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Two years ago, on New Year’s Day, I was overwhelmed at the thought of setting goals.
It’s not that I didn’t know how, I simply wasn’t in the right head space. Letting the pendulum swing the other way, I toyed with the idea of not having goals for the upcoming year. That didn’t work either—it made me anxious. Clearly, I had to find a middle-of-the-road option.
That’s basically how the idea of choosing a theme rather than setting a goal came to me.
What is a “theme” exactly?
There is no convention as to what a theme is but, from a practical perspective, it is:
A quality, skill, value, strength, positive emotional state, or habit of excellence that is accomplished, first and foremost, by simply following our inner GPS–the Emotional Guidance System (EGS)—where positive emotions signal “go there” or “do that” and negative emotions signal “don’t go there” or “don’t do that.”
It is not a thing (a dream house, a soulmate) nor is it an achievement (lose weight, run a marathon, start a business). Let me provide a few examples.
Say, we want to feel better about ourselves in general. In this case, our theme could be: confidence, self-love, stamina.
Or, perhaps, we need to tend to money matters. Then, our theme might be: budgeting, investing, saving.
If personal improvement is our thing, we could consider the following themes: being in the flow, being in the now/present, acceptance.
And, if our relationships are rocky, these themes might appeal:, communication, boundaries, assertiveness.
Personally, the year I started to work with themes, I chose healing. I was hesitant at first to make this the primary focus of so many months, so I fought it for about 90 days and coerced myself to identify a goal or two that would jazz me. Come March, I had found nothing, nada, zilch, and decided—well, more like submitted—it would be best to heed the signals my body and mind were giving me.
Healing thus became my theme for the rest of the year.
As a result, I spent the year scaling down my business. I captured ideas in writing as they came up but acted on few of them. I slowed down. I listened less to Tony Robbins and more to Eckhart Tolle. When December rolled around, I felt lighter, less anxious, and more present. I had healed by simply giving myself time and space to breathe—to be.
In other words, I sort of achieved a goal without setting one. Cool, huh?
How do we accomplish a theme?
The short answer is, we don’t. It’s almost as though the theme works on you. That’s the beauty of a theme. It’s effortless.
For example, if our theme is “being present,” the moment we sincerely commit to it the hamster wheel will, most likely, begin to spin. It’ll feel like one of those conversations we have with ourselves:
>> “What does being present mean?”
>> “How do we do that?”
>> “Do I need to pick up a book or watch a video?”
As our minds spew these questions, we have the opportunity to find answers and take action. In other words, once we choose a theme, our mind is subliminally invited to finding ways to accomplish it. All we need to do is follow the gentle nudges that feel good to us.
If we feel any tension or angst at the thought of our theme, it is not the right one for now. This year, when I chose the theme “influence,” my mind instantly engaged:
>> “Who do you want to influence?”
>> “Why do you want to influence?”
>> “What is the most effective way to influence others?”
>> “Who can you learn the art of influence from?”
The excitement I felt at the thought of finding answers to these questions hinted that I’m on the right track. If this resonates, then you may be curious about giving this method a whirl.
Below are a few tips on how to choose our theme and start living it.
1. Tune out to tune in. Choosing a theme is about focusing on something we desperately need and may have been avoiding, numbing, or simply been blind to. So, find a quiet space where we can tune the world out long enough to tune in. It might take 30 minutes or less than 10. Just breathe and ask, “What would feel really good right now?” See what comes up.
2. Be honest with ourselves. None of us enjoy admitting that we have weaknesses, problems, or issues—but we all do. If we can be honest, ask ourselves, “What hasn’t been working for years that I really need to sort out?” Notice what bubbles to the surface and pick a theme that will help us grow into the person who can overcome or master the situation that is giving us grief.
3. Be aware and flexible. The only way we can fail at accomplishing our theme is to ignore it completely. If we find yourself doing so or feeling stressed about it, it’s obviously the wrong one. Consider finding a new theme as soon as possible. Again, the thought of our theme should always feel good. Trust in our EGS—it’s reliable.
Still unsure if a theme is right? See for yourself by answering the following questions.
>> Do you want to change or improve one or several aspects of your current life this year?
>> Does the thought of setting formal goals trigger any negative emotions?
>> Are you willing to try something new with the promise of not judging yourself (or the method) if it doesn’t work?
If you’ve answered “yes” to all three questions above, then go ahead, give themes a shot and see what happens. Please comment below, I’d love to hear about your experience.