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?

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