How To Choose and Develop A Theme This New Year
A few days after the new year I felt a palpable weight. And, no, not necessarily from the extra holiday pie. I found myself double-backing on certain decisions with the itching thought, “I don’t want to live with this [insert feeling or consequence] for the rest of the year!”
Every move seemed to have more significance because it would set a tone or, as my lawyer-friends like to extol, precedence for the rest of the year.
“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”-Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s a powerful frame of mind, for better or worse, that seems to taper as time passes.
Which got me thinking about how to maintain this mindfulness – namely, a sense that your actions matter…not in big brotherly way, butaffirming and healthy way? A consciousness that allows us to feel proud of our presence in the world, no matter what and at all (okay, most) times.
I landed on the idea of themes. Writers often anchor their work in a theme and I think it’s a practice worth trying to stay mindful too.
What is a theme?
A theme is an emotional engine: 1 to 3 words that you can write on a post-it and stick on your computer so you never forget. Sopranos is about Family. The Return of the Jedi is about Redemption. I would say Roma is about Love. It can be anything you, the writer of your own year ahead, want it to be.
By picking a theme, you can tap into a desire for change without limiting yourself to one resolution. A theme is higher than any particular action. Think of it as a North Star that can be used a reference and guiding light for as many actions or decisions as you like.
I encourage mentees to try applying a theme to small decisions to get the hang of it. For example, a theme of “restore”:
- When you are choosing a vacation: what destination would restore me?
- When choosing a job: what company would most likely restore my sense of XYZ?
- When choosing a lunch spot: what food is more likely to restore my energy?
- When picking show to watch: what story will restore my hope in humanity?
The key is keeping a theme short: strictly 1-3 words that you would like to keep top-of-mind and seep into the new year. Just thinking of the phrase can keep you grounded when the world is amiss.
If you know what word you want, great. If not, here are some suggestions. Jot down a handful that resonate:
Once you’ve limited it to a few, sleep on it. Come back to them a day or two later and pick the one that jumps out at you: the word that inspires you, makes you pause, or draws you inward. Most importantly, what is the word that you wouldn’t mind living with for at least a year?
This is your theme.
Write it on a sticky note and put it where you can see it every day: bathroom mirror, computer keyboard, refrigerator, etc.
Now I wouldn’t be a mentor if I didn’t ask you to make a plan. So ask yourself the following questions:
- How do I feel about this theme right now? (or why did I choose this?)
- What are the habits or behaviors that hold me back from living out this word in the past?
- How does the upcoming year have the potential to shape this theme for better or worse?
- What are ways I can overcome potential obstacles?
- What would “success” look like by the end of the year?
Memorialize the theme for writing out these answers for yourself. Tell a friend or mentor. Schedule time every month to check-in with them to stay accountable or simply share how it’s going.
If you want extra credit, write a letter to future self (dated December 31) congratulating and thanking yourself for a job well done! Tie a ribbon around it and tuck it away. A gift to yourself.
“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us thru that darkness to a safe and sane future.”-John F. Kennedy