I understand why people embrace New Year’s resolutions: it’s a chance to wipe the slate clean and set annual goals with new focus and enthusiasm. But are they focusing on the right areas of their lives? Instead of setting resolutions, a better approach may be to conduct a health self-assessment. It’s a way to take an in-depth look at where you are now, so you can identify the parts of your life that need the most attention. “A self-assessment gathers the vital information you need to begin thinking more about your life and how you want to live,” says Susan Flashner-Fineman, Vitalize 360 Coach at Harvard-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife, a comprehensive wellness program that promotes healthy aging.
According to Flashner-Fineman, a complete analysis of your well-being should encompass five areas: physical, intellectual, social, financial, and spiritual. For each category, explore what you are you doing well and where you can improve. “This way, it’s not all about focusing on your shortcomings, but rather highlighting your strengths and building on them,” says Flashner-Fineman. Here is a look at the five categories for your health self-assessment.
1. Physical. Instead of focusing on simply staying healthy, tailor your fitness to meet specific goals, says Flashner-Fineman. “Ask yourself, what level of activity do you want and what do you need to maintain it?” For instance, do you want to continue gardening, or have greater endurance to interact with grandchildren, or just improve your functional fitness so you can do daily chores and activities with less pain and risk of injury? “Connecting it with something you want to accomplish also can help you stay motivated and focused on your health going forward,” says Flashner-Fineman.
2. Intellectual. Are you doing enough for your brain? It’s so easy to get trapped in the lull of repetitive activities that don’t work your memory and problem-solving skills. Learning something new is a great way to challenge your brain. For example, learn to play bridge, paint, or play a musical instrument. Interested in a particular subject? Take a class at your local college (many offer free tuition for older adults). You can also raise the bar on an existing skill. Love to cook? Try French cooking. Practice your public speaking at a Toastmasters club, or join a chess or book club.
3. Social. How well do you currently connect with others like family, friends, and neighbors? And how often do you interact with them on a regular basis? “Think about how you can improve your existing relationships as well as make new connections,” says Flashner-Fineman. For example, make a point to call, write, or go out to lunch with a close friend once a week, or consider joining a club of some kind that has regular meetings and social events.
4. Financial. Do you stress about money issues? A professional financial planner can help evaluate your current financial situation and devise a plan to prepare for the future. Lifestyle changes can ease financial strain and even make your life a bit easier. For instance, you could move into a smaller place that requires less maintenance and upkeep, buy everyday items more cheaply in bulk, or cut your cable and use the Internet for watching shows. “You don’t want to make changes that affect quality of life, but often we are afraid to make positive changes because we are used to a certain way of living,” says Flashner-Fineman. “But if you understand why the change is good — like freeing up more money to travel, for example — then it’s easier to do.”
5. Spiritual. Studies have found that some level of spirituality and gratitude is associated with greater wellness. Some people do this through religion or a faith-based community, but others choose activities like meditation and interactions with nature.