Using Themes Instead of Goals

2021 was the first time I’d set myself explicitly defined goals for the year. This worked really well to help pull myself out of the hole that the global challenges of 2020 had helped me to sink into.

I was going to use the same approach this year, but instead decided to take a thematic approach to what I wanted to achieve.

Image by Sara Kauten via Unsplash

Having reflected on the progress I’d made last year I spent time deciding which were the areas in my life I wanted to focus on: either to maintain the progress I’d made, to achieve the things I’d not been able to, or new areas completely. I was particularly interested in the idea of exploring what gives me meaning in my life.

I then organised these to see which seemed to fit together and came up with six broad themes:

  • Be mentally healthy
  • Be physically healthy
  • Learn
  • Help
  • Perform
  • Explore

I used a vision board app to capture these and record the main activities that I wanted to explore within each area. I then made a collage of the theme images to display on my phone home screen so that I would have a regular reminder of them.

Home screen collage of themes
Collage of themes

So how is this working out so far?

The first three themes run throughout my daily routines. I don’t really have anything new I’m doing here, but they are a key part of my life.

The Help theme has mainly been focused on the women’s support and connection Facebook group that I run. However last week I interviewed for a volunteer post with a local charity who provide friendship for isolated people. This is something I don’t think I would have embarked on if I hadn’t had Help as a theme that I wanted to focus on this year.

Perform was originally going to take me to going further with my guitar playing, but I am involved in playing keyboards for two shows and I’ve decided I need to focus my energy there, at least until one of them is over; I was just stretching myself a little too thin trying to do everything at once. ANd it’s still performing!

And as for Explore, I am gradually making myself go to visit new places or look at old ones through a new lens. Life is pretty busy so there’s not as much exploration happening as I had imagined at the start of the year, but the fact that I know I want to do it is encouraging me to take opportunities that I previously would have decided against.

I’m finding the thematic approach to focusing my energy is really working for me.

If it’s something that you would like to try you could either follow the steps I described at the beginning. If that’s too intense for where you currently are, then perhaps instead just think of one theme that you’d like to raise awareness of in your life and see if just having that is enough to help you move yourself a little closer to where you’d like to be.

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