We all know that resolutions don't work. But what’s the alternative?
Ten years ago, I decided to stop making New Year's resolutions and replace them with annual themes.
Instead of a Resolution...
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 in thought leadership and other life pursuits. Why?
- You can't really "fail" at a theme. It doesn't set you up to disappoint yourself or beat yourself up over an unmet goal.
- Actions make more sense with reasons behind them. When you have a deep reason, which you can keep in mind using an annual theme, you'll do better with your goals.
- Themes go beyond simply managing your consumption and output. By contrast, resolutions position you to consume more or less of something or produce more or less of something.
- Annual themes are more versatile. A resolution typically only applies when the topic comes up. But a theme is a lens for looking at many circumstances and situations, including your thought leadership.
There is no step-by-step process for choosing an annual theme. But here are a few clues for what works. It typically comes down to noticing patterns and resonant concepts that start to emerge in your life from a variety of sources:
- Conversations with clients, fellow creators, and people in your personal life
- Concepts that seem to pop up insistently in your reading and thoughts
- Metaphors or analogies you find yourself using more frequently
- Topics that come to mind as you consider your thought leadership plans for the year
- Ideas that emerge in moments of quiet, organically, and sometimes even incidentally or serendipitously.
You'll know you're close when the theme is something complex, nuanced, and rich with meaning and potential.
For 2024, It's Light
I chose the theme "light" for the coming year. I did so intentionally because it evokes so much. The word has ten pages of definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary—a noun, an adjective, and a verb.
I chose it after considering a few alternatives that didn't seem quite right—too heavy, too heavy-handed, too esoteric, too obscure. You can already see light and lightness emerging from how I describe those earlier versions.
Light acts as a metaphor that brings so many possible ideas together—taking a light approach to craft and thought leadership, shedding light on the challenges of bringing ideas out into the light, lighting the way for other people who value thought leadership but struggle to achieve it, honoring my inner light, clearing away literal and figurative heaviness and darkness.
I haven't yet seen to the bottom of the theme. But it creates a space of exploration. As I look back on my year in December 2024, I'll see what the theme of light brings into the light.
A Few Past Examples
It might be easier to see how it works retroactively. For 2023, I chose "free" as my theme. "Free" works in many different registers, from existential to political to economic.
Adopting "free" as a theme made me more aware of what was helping and hindering me. It created the freedom to create my own work again. I stopped listening to the inner voice that tells me, "I don't feel like it today," and became more consistent about time in the gym and walks. I quit drinking. I shared more of my thinking generously instead for a price.
If I had decided to resolve to "go to the gym 3x a week," "not drink," "write daily," or anything else, I would likely have given up within a month. Yet, these positive and expected outcomes of typical resolutions still happened. I’ve experienced similar things each year based on my annual theme.
What Could Your 2024 Theme Be?
Does this concept resonate with you? What do you have in mind? I'd love to hear back from you.
In the meantime, have a wonderful, beautiful New Year!
Three Grace Notes
"From healthcare to education, all forms of activity seem to be geared to expanding one’s own potential...What truly counts is not what we can do today, but what we could do tomorrow, if only we applied ourselves to our self-improvement. More precisely, what truly counts is not what we are today, but what we could become tomorrow. The way that a ‘thing’ can expand its own potential, is through its activity." — Federico Campagna, Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality
"The compulsion to repeat a toxic optimism can suture someone or a world to a cramped and unimaginative space of committed replication, just in case it will be different." — Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism
"Seen in the light of the practice of contemplation, renewal of the mind is the manifestation of luminous mind, an ocean of light. When luminous mind swells with such ripeness that it breaks open, there emerges from it the very flower of awareness itself." — Martin Laird, An Ocean of Light
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