Theme your year

There are posts on this blog I’ve written in 20 minutes or even less. They are based on a straightforward idea that has formed in my mind. I merely have to copy those thoughts into coherent sentences to be able to publish. Those posts are few, but they exist. There are elaborate posts that are based on mind maps, which take more time to think through. They require external links and are rewritten and edited multiple times before I click the publish button on IA Writer, my current blogging markdown editor of choice. Almost all of the posts on this blog were written that way. And then, at the other end of the 20 minute posts are the posts that live in my mind for a long time before I even start writing them. They take days to write. They are the essential posts, the posts of which every single word needs to be written in the correct manner. These posts are important because they are written while standing on the shoulders of giants.

The giants in this case are CGP Grey and Myke Hurley, who together have the excellent podcast Cortex and are responsible for the thinking behind the “Theme System.” You can find out more about them following the links above. Both of them are authors and creators, and if you like their work, consider donating on Patreon, to keep their content flowing. Grey and Hurley came up with the idea of theming your year.

But what is this idea about theming your year? If you haven’t seen this CGP Grey video, and you should, the idea of a theme for your year is to have an overarching direction in which you want to evolve over a year, a focus, an accent you bring to your year. Contrary to traditional New Year’s resolutions, a theme does not force you to reach an objective, it nudges and directs you in your choices during the year. It is more sustainable than a resolution. But I discovered a theme is much more than that.

A well-considered theme is an answer to the unspoken questions: “what am I all about?”, “What is the right choice for me in these circumstances?”, or “Where am I moving toward, if anywhere at all?” These are fundamental questions that make a lot of people uneasy. I know that not having answers to these questions made me uncomfortable for a long time and gave me a feeling I was missing direction. That I was not building towards something that mattered to me. That I was not adequately contributing.

Whether we know it or not, a lot of our decisions are influenced by our perceptions, which in turn are influenced by how we are looking at things. People do not stop to consider why they decide what they decide, they just decide. But when you know that the way you perceive the world at that specific moment will influence a decision you will take moments later, you understand that those decisions are whimsical. They are not decisions which consider the impacts of your choices. They are decisions which are influenced by the most recent influence which acted upon you. Acting like that is the philosophy of a beach ball. It does not support your structural evolution towards something that matters to you.

You need to do You. You are entitled to do You. The problem is, if you do not know who that You is, you are going to have a hard time doing You.

Themes can help you discover who you are and once you know who you are, consistently being yourself. Let’s explore that.

Imagine that you are reading this, and what I am telling you resonates with you, but you do not know how to go forward. You have no idea what you are all about, what is important to you, what your values are. A considered theme can help you. You could declare next year the Year of Self-Discovery, or the Year of Exploration. This is your theme and it needs to work for you. But your theme should influence the choices you will make, and based on that theme, your choices for next year will be choices which lead you to a deeper understanding of who you are, what you are all about.

What would that mean concretely? The choices you will make are those that help you in that self-discovery. For example, when browsing the Amazon bookstore, you will look at books that inform you about identity, about values, about self-exploration. Your podcast choices will reflect those same priorities. When you need to choose between spending time with an old friend and reminiscing about the past – an interesting source of information for self-discovery – you’ll do that rather than binge that new Netflix series. You’ll start journaling, for example, or writing morning pages. All these are great activities to learn more about yourself. All these are guided by that theme of Year of Self-Discovery. That process will lead to further insights, to further determination of your core values.

I recently quipped to a friend that he might be surprised about the person he is, if he would ever take the time to meet himself. All too often we do not know who we are. Themes can really help you there. Those initial themes will likely be discovery oriented themes, themes that guide you towards your core values. Simon Sinek wrote an excellent book about it, called “Start with Why” which is accompanied by a workbook, called “Find Your Why” which guides you through a good process to help you identify why you are.

I refer to themes as described above as “enabling” themes. They are important because they will enable you to establish the elements you need to be you. But the relevance of themes does not stop there.

Once you are clear on your values and you are clear as to where true North lies for you, where you should be heading, themes will help to get where you are going in a more focused manner. Your themes, if well-considered, will naturally build around what is important to you. They tend to focus on your values and help you in executing in line with those values.

Myself, I’m starting the Year of Ownership in 2021. Because respect and independence are two important values to me, I will work on ensuring my choices during the year will lead to more ownership, either my own or that of people around me. I’ve defined what ownership currently means to me for key areas of responsibility, but that view will evolve over the next months, as it should. But by choosing ownership, I make future choices on which direction to go when confronted with choices a lot easier for myself.

It is important to keep track of what you are doing with your theme over the year. As a means of theme accountability, journaling goes a long way. The advantage of journaling is that you have a record of your evolution, which can make it much easier for yourself to see and understand your progress. Journaling allows you to develop progressive insights.

The idea of establishing a yearly theme, combined with a better understanding of my core values helps me focusing on what matters to me. And what better objective than the one Seth Godin put forward a couple of years ago: “Do work that matters for people who care.”

The million euro question is whether this practice this will lead to your destiny, to the person you always should’ve been? The answer may surprise you: if you take the time to consider your theme for next year, and it either leads you to self-discovery or it reinforces what is relevant for you, I can almost guarantee you it will take you one step closer to You. But that step will likely not be your final destination. I don’t think there is a final destination. So, welcome to the voyage. This is what life is all about. Let’s take the next step.