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What direction do you want to be pushed in this year? Where do you want to go, and what do you think will drive you there? What does progress mean for you? What season are you in?

I like to start the year by formulating a theme that will set an intention and direction for the growth I want to achieve in the coming year.

This is inspired by The Theme System developed by Myke Hurley and CGP Grey at Cortex. I recommend checking out their website, and this video on yearly themes if you want to learn more.

A good yearly theme is:

  • Flexible – it should be applicable to multiple areas of your life, and ideally adjustable for any bigger changes that may happen in a year.
  • Memorable – you want to pick a word or phrase that you’ll remember months from now.
  • Challenging – the theme should push you in a wanted direction and challenge you to make changes.

After setting a theme, the next step is to identify the outcomes you want the theme to help you achieve. The Theme System is a very structured way of doing this, where you set concrete goals, do daily journaling, and track metrics related to your theme. You can see examples of that here.

I do it in a less structured way, where I write down my theme and wanted outcomes at the beginning of the year and tell my friends and family about it. When setting plans, and when making big and small decisions throughout the year, I use the theme as compass or north star. I then reflect on how it’s going at the end of the year, or ad hoc throughout the year, for example when friends ask about it.

The reason why I don’t set up metrics and do daily journaling is the same reason why I don’t set new year’s resolutions: I know I won’t keep up with them for longer than a few weeks. I then end up feeling disappointed in myself for not following the routine, and like the rest of the year is tarnished as a result.

If you think you’d be able to follow the more structured Theme System, then that’s great and works for a lot of people! However, if you’re like me and struggle to reliably follow a routine for a longer period of time, then I suggest you try it out with less structure. 

Photo of a snowy fjord with a boat on the shore. From Alta, Norway.

To give an example of how to set a yearly theme, I thought I’d tell you about my past themes and how I came up with my theme for 2024.

Here are my themes from the past four years:

  • 2020: Year of Tending
    • The idea was to tend to the hobbies, friends, and other activities I was doing, instead of starting new things.
  • 2021: Year of Groove
    • The idea was to both come into a day-to-day rhythm but also find what feels good and have some fun with it. So not only finding a rhythm, but finding something that sways me, that makes me groove.
    • For example, instead of forcing myself to workout, I would try to explore and find types of workouts that I enjoyed. 
  • 2022: Year of Adventure
    • I wanted to explore new things, travel, and say yes more.
    • I tried to choose new dishes at restaurants, explore new hobbies, lean into things that felt uncomfortable.
  • 2023: Year of Grounding
    • The year before turned out to be more adventurous than I was hoping for, and I realised I needed to slow down.
    • This looked like practising identifying my needs, setting more boundaries, doing fewer things, and journaling.

My theme for 2024 is “Year of Carrots”. 

How did I arrive at this theme? At the end of each year I’ll start thinking about bigger things I want to change, areas I want to grow in, and answer the questions I raised at the beginning of this post. When thinking about next year, I realised that I want to have more fun, and be less worried. This year, I’ve focused a lot on taking care of myself and setting boundaries, but I now feel like I need more of a push to enjoy myself and carefully go out of my comfort zone.

I arrived at the particular word “carrots” after a journaling session. The way I do journaling is that I’ll focus on my breathing (similar to what you may do when meditating), and do a body scan, i.e. let my mind run through the different parts of my body from head to toe, and out to each finger. After having mentally scanned through my body, I’ll return to whichever body part feels more notable. I’ll focus on that area, and think of a word. I’ll then write about the first word that comes to mind.

During this particular session, the first word that came to mind was carrot. I was … surprised, as the words I write about are usually more abstract, like “belonging”, “security”, and “joy”.

After sitting with it for a while, I realised that it could be a fitting yearly theme: In 2024, I want to focus on the carrots, not the sticks. I tend to focus on the negatives, the many things that could go wrong or feel bad, and all the reasons not to do something. I want to push myself to identify and focus on the positive outcomes of doing something, and the ways in which I could learn and grow from doing those things.

The nice thing about using carrots instead of sticks as motivation is that it’s okay if I fail. I’m terrified of doing something I won’t be the best at, or going into situations where I’m not likely to succeed. This has been holding me back from growing and achieving more. In 2024, I want to do projects that are probably going to fail.

I also associate carrots with being healthy and filling your body with nutritious and good things. In the next year, I want to build more physical strength and limit the days when I haven’t been outside. I’ve also started exploring antidepressants to reduce anxiety, and want to continue taking iron and vitamin D supplements. 

If you want more examples of yearly themes, you can check out this thread on Reddit where others have shared their themes from previous years. I also recommend the annual Cortex episodes on yearly themes (here’s the episode for 2024).





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