Why and How to Create a New Year’s Theme and Make It Stick


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a new year? Is it a fresh start … a time to make a new list of goals … an invitation to be a better you?

The opportunity of a fresh start inspires us to take on new challenges and goals that can bring us more happiness and fulfillment. However, as a new year starts, it’s easy to be swept away by the collective desire for achievement. We end up committing (or over committing) to resolutions that may or may not reflect our true desires.

I don’t know about you. But over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that resolutions and goals don’t work for me. They’re too rigid and detailed—with an all or nothing connotation.

An alternative approach: a theme

In 2010, inspired by Stephanie Quilao, I decided to go with a theme. I stopped trying to preempt the year with all sorts of goals and lists.

A theme is a general guideline with a focus on the larger picture. It serves as:

1. A reminder. Your theme can come in handy in reminding you when you’re stuck or indecisive. You choose the action that is in alignment with your theme and desires.

2. A motivator. When you’re not up to it, a theme is simple enough to pick you up and get you going again.

Your theme can be anything that inspires you—you get to define it. It doesn’t have to be specific and it doesn’t have to be SMART. It just needs to reflect your own desires—not what others expect of you. It can be a word or a phrase, sophisticated or cheesy, profound or silly. It doesn’t matter. It’s yours and only yours.

Why choose a theme?

Because you make up your own rules, you will find your own reasons. My reasons for choosing a theme are summed up below.

1. It’s flexible. A theme is your own creation. You can choose what works for you and modify it as you go along. It works with your current circumstances and adapts to unexpected challenges or interruptions. (See #3 below.)

2. Comes from the heart. The one requirement for a theme is: let it come from your heart and speak to your heart—not intellect. Your true heart’s desires are your best motivation.

3. Embraces your lifestyle. A theme has more to do with your life in general and not a particular area like health, relationships and so on. It guides you throughout the year as you make decisions and take action.

4. It’s simple and focused. You have only one theme representing one direction. No goals to review. No further reminders. Your experiences flow with the undercurrent of your theme, focusing on what matters effortlessly.

How to choose a theme?

There are no rules that apply to all. The thing that matters the most is to make it yours. Below are a couple questions to get you started.

  1. What’s the one thing or most important thing that has stopped you in the past from getting what you desire? or

  2. What’s the one thing that you want to accomplish and the most important step to get it done?

Find a word or phrase that answers one of the above questions, and speaks to your heart.

If you’re not clear about your answers to the questions, go with your gut feeling. Choose a word or phrase that makes you feel good—that excites you.

And please remember: keep it simple, and meaningful to you. Make it as personal as you can.

A couple of examples

Get on with it. When choosing a theme for 2010, I looked at my desires and asked myself one question: what would it take for me to accomplish what I want?

The answer was simple: get going and start moving forward. So my theme for 2010 was: get on with it.

Less is more. After reflecting on 2010 and looking ahead, I felt 2011 will be a year of simplifying and doing less. So my theme is going to be: less is more. This is how it would work:

Do less work but with focus and achieve more meaningful results. I will attempt to find the most effective way to do something with the least amount of effort and stick to it. My biggest motivation is that I love laziness and doing less.

Have less possessions and enjoy each one more. This is an easy one and requires less action. I won’t buy anything new and will focus on what I have. In the process, I will eliminate a few things and that’s an added bonus.

How to stick to your theme

The interesting thing about a theme is you don’t need to stick to it—it will stick to you as long as it represents something meaningful and authentic to you.

All you need to do is remind yourself until you’re thinking it automatically. Consider all or some of the steps below.

1. Write it. Give your theme life by writing it on a piece of paper. Take it with you wherever you go and read it often.

2. Visualize it. Find or create a picture of your theme. Have it as your computer background image for the first couple of months of the year. The image above is my current desktop background. Or create a mental image of what it would look like and think about it.

3. Make it physical. Create a symbolic reminder like a button, ribbon, or a little stone  to take with you and keep reminding you. Be creative and make it fun if you can.

4. Get musical. Find a relevant song that inspires you. Or create a little song that you can hum to yourself while you’re in the shower, on the road or don’t know what to do with yourself. Here is an example. This is my 2011 masterpiece. :)

Less is simple … less is wise … less is lazy … more is my prize.

5. Think about it often.  The more you think about your theme, the faster it becomes part of your daily life.

6. Work with it. The most important thing is action. Use your theme frequently. And if it doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to tweak it or move in a new direction with a different theme. Keep what works for you.

Would it work?

Yes if you want it to. A theme is another tool that is as useful as you make it out to be. Give yourself time and don’t constrain yourself with unrealistic expectations—they’re the number one motivation killer.

You don’t have to give up goals or resolutions if you enjoy the process and get your desired results. The beauty of a theme is that it can work in any way you want it to.

It’s your year and it’s your theme. Own it. Do what you love and have fun with it.

Wishing you all the success in the new year.