some of the resolutions we come up with at New Year's and they are often going nowhere," he points out. "But having family, friends or professionals help with your resolutions is going to have more impact than just a personal resolution that you keep to yourself or mention in passing."
Farley says that New Year's also offers a good opportunity to forgive, whether it is forgiving a grudge or an argument, and start a fresh relationship with that person. "There are some studies that show that things like one's anxiety and stress almost melt away when you forgive someone for something," he says. "Getting rid of some stress and anxiety for 2010 is a healthy plan. Let's create some of our own personal health care reform.
"To me, New Year's can be turned into something profound," adds Farley. "It represents a benchmark in the history of the world and it should be a benchmark in an individual's personal history.
"It is a time to reflect on where we've been and where we're going next," he says. "Our journey is not random. You can influence that journey and this is a good time to do it."