Put a Theme to Work

After discovering that goals and real change aren't the same thing,  I let go of achievement oriented goal setting. Instead, for the past 10 years I've set a theme for the year. It guides and focuses my mindset -- and my actions. It's also a great tool when in transition. This is the third in a series about how to make deeper change stick.

You can read more about the genesis of this shift which was guided by research. My 2015 retrospective is here. This article is about the theme I picked for 2016 and how I incorporate this sort of deep change into my daily life throughout the year.


2016 Theme: Let Go

In early September 2015, I noticed that I cared less when acquaintances fell away. I started being less anxious about which seat I got on a plane. I stopped treating things I didn’t need like a security blanket. Then in October I went to a retreat where I did yoga four times in 48 hours. Before the retreat I worried that I couldn’t keep up. This feat showed me that I was stronger than I thought and — that I listened to silly fears too often.

This year I’m focusing on my relationship with fear. I wouldn’t call myself especially fearful but, rather than letting go and trusting that I can catch myself, I cling too often. I tend towards hyper-responsibility which is helpful for my business. But it causes high levels of stress when not managed. Sometimes I think taking on too much responsibility is partially about fear. I’m delving into this in 2016.

The kernel for 2016’s theme actually started a year earlier in 2015, when I went on an extreme decluttering of clothes, keeping only those I loved. I sent more than 14 bags to local charity. For a devout clothes hoarder, it was an extreme version of letting go. By keeping only what I loved, I started to feel happier, I began getting dressed every morning (I work from a home office). What I thought would be hard, turned out to be liberating. Letting go was far easier than I thought. I’m actually looking forward to the practice of letting go in 2016. 


Putting a theme to work

Once I have the theme I find ways to incorporate it throughout the year. Often the long retrospective period embeds the theme into me. I also find other ways to keep it top of mind. Sometimes I turn it into a mantra. For example this year the mantra might be: What if I just let go?  (yes, that song from Frozen is on repeat in my head. I could karaoke the crap out of it by now.)

I've also written my theme on something that I stick in front of my desk. At the beginning of the year I also give myself a set of questions to ponder.

Questions I'm asking myself this year:

  • What if I trusted that things will be alright?
  • When am I holding on and how will I know when to let go? 
  • What would happen if I just allowed things to unfold naturally?

Everyone is different when it comes to incorporating something like this into thoughts. For some, just the deep introspection is enough. Others need constant reminders around them. Just find a way to make it part of your daily life.

Want to read about the research behind the problems with goals or learn how to set your own theme? Check out the Anti-Goals Guide.