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  • Jon Mechan

Forget Resolutions - Choose a Theme Instead

Every year at around this time it’s natural to be reflective.

Now, there’s nothing particularly special about a year but humans like to divide things into digestible chunks. Every year people decide on a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ or three and then by around January 15th most lie abandoned and a vague guilt sets in.

A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of themes rather than resolutions from this wonderful video by CGP Grey. So what are they? A theme is deliberately more loose than a resolution - for example it could be “The Year of Clarity” or “The Year of Health”.

What does this have to do with my usual topics of leadership and management, I hear you ask? Well, part of being a good leader is having a sense of the direction you’re heading in. And themes can help us decide and clarify our direction on both a personal and professional level, should we choose.

Ideally, themes are broad, resonate for you personally, and directional. As Grey says, even decelerating the trend of a negative is a positive. You can also think about what your ideal outcomes are, should everything go according to plan.

When decision points arise through the year, you can use your theme to help you choose a path. For the year of health, it might be as simple as selecting the salad for dinner rather than the burger. Rather than beating yourself up about not losing X pounds by Y date (a more typical resolution framing), you just become more conscious about the decisions you are making.

In a leadership context, you might choose “The Year of Clarity”, seeking to bring greater clarity to your role and to improve communication in your team. You could, for example, look to clarify areas of overlapping or duplicated work in your organization, adjust the structure of your management team, and create clearer relationships with your stakeholders.

Whatever the specific improvements you want to make are, they could fit under a banner that is resonant for you (and your team). Then, when you’re at a decision point during the year, you can ask “How does this project or initiative help improve clarity?”, among, of course many other questions, when deciding to go ahead with it or not.

Deer in the woods - Whistler


Themes don’t even have to be a year long - if it is more resonant for you, think in terms of seasons instead - try “The Season of Reading”, for example. This is long enough for meaningful changes to happen, but short enough that you’re not tied to it when it’s no longer relevant or resonant.

The important thing to remember is that you can review, adjust, and adapt your theme when it makes sense to you to do so.

One way of supporting themes is to build systems that underpin them. For example, in the Year of Health, maybe you’ll adjust your calendar to create space to go for a walk three times a week. You may not manage that, but that’s ok. The systems should help you make progress on your theme.

In your leadership Year of Clarity you can create systems to help you and your team ensure you are aligned with the direction you are looking for. Asking questions around projects is one way, as I mentioned earlier, and you could add these questions to the standard project creation forms as a supporting system. Another option would be to create routine newsletters and town halls to increase communication - and thus clarity - with your team.

Whatever you choose, themes are all about building the life that you want. They help you to head in the right direction for you, and, if you use them in a leadership context, for your organization.

What might be an interesting theme for you to explore for 2023, or for the next season?

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