Yearly Themes

This post is about change. There is nothing more consistent in this world than change and I wanted to share some things I do each day/month/year to see the changes I want in my life. I fully understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for changing behavior, finding peace, and/or completing routines. My hope in sharing this is that I can inspire some of you to try and to do some things differently than you may have before. The most important thing to remember is that these systems should be organic and it is perfectly okay for them to evolve each week, month, or year. Your systems need to change to meet your needs so don’t feel any guilt if you decide to not ‘complete’ or ‘follow-through’ with your original plan. The purpose of creating a plan is to accomplish something you are seeking to do, changing your plans is almost expected to effectively change yourself.

Your North Star

A few years ago I was listening to a podcast I enjoy called, Cortex and they introduced me to a way of settings yearly goals I had not ever heard of before. I was introduced to, ‘yearly themes’ (I highly recommend you watch this 6-minute video). When I was learning about this, it also was the time of the year when people started talking about ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. I don’t know what it was about this year in particular, but I was becoming very resentful at the notion of participating in such a silly ritual, especially after multi-year attempts with no success. I gave more thought than it is worth to why I would indulge in such a belief that when the sun rises on January 1st, we would all be set up for success to do things differently. Why would I believe that this day should be different from the days before or after it? Well, the more I read about why resolutions typically don’t work and with what I was learning about yearly themes, I was comfortable with the idea of saying, “so-what” to the bombastic New Years rituals and to give it another try, a different try. After a couple of years of giving the yearly theme a try, I can say that it has worked for me and will most likely stay for years or decades to come.

Yearly themes are a single word (or as small of a phrase as you can make it) that describe what you hope to become by the end of the year. It is a North Star. You think of it randomly throughout the year when you are driving, getting groceries, reflecting, etc. It is a word that helps filter all the goals you choose to make each month or week. Your yearly theme is a reflection of whom you want to become and is not necessarily achieved by the end of the year. The goal of focusing on a yearly theme is to help you in your decision-making processes and to continue to keep the trend line towards your vision. The Year of Less, The Year of Health, The Year of Strength, Learning, Novelty, Reading, Mindfulness, Commitment, Refinement, etc. Notice how some of these words could have more than one meaning? That is the point. Your yearly theme could and most likely will mean something different by the end of the year. The purpose of this ritual is to use your word or phrase as a foundation for the goals and decisions you will make throughout the year.

For 2020 (please get ready to laugh)… My theme was, The Year of Stability, Ha ha ha… I know. In a year of pandemonium, with the ongoing pandemic and ‘infodemic’ how is it you may ask, that I could find stability in such a climate? I actually started to think about making my 2020 theme based on stability right around the time when the first case of COVID-19 occurred in November of last year. No one could have guessed what that was going to mean for the world and I could not have guessed what that would mean for my new life with my partner. That is where the beauty of having a yearly theme comes in.

The Tools I Use

Humans are creatures of habit. Whether we like it or not. If any of you are interested in reading good books on how/why we do the things we do and how to get better at doing the things we want to, I recommend you read Atomic Habits by James Clear and Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. Both are very well written and offer actionable ways to form good habits. There is much to say on that matter but for now, I will focus on the tools I use for accomplishing my goals.

There are two stationery items I use for tracking my progress towards my yearly theme. These tools bring me peace, focus, accountability, and reflection. They help me see where I’ve been and where I want to go. One of them is called a Hobonichi. So far, I have used one for all of 2018, 2019, and 2020. It is an A6 dated planner and I use it primarily for two things: ‘Daily Questions’ and ‘Gratitude’. My previous Hobonichi’s have gone through an evolution process that has brought me to what I use them for today. On the front pages, I write what my theme is, and what things I hope to accomplish throughout the year to help me accomplish my goals. I ask myself what stability looks like, or for example what year of reading would look like, and so-on. On the daily pages, I used to write about the high of my day, the low of my day, and what I am grateful for. A few months ago, I decided to only focus on gratitude and to use more of the page to be specific about why I am grateful. Expanding on why I am grateful for something has really helped me think about why I am choosing to write about it and has also helped me be grateful for the things that have also been difficult for me. For years now I have used the Monthly section at the start of the journal as my place for ‘Daily Questions’. These change from time to time and also blend with whatever my yearly theme is. I then rate myself with either a 0 (blank), .5 (dot), or 1 (circle) for each question, with a total of 5 possible points for each day. This is not meant to be a guilt trip or shameful in any way. Rather, a moment to reflect on the day and see where I can do better the next day. Remember, the yearly theme is about trending in the right direction. Moving towards and becoming the person we want to be. If I score poorly multiple days in a row, something is most likely wrong with how I am spending my time or the habits I am forming, time for a revaluation.

Example of ‘Daily Questions’ in my Hobonichi

The other tool I use daily is my Field Notes. My FN is primarily used as a diary (to track the events and meals of the day), to-do list, quotes heard or read, and brain dump. My FN is my place to get my thoughts and observations of the world or whatever is bouncing around in my brain. This tool keeps me sane. I use it at the beginning of the week to write down my goals and ambitions for the coming days. I may write down a detailed list of a routine I want to build or edit my existing one and refer to it when I wake up.

These are the tools I use and I want to emphasize that using them daily and using them in a way that helps me take some time. I miss days here and there, I am not perfect. But as time goes on I get better and better at using them, and they truly make a difference in my life. They help me make corrections where I need to and help me also see how far I have come. Rather than having quantifiable resolutions to reach for, I am able to find peace in seeing the quality of my decisions and my progress towards becoming someone I hope to be. I can either check a box that says I read one book each month or instead I can track my progress and reflect on how I am becoming a reader for more than just the timespan of a resolution.

Concluding Thoughts

Yes, our calendar system is created by humans, and the months, days, and years, are just our way of distinguishing time. Yes, when the start of 2021 happens, all of humankind will continue to act and react the way they have in 2020, and for hundreds of thousands of years before that special day. Yes, you will see memes within a matter of weeks (possibly days) that 2021 is turning out to be just as bad as 2020 even though it was “supposed to be different”. Yes, a small portion of the billions of people that live on this planet will have New Year’s Resolutions to be x pounds by the end of the year or to spend only x minutes on social media each day. But an even smaller portion of us can stop putting an emphasis on goals with baseless plans, and instead focus on a vision of whom we hope to become and what habits we can form to help that become a reality. Rather than making your 2021 a year about doing x thing every day or not doing x thing by the end of the year let’s focus on becoming better citizens of the world by making decisions based on our own personal visions. The beautiful part of all of this is, this absolutely happens by doing x thing every day! But that should not be the end goal. The question should be, what do you want to become, and what goals or actions will you take to make that a reality?

I am a firm believer that we are in control of how we think and respond to the things that happen to us. When the pandemic took its course in the United States earlier this year there were a plethora of paths I could have taken in responding to the lockdowns, the dramatic change to my partner and mines wedding, and so much more. I could have given up on my theme and decided it simply wasn’t going to happen this year. Thanks to my wonderful partner, I was able to focus on actually making it the most stable year of my life. I chose stability as my theme for this year because I knew I was going to be getting married and I hoped to live in a way that would offer both of us stability in finances, schooling, career, and other areas. I couldn’t be happier about my skills as a better budgeter, finding a new role in my career, and building routines with my partner that will last and that make us happier and healthier.

For me, 2021 will be The Year of Strength. Next year I hope to strengthen myself in many areas. I want to strengthen my relationships with friends and family. I want to strengthen my skills in my new role and craft. I want to physically get stronger and become a better climber because of that. I want to strengthen what I believe in and my ability to focus on what is most important. These are just some thoughts that have been pressing on my mind over the last couple of weeks. I am excited to see how it evolves over the coming weeks and months.

Want to join me?

Resources:

Cortex (They should be coming out with their 2021 Yearly Theme episode any day now)

Hobonichi (JetPens.com)

Field Notes

Theme System Journal (A great journal created by the makers of the Cortex Podcast. It is pretty much a notebook for what I turn my Hobonichi into)

Atomic Habits by James Clear (Amazon.com)

Bookworm podcast on the book (If you don’t wish to read the book, this show does a great job summarizing it)

Triggers Marshall Goldsmith (Amazon.com)

Bookworm

(Books can also be found at your local bookstores)