Choose Themes Over Goals
Following through on your New Year’s resolutions
Why are theme parks so magical? And what exactly do you think triggers those feelings? They can be a source of dreams, joy, and inspiration. A theme park is a specific type of amusement park that offers attractions that can be enjoyed by large groups of people. The parks’ rides, landscape, buildings, and characters are centered on a specific theme or story. Perhaps that’s what makes it magical. Like a theme park, we can leverage the power of themes to set our own mission in this coming year.
The New Year can be an exciting time, but also a time of tension. We want goals we can be proud of. So we set very specific goals with high expectations. And then we usually stop following through. Can you guess what time of the year my local gym is busiest? January. Then comes the spring time and most people are gone. Goals can be harsh. In Writing (and Engaging) Goals that Matter and Engage Your Goals with Inquiry I explored how to come up with better goals even if the process was not “smart”. Often, the pressure to have a goal becomes the goal itself! It can be tiring. Instead, I explained how the mission of setting a goal is to compel you to move in the direction you want! Spending the effort of setting goals is about gaining clarity and feeling excited about it, not burdened by it. We can do better than that.
We can set themes. Themes are empowering. Like mentors, they show you the way and they let you explore. And yet, we tend to set our New Year’s resolutions like a micro-manager. Themes help us make sure that we enjoy what we do. When we want to accomplish new challenges, choosing themes (surplus) over goals (deficit) is a more reasonable approach to our resolutions.
So what exactly is a theme? A theme can be: a way of life, an overall story that inspires us, a state of mind, or a direction we want to head to. Themes are always magical. Even cities have themes. Think of Napa Valley in California. The city thrives on the basis of its wine country theme. Paris has a theme of romance. And New York City, a theme of fashion. Setting goals based on themes is more inspiring—definitely more practical. So the first step to set your New Year’s resolution is to think about what theme(s) you want your 2016 to be. Maybe your theme is based on your values. Or you could have a super-hero based 2016. Or an apprenticeship based 2016. Choose your theme(s), then follow the theme park elements to apply it this year!
Rides are probably one of the most exciting elements of a theme park. Like rides, you want your theme to be fun, meaningful, and evoke a sense of wonder. This is the core of your theme because it shows you how to behave, think, and feel. If your theme is a nutrition-powered 2016, then make sure to have your favorite fruits and vegetables around. This way, you can even turn a dessert into a nutrition-driven delight.
For every theme, there’s a good chance you can leverage the environment to your advantage. Think specifically about what kind of landscape your theme calls for. If you have a theme based on nutrition, health, or well-being, then find ways to use your surroundings to feel empowered to exercise, eat, and sleep better.
Theme parks have their magical buildings. What’s yours? Maybe it’s our planet. Maybe it’s a super power. What will your symbols be for 2016? What resources do you need to begin a lifestyle based on your theme? Symbols help shape our reality. If you choose nutrition, a high-quality blender could be your castle.
Characters make up another essential ingredient of theme parks. People are always central to any mission. All of us create meaning and help live more meaningful lives for each other. Who do you need to surround yourself with to better live your theme? What character would you personify?
A theme is a lifestyle. Setting a theme is about aligning ourselves first with what we value, with who we want to become, and with the life we wish to live. If you are already living, say, an athletic life, then setting a specific goal will be helpful. But a New Year’s resolution is often a new set of challenges that we would most benefit from by setting themes. Think about it. There is a reason most of our resolutions fail. We want to jump to the results and skip the process. But a good theme can trigger enough magic to keep you focused and motivated to follow through on your New Year’s resolutions.
Juan F. Diaz
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