Replace New Year’s Resolutions With Annual Themes Instead

The phrase “annual theme” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “new year’s resolution,” but choosing a theme for the year may lead to better results. For the last two years, I’ve abandoned resolutions, and I have found three main benefits:

  1. You can’t really “fail” at a theme. You can grow more or less mindful of it as the year progresses, but it doesn’t set you up to disappoint yourself or beat yourself up over an unmet goal. Goal-setting has a lot of power. I don’t mean to suggest anyone should abandon it entirely. But arbitrary dictates based on the change of the calendar won’t help you attain goals and may actually undermine you.
  2. In 2016, I chose “look up” as my theme. I can’t say that I maintained consistent optimism in the face of all the twists and turns of the year, but looking up, more positively, looking up at the future, looking up at a higher goal for myself–these thematic thoughts provided a touchstone for me through all the ups and downs of the year. If I had decided to resolve to “be more optimistic,” I wouldn’t call it a success and would likely have given in within a month.
  3. Actions make more sense with reasons behind them. Think about previous years when you’ve tried resolutions, especially common resolutions like exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking. You can’t just get commitment off the shelf as a pre-packaged “product,” which is really what resolutions like that typically are.
  4. If you didn’t succeed with your past resolutions, ask yourself whether you really anchored that goal on a deep reason – to perform better at work, to live longer and with greater health for your loved ones, to have more impact in the world around you. When you do have a deep reason, which you can keep in mind using an annual theme, you’ll do better with your goals.
  5. You can use an annual theme in many more ways. A resolution typically only applies when the topic comes up, even if it comes up in your thoughts often. You can use your theme as a lens through which to look at many circumstances, and situations. You can even use it as a mantra if you choose to meditate.

In 2015, when I chose “make” as my theme, I committed to looking at the ways I spent my energy and time in terms of creative output. It resulted in specific outcomes that could have been resolutions (write more, create more art) but also colored my perceptions.

For 2017, I am choosing “open calm” as my theme. It works as a noun phrase reflecting a state of mind that balances equanimity and receptiveness to others. I intend to go out into the world and engage with living beings in a state of open calm. It also works as a verb phrase reflecting concerted, mindful effort to unlock the calmness of others, instead of seeking to raise discomfort and anxiety. I want others to be able to join me when I open calm in my interactions with them.

As in past years, this theme aligns to and enables specific resolutions, but it also transcends them, giving me a tool I can use to set my intentions more broadly.

What would you choose as your theme for the year?

Regifting Kindness

At this darkest time of the year (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), we celebrate light, joy, and kindness. Many traditions make it a time of gifts, buying or making, giving and getting.

This holiday season, I find myself thinking about gifts in a broader sense. What gifts do I have to offer in my world, to focus my strengths and do what I can to improve the lives of living beings around me, however much I can? What gifts do others have to offer, talents and perspectives that I haven’t recognized?

In other words, instead of thinking of material, transactional gifts, I am thinking of joy-making, world-building gifts. We all have them to give. We just need to allow ourselves to give them, and accord others respect by accepting theirs.

This holiday, give to your heart’s content, but you can also commit to going beyond that. In so doing, you transform the idea of gift from an action to a sustained mode of being in the world.

Carry forth the light of a dark time into everything you do. Commit to give it, and accept it, as you go about your days.

Regift what only you can give,
again and again,
as you offer kindness to all around you,
during the holidays and throughout the year.

10 Kindness Imperatives for a New Era

Note: I wrote far too long of an introduction to this, and then moved it to its own post. Read the introduction here.

  1. Do what you can when you can. Every kind act towards another being makes the world a better place.
  2. Treat all life with caring respect. All living beings merit kindness and compassion.
  3. Set your intentions for kind actions each day. Kindness should be as much of a factor in your to-do list as importance and priority.
  4. Spend time each day wishing the best to people you pass. By adapting this time-tested meditative practice, called metta in Buddhism, you increase the well-being around you.
  5. Bring joy to each encounter. If you see a friend unexpectedly, or see a baby, or an animal, you likely feel a jolt of spontaneous joy, and you can channel the essence of that joy every time you interact with others.
  6. Ascribe only the best intentions to others. Even when you are in conflict with someone else, you can defuse “me or you” oppositions by not treating the other party as the bad guy.
  7. Dare to be inspired. It takes an attitude of open kindness to see models for the good in what you see, hear, and read.
  8. Value yourself. You need self-compassion, focus, and energy to be an effective kindness practitioner in the world.
  9. Give. Really, right now, find a cause you care about, and give them even a small donation. Do it.
  10. Never forget that you are the steward of your own world. The duty of your stewardship is kindness.

Rethinking, Restarting

When I started Kindness Communication back in March 2015, I wanted to promote kindness to achieve better results and greater focus in companies and organizations. I loosely imagined it would act as a spawning ground for a kindness-based professional services offering, a mix of training, coaching, and resources that would help people and organizations implement kindness as a core, lived value.

In the eighteen plus months that followed, I’ve learned many things, but most important, I’ve learned that a movement won’t start itself, and that an ill-conceived goal quickly becomes its own obstacle. I might have been able to state those lessons as a truism well before my experiences with Kindness Communication, but now my awareness of them is sharpened. I believe the business goal I envisioned has actually prevented me from writing and thinking about kindness to full potential.

Moreover, the world looks a lot different in December 2016 than it did in March 2015. When measured against values of kindness and pluralism and tolerance, it looks a lot darker. The need for kindness advocacy has only grown since I started, but the luxury of waiting to get traction is no more.

In short, I don’t think I have time to wait for business inspiration to come as a way to amplify my voice. It is urgent to promote kindness in all domains by all means available, and to make it accessible to all by keeping it as simple as possible. I want to meet that urgency by writing differently, and more often. In order to do that, I have to put aside the business goal for now.

I also have to put aside the thought patterns I have absorbed as a career-long consultant who focuses on rigorous, fact-based work. I have to take risks and make bold assertions, even with little backup, and let my claims about kindness sit on the power of principle rather than of proof.

So, take all of the above as a long preface for my long-term readers to explain a change of tone and approach, letting you all know why things will be different from here on out, And with that, many thanks to those of you who have been following Kindness Communication to date.

Read 10 Kindness Imperatives for a New Era
to see where this new approach is leading.