Why You Should Pick a Theme For 2019
January 2, 2019
I love a good resolution.
I love the resolve, the clear divide between what to do and what not to do.
But by February, my love for the resolutions I’ve made tends to fade a little. Next thing I know, I’m rebelling, doing the exact opposite of what I’d sworn on January 1st.
So a few years ago, I switched things up a bit. Instead of writing out a list of what I’d do differently, I picked a theme—an idea I wanted to commit to for the next 365 days. The theme could be “presence,” or “de-clutter,” or even “homemade,” so long as it could serve as a directive for how to act in the year ahead.
There was nothing to rebel against, no strict edicts telling me what to do or what not to do. Instead, I had a sort of guideline for how I wanted to live the next year in order to change my life.
I’ve come to think of themes as bumpers on a bowling lane. The word I choose each year helps me make decisions, figure out how to act, and gently nudges me back on track when I start to veer.
My 2018 theme was sustainability. Part of that meant making choices that were sustainable for the world: I vowed to buy only secondhand clothes. I planned to find creative ways to use up leftovers, in an attempt to avoid dumping half of the groceries I buy each week.
But the other half of it was a focus on making my life sustainable for me. After years of planning, I finally quit my draining newsroom job and built a sustainable freelance career—one that lets me work when I have boundless energy, and take a breather when I’m running on empty. I’ve also focused on building relationships for the long haul, rather than filling my time for the sake of having plans.
I could have made all these steps into separate resolutions, I realize. And in some ways, I did—whenever I had a new idea for how to live my life more sustainably, I’d jot it down in a notebook. But I know myself, and I know how I work—if I were running off of these resolutions alone, I’d have quit weeks in. My overarching “theme” meant I could make each decision as I went—and remind myself why I was committing to sustainability in the first place.
The best part of picking a theme? You can adjust the way you act on it to your own life.
If you don’t want to quit your job in the name of sustainability or up and move to another city for a better sense of community, you can commit to toting a reusable coffee mug to work or joining a book club.
So, what's your theme going to be for 2019? Here's five to get you thinking:
This is my own personal theme for 2019. After focusing on my career and my choices in 2018, I want to connect with others on a similar path in the new year.
For me, that means making plans and sticking to them, and holding get-togethers to introduce different friends. I have a few smaller-scale ideas in mind, too—instead of hopping around from yoga studio to yoga studio, I’m sticking to my neighborhood spot. I volunteer online, but I’m looking for ways to get involved in my area of the city.
For you, that might also mean volunteering or creating more IRL hangouts with the people in your favorite group text.
Quick: What are you doing while you read this? Are you about to get up for the day? Eating breakfast? Sitting on the train on your way to work?
If this the first time you’ve noticed where you are in the past few minutes, you might want to think about getting present over the next year.
You could try out a new mindfulness practice, taking a few minutes each day to center yourself with the Shine app. You could get a bracelet with the word “present,” or scrawl it onto your phone case, for an in-the-moment reminder. You could even take a break from listening to podcasts while on the go and take in the sounds around you.
2018 was a doozy for many of us, and nothing sounds nicer right now than, well, being nice to yourself.
That could mean challenging your negative self-talk (more on how to do that here), or deciding to say a positive affirmation before you head out this morning.
Maybe it means making dinner for yourself once a week, or booking a monthly massage. Or, perhaps the kindest thing you can do for yourself this year is to ease up on your goals and expectations. Shine's Hustle With Heart Manifesto can help you approach those New Year's resolutions with more self-compassion, less self-shame.
Say you’ve always wanted to take a pottery class, or finally break out your watercolor set. Or, maybe you’re stuck in a rut at work and want to switch up your usual way of doing things. Try devoting the next 365 days to creativity, in all its many forms.
You could make a plan to do something creative each day, tap into your artistic side, or simply ask yourself before each choice you make: Is there a more creative way to do this? How would I decide if I were Georgia O'Keeffe or Solange? Then adjust accordingly.
“Upgrade” was author Gretchen Rubin’s theme for 2015, she wrote in a blog post.
To her, it meant taking her life to the next level and manifesting abundance in her day-to-day. To you, it might mean working for that promotion you’ve been eyeing, working to bring your relationship to the next level, or simply swapping out that throw pillow for something new that makes you smile after a long day.