Why does he talk about them so much? Because they work. As I write this, it’s the beginning of February. If you made New Years resolutions, how are you doing on them? If you are like 80% of people, you’ve probably broken them. Goals are hard to keep. You mess up once, and it’s over. A theme on the other hand is more flexible. It can adapt as life throws curveballs at you.
So what is a Yearly Theme?
This video explains the idea of Yearly Themes much better than I could…
Void also explained it really well in a recent short episode of Geek to Geek at the beginning of Season 6. In it, Void says that with resolutions, if you say you are going to exercise five days a week, then the first time you only do four days you are going to feel like a failure. Because your resolution is broken.
However, with a theme, the idea is adaptable. You can make it a year of exercise and keep going. Four days is still amazing and way better than doing none. Rather than see the failure in your actions, you look to the successes.
It's same as positive versus negative reinforcement.
The theme keeps you thinking about what you are wanting to do rather than living by a set of immovable rules. For Void, his theme for 2020 was “wellness”. Whenever he could incorporate wellness into his life and routine he did.
In fact, he did so well that he currently says he is exercising more and feeling healthier than he has in a long time.
What kinds of words can you use for a yearly theme?
Some ideas of words for yearly themes following this pattern could include “year of calm”, “year of travel”, “year of novelty”, “year of reading”, and so on.
Admittedly, these are vague words, but because of that vagueness, you can be flexible to change as you change throughout the year.
If you watched the video above (DO IT), CGP Grey gives the example of “a year of reading.” Using that idea, you're more flexible than saying “read one book a week.” That way, if you realize that you prefer audio books or reading research papers or magazines, you aren’t breaking your resolution. You're still keeping reading as a staple in your life. The theme is malleable and helps set you up for success as you learn more about yourself.
“I've heard this before,” you say…
And yes, you probably have. This isn't really a new idea. The Cortex Podcast discusses it. CGP Grey and Myke Hurley have a website about it as well as creating the video above. Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft from the Happier podcast have shared the idea of having a one-word theme for each year.
While the themes Void and CGP Grey talk about are more straightforward, Gretchen and Elizabeth generally choose more personal, enigmatic, and metaphorical words. They choose yearly themes such as “butterfly” or “infrastructure” or even “hot wheels.” However, the same basic premise still applies here.
“Butterfly” for instance, means to Elizabeth the idea of being a social butterfly as well as the idea of emerging from the cocoons of being home from COVID-19. And breaking out of the slump emotionally and physically away from the weight she has gained. Butterfly also brings to her mind ideas of beauty such as wearing makeup and nicer clothes.
This theme could also be summed up in “self-case” or something like that. However, “butterfly” is personal to her and keeps her more motivated than something more clinical. Whichever route you choose to take, the results and end game are the same.
Focusing on improving your life by changing your thinking.
A couple of years ago, I had the yearly theme of Gratitude.
During that year I worked to be more aware of the blessings in my life. I tried to keep a gratitude journal, but that didn't work for me. I just couldn't keep it up.
However, I wrote thank you cards (even if they were very short notes), and I said thank you more. I reflected more on myself and my life and family and friends. In a surprising turn of events, I found myself thinking more of others and how they must be feeling. The older woman who was working as a cashier at Walmart, for instance. She looked to be in pain from her back while standing at the register. She surely didn’t want to be there, yet she was always smiling and friendly. Saying thank you to her took on a deeper meaning in my head.
That year is over now, but I really incorporated that feeling into my life. I am genuinely more grateful than I was before. That is the purpose of the themes. It doesn’t end with December 31, or whenever you break the chain. You are working to better yourself as a person.
My theme for 2021 is “reset”. When you reset something you are adjusting or fixing it. You can reset priorities or reset a broken bone. You can reset a computer to remove broken apps and even viruses. It’s a feeling of a clean slate. Starting over.
Does this mean I am going to change my name and leave all connections to my former life behind to start over in a new country? No, of course not! However, it does mean that I can look to challenging my current ideas. I may not have a literal broken bone, but things may be broken in my life than require some adjustments.
My hope is that with the word “reset” in my mind, I will be able to pause and look at little things in my life as they come up. Do my routines need to be altered? My thoughts may need to be redirected. Yes, maybe even big changes will need to happen.
In our Geek to Geek Discord (which we would love for you to come join us on!) several of us have shared our themes for 2021 in a spreadsheet put together by FuzzyCow. Themes such as “Breathing”, “Being Intentional”, “Break Limitations”, “Progression”, “Calm”, “Plan”, “Positive Thinking”, and more all show up on this list.
But It Isn't New Years Anymore!
It’s February as I write this. Does that mean someone reading this today has to wait 11 months before starting a theme? No way! Themes don’t have to start on some arbitrary calendar date. Likewise, if I decide in the middle of May that I’ve had enough resetting of my life, I can pick a new word!
The point is to help you create lasting change towards being the person you want to be.
So, if you haven’t already, think about what you’d like to work on in your life. Is there a word that encompasses that thought? What would help you focus on it and remember it? If you don’t think you can remember, then give yourself some visual aids. Write it on a post-it note and slap it on your bathroom mirror, get a tee shirt with the word on it, make a phone background to remind you of it. Then get to work!
Remember that themes are there to work for you. Let them adapt and change as you do, and you will be all the better for it.