Skip the Resolution; Go With a New Year’s Theme instead

The last week of December marks the creation of uncountable New Year’s resolutions. By the end of next month, however, the vast majority will be broken. So many of us resolve to change, only to have those commitments meet an untimely death. A single, small temptation can lead us astray, causing us to conclude that our resolutions are anything but resolute. Better luck next year, we tell ourselves, as we regress to our old ways.

A key problem with resolutions is their all-or-nothing nature. These immovable rules suggest that any deviance from perfection is an act of total destruction. Since few of us are perfect, we slip once and then terminate our commitment to change. To combat this trap and enjoy meaningful progress, I suggest you set a New Year’s theme instead.

Your theme isn’t a rigid, binary, unrealistic promise but rather a direction that can be sustained over the next 12 months. Last year, my theme was Health. There were moments that I ate peanut M&Ms, to be sure, but I also managed to read several books on the subject, listen to dozens of podcasts, drop 20 pounds, and reduce my lipid profile by 40%. If it was a weight loss resolution, I’d likely given up after the first bite of a hot pepperoni pizza (my weakness). Since it was a theme, however, I realized that each decision on each day was a guilt-free, independent opportunity to align with my broader objective.

This year, my theme is learning. I’m breaking it down into three learning areas: performance and storytelling, innovation and corporate growth, and most importantly, parenting. I’ve then broken each learning area into actionable steps (read certain books, practice certain skills, align with certain mentors) so that my year will end up productive despite the inevitable missteps I’ll take.

Your theme could be a personal one such as compassion, kindness, better listening, or helping others. Or your theme may be a pragmatic business skill such as finance, PowerPoint mastery, or enhanced communication. Your theme may center on a passion or hobby such as music, art, or fly-fishing. Simply put, a single theme for the year has a far better probability of delivering the progress you seek compared to those vapid resolutions that most of us quickly dismiss.

Once your theme is established, brainstorm rituals, reinforcements, and rewards to keep your theme front and center. Share it widely, as your public pronouncement creates its own accountability mechanism. Allow your theme to seep into daily life, and mastery will soon follow.

Here’s to your tremendous success in the New Year, and to hoping your annual theme serves as a powerful guidepost along the journey.