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Why You Need to Create an Annual Theme

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Why You Need to Create an Annual Theme

In a word, what do you want to say about your work, leadership, and life next year at this time?

Have you ever had one of those weeks? The kind where Murphy’s Law comes at you full-blown and it feels like every little thing that can go wrong, does? These times tend to come and go and somehow we make it through, move on, and forget.

I had one such week in 2004, however, that I can recall with crystal clarity.

During that week, a number of events occurred: my computer crashed, our electricity flickered on and off, my preschooler caught a stomach bug, my newborn was diagnosed with RSV and required frequent breathing treatments, my toddler developed a new habit of playing and singing loudly around midnight each night. I completely forgot an important meeting I was supposed to attend as well as the birthday of a close friend. I was trying to get my new business off the ground while navigating several other obligations and responsibilities, too. 

Exercise? Clean the house? Keep up with mail and phone calls and library book returns? Not even on the radar.

At week’s end (and about my wit’s end, too), I went down to our finished basement and, to my shock, stepped into several inches of cold water. Sometime during that freezing February night, pumps and pipes went awry and left us with a basement we could practically swim in.

As I started bringing items upstairs to dry – trip after trip, in my sleep-deprived state – I had a major realization: We had too much stuff. Which essentially stood as a metaphor for my life. I was trying to do too much, spreading myself way too thin, wanting to give 110% and falling drastically short in every possible area. So rather than bringing items upstairs to dry, I started bringing them out to the truck to donate.

I knew what I needed in my space and life – FOCUS – but had no idea how to attain it. I’m a goal-setter and love big, bold goals, thorough action plans, coaching, accountability, and rewards along the way. But I chose to do something different this time: I set “Focus” as my theme for the year, and decided to let it unfold naturally. No planning, tracking, or check-ins; just holding the intention of focus and figuring it out as I went.

At the end of that year, I honestly couldn’t believe the difference. I had let go of physical items, excess responsibilities, unnecessary calendar obligations, and unrealistic expectations. I clarified and re-clarified what mattered most to me and allowed other things back-burner status. And for the first time in a long time, I realized I truly felt focused.

Hence my annual theme was born, and I’ve held one ever since.

How To Create Your Annual Theme

Essentially, your annual theme is a word or phrase that captures who/how you want to be in the coming year. Since my year of Focus, I’ve had themes like Grow, Strong, Joy, Energy, and Expand. My coaching clients have set themes like Simplify, Connect, Wonder, Calm, Positivity. 

You can select a theme in many ways. For example: 

  1. Close your eyes and imagine that it’s the end of 2017. What would you love to be able to say about yourself? Not so much what you’ve accomplished (those are your goals), but rather how you’d finish a sentence that starts “I am…” or “My work/life is…”. 
  2. Set your 2017 goals, then look for the central theme that runs through them. What do you need in order to achieve those goals? Discipline, humor, creativity, action? How do you want to be as you accomplish them: purposeful, happy, light-hearted?
  3. Select the word that has been floating in your mind for the past few months. In your mental dialogue, it might be the word that follows, “I need to be more…”.
     

Just like I did with Focus, let go of how you will fulfill your theme, getting clear only on the what for now. Choose a theme that is meaningful, easy to remember, and truly resonates with you.

Then What?

Once you’ve selected your 2017 theme, keep it present. A few creative ways you can do this:

  • Incorporate your theme into your passwords. (Who isn’t typing in passwords 8,500 times per day?)
  • Write your theme on sticky notes placed on your bathroom mirror, computer monitor, planner cover, car dashboard, or anywhere else you see regularly.
  • Create a vision board to represent your theme.
     

If it feels right, consider brainstorming ways you can bring your theme to life. You might also designate a page in your journal or planner to track your actions along the way. But keep it all loose, free, and fun. You can still create goals and resolutions – in fact, I encourage it – but let your theme stand on its own.

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