Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, Try a New Year’s Theme

Around this time of year, the internet is flooded with articles about making New Year’s Resolutions, goals, and plans. I’m a big fan of looking ahead but I am adamantly opposed to resolutions. Why? Because not only is it human nature to have trouble sticking to change, but with resolutions, we create an all-or-nothing situation that practically guarantees we will feel that we’ve ‘failed’. It’s do or don’t do. You know, if you follow me at all, that I don’t believe that it is possible to fail at self-care.

Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean that I think that everyone will follow through with their resolutions.

In one study only 19% of people were able to keep their resolutions long term. In my experience with patients and clients, I would say often even lower than that. And then, from where I sit, worse than not keeping the resolutions, I see patients and clients drowning in self-deprecation, self-judgment, and shame they layer onto themselves for not keeping resolutions…. “Again.”

This makes the concept of turning over a new leaf another opportunity to judge ourselves harshly. And really, who needs that?

But there’s more to consider: What do we want to model for our friends, our families, our children? For most of us, we want to model that it is important to help others but not to put everyone else first at the expense of taking care of ourselves.

We want to show that knowing what is most important is invaluable and that making choices in alignment with our values is imperative.

And we want to teach that true kindness to ourselves means not trying to do it all and then feeling badly that we can’t. 

But do we then skip resolutions altogether? The things we tend to choose as resolutions are things that are important to us, that we’ve been trying to change to no avail. And I am a HUGE fan of getting clear about what is most important and working toward this for ourselves. 

What is the answer then? 

Themes or intentions.

Having New Year’s themes instead of resolutions allows room for goals shifting with life shifting. Because if there’s one thing you can count on it’s that life shifts.

If you have a theme for the year you can put intention toward making changes without a box that hems you in. There is no failing. One choice out of alignment doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, that you’ve blown it all. It just means that you’re human.

Part of the approach I encourage is to identify the theme, and then to revisit it over the course of the year, once a month (I usually pick the 1st but it could be any day, really) working on new and more effective ways of lining your choices up with your values.

Most often for myself, I’ll have a few themes I’m working on. Some years I end up with one theme, and others I end up with a handful. There are even times when I carry a theme over to the next year because I haven’t quite gotten to where I wanted to be. New Year’s is a great time to make change because it’s on our minds, but in the end, it’s just an arbitrary day. If you want to have your life look differently than it does now, you can’t keep doing the things you’re doing. Themes allow us to focus on what we DO want, rather than on what we don’t. 

One of my New Year’s themes for this year is to prioritize family time.

  • This means scheduling time for being with my husband and son without devices.
  • It means booking a trip each quarter to visit with my mom on the East coast. 
  • And it means altering my work schedule to be home in the afternoons 3 days a week, and being sure to have mornings on the weekends to just be present before my teenager heads out for whatever soccer situation he has going that day (and let me tell you, there are always soccer situations in my world.)

I know that there are people who spend weeks trying to come up with themes but honestly, you can just pick something that you think will help you. You can always choose an additional theme as you have time for more self-reflection, or you can always shift gears. That’s the magic of themes instead of resolutions! 

What is one theme you can make for the upcoming year and what are three things you can do in January to support your intentions? For each of those items, note two specific things you can do to support each of them.

I hope you have fun with this, and a wonderful, fulfilling new year!

Yours in Health, 


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