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Set Your Theme of the Year Before You Set Your Goals

Answer these questions to give meaning and direction to your life.

Source: Ronstik/AdobeStock

Many books and posts will tell you what new year’s goals to set, or what to skip because they don’t work. Before setting, resetting, or trashing your goals, complete these five steps to set a focus or theme for the year to ensure what you choose to do fulfills you.

You can use your annual theme as a guiding light if you get lost along the way. The rest of the year, review your theme to help you make decisions or to return to your purposeful and satisfying path.

Step #1. Learn From the Past Year

Start by assessing the past year. Answer some or all the questions to determine how you spent your time and how you now feel about your choices.

  1. When were you able to use your best talents, skills, and gifts? What were you doing? How did you feel?
  2. What did you realize you were good at that you didn’t know or claim before now?
  3. How did you grow? What do you know now that you didn’t know last year?
  4. What did you do that gave your life meaning? How much time did you spend in that zone?
  5. When did you avoid doing something uncomfortable even though you now know you should have spoken up or acted?
  6. What did you put off that you wished you had spent more time on?

Review your answers. Note what you want to do more and less of next year.

Step #2. Clearly See the Present

It is hard to objectively evaluate your current life on your own. Consider exploring these questions with a coach or trusted friend who will challenge you to expand your thinking.

  1. What impact are you making? Is this enough for you right now?
  2. What do believe created your present circumstances? What wisdom has life given you?
  3. What used to bring you joy but now, the energy is disappearing?
  4. What are you clinging to that defines you but it is now time to let go of?
  5. If you cleared away obligations that feel like a burden, what would you do instead?

It is okay to be unhappy with parts of your life. Feelings like regret, envy, and sadness can help you articulate what you yearn to create. Clearly seeing the present will help you determine what you feel is best for you to focus on next.

Step #3. Declare What Lights You Up

Review your answers to the previous sections before answering these questions:

  1. If you had the opportunity to fully express your talents, what could you accomplish?
  2. What do you dare dream of doing? What do you long to create?
  3. Is there something you are called to do but thought you couldn’t?
  4. What inside of you wants to be heard or unleashed? If you listened to this longing, what would you know you had to do?

Now: Declare your theme for the year. What word, phrase or sentence defines what you want to focus on? What phrase inspires you to say “yes” even if the path isn't clear?

My theme for this year is Conversations That Give People a Sense of Connection, Hope, and Possibility. This is the focus for my teaching, coaching, and writing. I plan to only say "yes" to experiences that support the good I want to create around my theme.

You might choose one word, like Courage, or an action, like Leading and Writing to Inspire, or a frame of mind, like Choosing to Love and Laugh.

If you want to share your theme with others, declare it as a comment to this post.

Step #4. Clean Up the Path

To follow your theme, you must leave some things behind. When looking at your past, what can you let go of or at least, spend less time doing? Find ways to release what drains your energy and diverts you from your theme to allow the chance for your higher contribution to take form.

  1. To step into your profound potential, what must you leave behind?
  2. What can you say "no" to now?
  3. What old promises you made to yourself can you now release? Crossing things off your list gives you more energy to spend on what is important now.

The more developed your expertise and career is, the harder it will be to re-create yourself. It’s also difficult to envision acting on something new when you have bills to pay. Set your direction anyway. The years go by quickly. Imagine your perfect day one, two, or five years from now where you are doing and feeling what you most want.

Step #5. Commit to Your Theme

The final question is—how can you ensure your commitment to living your chosen life? To begin his day on the right foot, Benjamin Franklin answered the question in his Virtue Journal, “What good shall I do this day?” In the evening, he would ask himself: “What good have I done today?” Can you create a ritual to keep your theme front of mind throughout the year?

From here, you might set goals, or you might write yourself notes to help you remember what is important. You might find friends, a mastermind group, or a coach to support you.

Plan ways to remember your intentions so next year, answering these questions will be easier.


If you would like me to speak at your upcoming event or be a part of your leadership training and coaching initiative, please contact us at

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