Did you set a New Year’s Resolution for yourself?
How's that going?
I don't know when in the year you're watching,
but if I had to bet on the status of your resolution,
it's probably not flourishing, but failed or foregone.
This is usually what the effort curve on resolutions looks like.
If New Year’s is new to you, you’re forgiven for not knowing.
But come on, this isn't your first Resolution Rodeo.
You've been here before: saddled up to a resolution.
Gotten thrown off in short order.
Only to come back next year to pick a buck of a different color.
Or worse, the same.
Riding, rolling, retreating, returning.
Year after year after year of your unchanging life
until a disappointed reaper calls time.
New Year's Resolutions suck.
Human behavior change is really hard.
And the Resolution Rodeo. This is not the way.
Instead, to accomplish what you want out of resolutions,
positive life change (but in a better way),
allow me to suggest a gentler idea.
Give yourself a theme.
Instead of setting yourself up to fail with,
“I'm going to lose x pounds by next year,”
or "I'm going to read one book a week, at least”
a theme would be something like 'Year of Reading'
or 'Year of Health'.
Now if that sounds a bit broad, that's the point.
For some things, precision matters.
For others, it doesn't.
And when trying to build yourself into a better version of yourself,
exact data points don't matter.
All that matters is the trend line.
If the trend is going in the right direction, so are you.
Just moving a trend from negative to positive is hard enough
without defining falling short of a goal as failure.
Heck, even just decelerating the negative is a positive.
Is there something you want more of in your life?
Something you want less of?
Well, life is a branching path.
And it's the trend of your decisions,
some big, but mostly small,
that will get you to more or less.
Stuck in a queue, what to do?
Well, if it's the ‘Year of Reading,’ why not open the book,
instead of opening the anything else.
That's it: you were at a branch and went one way instead of the other.
Having a theme is like creating a friendly bot to follow you on the path,
to help notice branches and consider choices with you,
reminding you to be a little different in little moments sometimes.
An example: one year my theme was 'Novelty.'
I felt like things had become too same-y.
Rather than resolve: “I'm going to do n new things per t time”
It was just… ‘Year of Novelty.’
So, when it made sense, why not try the new instead of the known?
It's the ‘Year of Novelty!’
Now, I didn't go crazy, but that time was more novel than normal.
A good theme can't fail.
Because just having a theme-bot along will point out paths
you wouldn't have noticed otherwise,
which will start to change you.
More on that in a moment.
In picking a theme, go with something that has a nice broad name
for the general direction you want to navigate your life.
And it is navigation.
The diverging paths of life are hidden under the fog of the future.
You can't plan the route and then fail to follow it,
because there is no map and unseen obstacles await.
At any moment, you are where you are
and can only navigate from there.
Perhaps you started a 'Year of Health'
focused on weight loss or gains,
before realizing there's a more foundational problem.
You haven't failed, it's still 'Year of Health.’
The broadness of a theme allows its meaning to change.
You started out wanting to read more books,
but maybe as you went on,
you realized academic papers are where it's at,
or that reading reading just doesn’t work for you
and listening reading is the way to go.
You’re still on theme.
The theme can change because so will you.
Having a theme, you will notice paths you didn't before.
This gets you to think about your thinking.
And thinking about your thinking changes your thinking,
which changes who you are.
So a broad theme allows its meaning to adapt with you,
without the guilt of having failed to meet the goals
of a Past You who doesn't exist any more.
I did 'Year of Order' for a while,
but what 'Order' meant to me at the end
was different from the start, and that’s fine.
So themes should be broad, directional, but most importantly: resonant.
Resonance is a physics phenomenon where,
if you have a glass, and tuning forks of different sizes,
bringing the right-sized humming tuning fork
near the glass makes it hum the same note.
Words are tuning forks for the brain.
When picking a theme, you're looking for a word or
words that cause your brain to vibrate in resonance.
I've been talking about themes for years and getting people to try them.
Here are some of the words I’ve seen people use.
The details of what they mean to anyone don't matter.
What matters is if there's something that strikes you.
Calls out to your brain.
That is resonance.
So pick a broad, directional phrase that resonates with you and run with it.
Your brain and the theme will make it work.
Now if this seems very hippy-dippy-lovey-dovey-huggy-wuggy-fuzzy-wuzzy…
That's fine. Not all tools need sharp edges.
I think of it this way.
You should be trying to build a life you want to live,
and themes are a fuzzy, high-level, longer term way
to navigate your brain at a broad area of change.
Smaller, and specific-er are the systems in life you might want to set up,
below that are the targets those systems might or might not generate,
and at the most concrete and sharp
is the action or decision Current You is currently taking.
This level of detail is perhaps a story for another time,
but creating a theme is the bigger and broader
to guide the smaller and shorter.
Lastly, you may have noticed the examples were all 'Year of $thing,'
but that's mainly because I've been trying to gently introduce you to the idea.
Resolutions are a year, why not swap them for a theme instead?
But if you're still here, a year is way long.
Again, fog of the future.
A season is a nice human length of time.
In a winter of learning, you can learn a lot,
but you do need to get started,
because it's also not so long as to feel forever.
Nature's clock ticks on reminding you that flowers bloom but briefly,
the summer sun will wane,
leaves eventually drop,
snow falls and snow melts,
and flowers bloom but briefly.
You can be unchanging through all that,
but whenever you are, if you've never had a theme,
give yourself time to find one that resonates with you
and try it out in the coming season.
[birds softly chirping]