Why You Should Make a New Year's Theme Instead of a Resolution

new years theme hero

If I had a dollar for every past New Year’s resolution I didn't keep…well, I still wouldn’t have much because I never stuck to that “finally learn to be better with money” attempt I made in 2014. My point is, resolutions are hard for me, but it’s not entirely my fault. There’s something inherently critical about a resolution, something you’re aiming to fix—be a better friend, work out more, shop less. If a new year is supposed to be about starting over, why does it feel like a reminder of every way I’ve fallen short up until now?

So instead of setting another doomed-to-fail resolution this year, I’m taking a different approach entirely: I’m setting a theme for 2019. It’s a word or phrase that sums up the priorities you want to focus on for the year, but not something so specific that it only applies to one habit. Then, throughout the year, you check in with yourself and make sure your decisions align with your theme. This year, my theme is “follow through.” Yes, it does have a ring of self-improvement to it like a resolution, but it’s meant to be proactive rather than reactive. In my case, it could apply to the book idea I’ve been knocking around since last spring or those dining chairs I ordered on Cyber Monday that are still sitting in their shipping boxes. (It’s been a busy month.)

A friend of mine is the one who initially got me into the concept; her past themes include “go after what you want” and “yes, and…” (a nod to the improv philosophy and a reminder to be spontaneous and take chances). Another friend came up with “suffer less” as her mantra for 2019—she explained that while she’s generally very happy with her life, she has a tendency to let anxiety creep in and she’s trying to overcome that.

What makes the concept so much better than a resolution, in my mind, is that there’s no falling off the wagon, say, quitting on day 19 of Whole30 (a totally hypothetical example and not something I’ve done in real life). A theme is more forgiving: You might slip up, but every action is an opportunity to course correct and make sure you’re being true to your goals. Plus, it’s something you’ll keep in mind for a full 365 days, not just—let’s be real—January and the first half of February if you’re lucky.

Hopefully, next December I’ll be sitting on one of my fully assembled chairs, making some final edits on my manuscript and looking back at a year I feel good about. And if not, I’ll come up with something else for 2020—maybe “be realistic.”

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