Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

One of my favorite things to do, just before a year ends or even right after a new year has begun is to sit down and brainstorm my theme for the year ahead.

This exercise goes hand in hand and can be done at the same time as the Yearly Reflections.

I know that a lot of people don’t love New Year’s Resolutions, but while I don’t write them in a traditional sense such as “lose weight” or “write a book”, I do love the feeling of a fresh start.

And I use it to take a more gentle…easier route… I set a theme and a vision for the year ahead.

The Main Reason It Works for Me

I am someone who loves planning (a little too much!) and dreaming about things.

Planning and preparation often make me feel as if I have accomplished something, when in fact, I haven’t. (it took me a while to admit this to myself)

This quote from Yogi Cameron’s The One Plan was a real eye opener.

The only way for us to shift our lifestyle and find our way out of suffering is to set an intention to change and then follow with daily actions to make that change a reality. These actions are collectively known as a spiritual practice, or simply a practice. Buying a book like this and reading it is a great first step. But if you don’t put the book down and practice the methods it has taught you, then you haven’t done anything more than become aware of pain in your body and mind.

Setting a clear theme for the year ahead helps me stay on track and not veer off (too much) in many different directions doing “busy work”.

Additionally, we get to use this fresh start to decide how we want to feel and the kind of experiences we want to invite into our life.

Your theme for the year ahead will guide you when you are faced with difficult decisions or when you find yourself inundated with chores, responsibilities, ideas or even interests (my pitfall) during the course of the year.

The Guiding Word (Your Theme)

The process of creating a vision for the year ahead includes picking or guiding word. (or a short phrase)

Did you get onboard that trend?

I sure have years go and I love it.

EXAMPLE 1:

My word for 2020, that I set during this process last year was ACTION.
Written down it looked more or less like this:
ACTION: A year of taking deliberate actions!
This included some specific behaviors I wanted to cultivate such as:

  • Stop dreaming, researching and organizing, but act on ideas & things I want or think I want to do.
  • Try them out.
  • Complete them or let them go.
  • Do it without any fear or consideration of success or failure.

And despite it being 2020, I managed to accomplish quite a bit, start this blog, start a new job, move internationally, live more in the moment (well, still working on that one).
I don’t think I would have been able to do all that without having set my theme for the year.

EXAMPLE 2:

My guiding word for 2018 was FLOW:
go with the flow
be in the present
accept what comes my way
swim downstream


At the moment, I am still thinking and waiting to align with my word for 2021.

I think it is going to be something in the direction of CALM, MINDFULNESS, RELAXATION. I want to invite calm, stress-free feelings into my life.

It will become clear when I complete the exercise/answer the questions below.

Questions to Ask Yourself

As I mentioned in Yearly Reflections, take some uninterrupted time for yourself. (me time, yeah!)
It is important that we write it all down.

  1. Writing down your thoughts will bring about clarity to your thoughts and formulate them into clear, actionable or reflective sentences.
  2. It will help you brainstorm (you can always edit or rewrite later)

Without that, it will all remain just a well intentioned thought.

1. What do you want to invite into your life in 2021?

How do you want to feel? What do you want to experience?
Write down any specific actions and behaviors you want to cultivate in 2021.
You can also list anything you want to improve (gently!), any specific goals you want to accomplish, any habits you want to adopt (or stop).

Freeform write! Let it pour out of you (you can edit and zoom in on the most important aspects later)

A Note on Goals: If you are listing any specific goals it is best not to have too many. You may want to do many things now, but focusing on just a few achievable (SMART!) goals will make you feel better in the long run.
But don’t let that deter you from dreaming big.

You can set a vision for yourself that is much bigger than your specific goals.

2. What is your theme for 2021?

Based on your brainstorming above, you should be ready to select that word (or a short phrase) to tie in your theme for the year.

3. What habits and behaviors do you want to cultivate in 2021?

This is also where you go back to the first question and take out those habits and behaviors that spoke to you the most. This doesn’t mean that the other ones aren’t important, no, but the purpose of the exercise is to create a theme for the year, your niche for the year, so to speak.

You will be overwhelmed if your habits range from stop smoking, lose 20 kgs, write a novel, find the love of your life to save enough money for a downpayment on a house.

Foucus on one or two.

EXAMPLE:

Last year the habits I wanted to cultivate were:

  • Being a calm and patient parent. (I listed some specific actions that would help me become that, such as spend planned quality time (and what that means for us) with my kids, stop yelling at my kids, etc.!)
    (PS. This one is coming with me to 2021)
  • Cultivate deep work (and what that means to me, and how to achieve it)
  • Live in the moment (stop focusing so much on the future, be aware that now is all there is)

Reflecting on your Ideal Life

Here is one of my favorite exercises. I also love seeing how it changes over the years.

I got this from a book or another blog years ago.

Doing this exercise in writing has actually helped me weed out what I thought I wanted vs what I really wanted.

You will know, when you write it down, because every time you put down something you think you should want, but don’t actually want, you will not feel joy, but a sense of burden.

Write until you feel nothing but joy while imagining your ideal life. You will know when your soul is in alignment with your thoughts!

Therefore, do write down your answers and try to imagine how achieving that ideal would feel.

  • What is your ideal life?
  • What are your biggest goals and dreams?

Don’t censor yourself here. If your goal is to bring about world peace, let it be that. Write about it, how would it make you feel.

  • What is your ideal career?
  • What is your ideal level of wealth?
  • What is your ideal home?
  • What is your ideal family?
  • What is your ideal relationship?

EXAMPLE:

While answers to these are highly personal, I will share one of mine (ideal family) just to illustrate.
We all get along splendidly and we help each other when needed and we do not judge and we respect each other’s choices. We are extremely supportive of one another. We laugh a lot, we spend a lot of time together without any bickering. In my family, everyone gets to be who they really are.


Do you set your theme for the year ahead? Have you already done it?

26 Comments

  1. Really nice post. I’ve also thought about having a theme and a word for the year and like you mine is also to take action and do those things I’ve been longing to do.

    1. Author

      Oh, yes! I am still brainstorming my theme. I am going between 2 but I really want one to focus on.

  2. Stella, this is a lovely post. I bought an inspirational diary in the summer to help with my planning and my goals. It’s one of those diaries where you write how you felt that day etc. with prompts, and I know going into 2021 that I will be using it!

    I don’t do news year resolutions but dreams I can do.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much, Gemma. Yes, I am also planning to do more intentional journaling in 2021. It really helps my thoughts (and dreams!) take shape and clarity.

      1. These are some really great ideas. I bought myself an inspirational journal that has an area for me to write in, and a section for daily quotes. So far I’ve enjoyed it. I love this idea of having a theme, and a word as well. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, I need to choose a new theme for the new year as I’m getting tired of mine- so I will definitely use your ideas!

    1. Author

      That’s a beautiful theme for 2021! Good luck, Della!

  4. Great post, I love the positive and uplifting tone of your writing, it’s really motivating! And there’s some awesome journal prompts here, thanks for sharing 🙂

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

  5. Odličan tekst..
    Inspiraciju i motivaciju pronalazim za sebe i našu školu.. 🙂
    Uživam čitajući i nestrpljivo očekujem sljedeći post!
    Pozdrav iz hladnog Mostara 🙂

  6. My word for 2021 is Commitment…feelings are fleeting but I will do even when I don’t “feel” like it. Create S.M.A.R.T goals and commit! Enjoyed this article!

  7. I don’t make resolutions for new year – prefer to make them when I need to! But I do like the idea of a theme for the year. Will give it some thought

  8. This is really interesting. I often make resolutions that I don’t stick to but I love the idea of brainstorming a theme for the year. Now I’m thinking what my theme should be.

  9. I really like the idea of a theme because it’s broad and gives some space throughout the year to look at it from several different angles. My theme for last year was freedom and for this year it’s love. I think it’s a great way to accomplish a lot in an intentional way.

  10. Love the idea of setting a theme for the year – really helps focus your priorities. I love the example of an ideal family that you’ve shared – all about relationships and not anything material!

  11. The Positivity of the post is what I loved the most. We must set a theme for ourselves and then chalk a plan. Like you I too love to plan well in advance.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much! Yes, I do try to keep the positive tone to my posts 🙂

  12. I love the idea of a theme for the new year! My word this year is consistency. In everything I do, and creating good healthy and productive habits. I want to be and I need to be consistent.

    1. Author

      I love that! Consistency is such an important habit to create! Good luck!

  13. that is a great idea! I think I will try it as well. I do want this year to be great for me

  14. This is interesting. I don’t subscribe to the traditional idea of New Year’s resolutions but I do set new goals quarterly each year, focusing on 1 goal each for my professional life, personal growth/wellness and my relationships. That being said, I’ve never tried to work with a theme before. I am going to have to dig into this a little further and see if it works for me!

    1. Author

      So glad this resonated with you! I hope that you find it works for you!

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