At the end of December, I set about ways to challenge myself and grow in the upcoming year. In the past, I used to create a list of new years resolutions and cross them off as I completed them. This had proved fruitful in some areas, but in many instances — like countless others — I realized that the end of the year was spent looking at all the items I had left untouched. Instead of enjoying my achievements, more often than not I would feel like I had missed the mark.

As I began to reevaluate the purpose of resolutions, what I realized was that while goals could be great, I would get more caught up in the results rather than fulfillment in walking through challenges.

This was one of the main reasons why I grew weary of new years resolutions; they were always a let down.

So beginning in 2015, instead of creating a checklist of goals, I began to create an annual theme that would help me in establishing resolutions and more importantly, challenge me to grow. This would act as a filter for daily, weekly, or monthly activities. Before I committed to an opportunity, I would ask myself: does this fall in line with my annual theme?

As an example, my theme for 2015 was:
Building and Growing Relationships – New and Old.

The Benefits of a Theme

By establishing a theme versus a checklist, I saw three things happen:


    With a checklist, my focus was concentrated on accomplishing the tasks in front of me. My annual theme taught me how to entertain opportunities that – while unplanned – still benefitted me in growth and maturity.

    Per my 2015 theme, I would take unexpected, periodic, trips throughout the year for the sake of being intentional in relationships – perhaps it was an old high school friend or a new work Client. This was an area that didn’t come naturally to me; I tend to be an introverted homebody who struggles with relational-myopia. But because I opted with a theme that was meant to get me outside my comfort zone, I ended up traveling more often than I would have with a checklist AND it didn’t feel like a duty.


    Instead of arriving at the end of the year disgruntled at the amount of boxes left unchecked, an annual theme taught me how to appreciate areas of growth anytime I successfully applied it in daily practice.I began to appreciate little things I would take for granted, like eating dinner with my parents or grabbing morning coffee with a friend. It was something I was already doing, but because it fell in line with my annual theme, it felt like a win!

    By using it as my filter for decision making and accounting for instances where I succeeded in growing, my theme taught me what it meant to beinstead of what it meant to do.


    As one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown would say, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” By setting a theme instead of a checklist, my activities were no longer centered around me, and I began to see things from a macro-perspective. My successes were tied to a greater narrative and there was a sense of belonging because of it.

    Setting a theme creates a story, setting a checklist creates a burden.

    I realized that when I was more intentional in my relationships with others, I started to see areas where they were growing, and as a result I noticed areas of growth in myself. Ultimately that ought to be the purpose of a goal – progress.

My 2016 Theme

I’m still thinking through what my theme for 2016 will be, but I can’t help but look back at 2015 and be grateful for a tremendous year full of learning opportunities. Here’s to hoping that my 2016 theme will echo similar results.

What will your theme be?