Do you have a New Year’s Theme yet? Here’s mine for 2021!

Photo by Danil Aksenov on Unsplash

Do you start your New Year with a Resolution? Many people do, and the results are usually not great. That is why I don’t set myself resolutions — I set a theme for the New Year. Popularised by YouTuber and podcaster CGP Grey, a yearly theme guides you to improve yourself throughout the year, rather than defining a rigid resolution that’s most likely not going to last beyond the first week of January. As an example, instead of promising to quit smoking or losing weight, you might define your year as the Year of Health and set these as areas to focus on during the year. A flexible theme like that allows you to change your habits little by little instead of attempting to turn your life upside down on the 1st of January.

A good Yearly Theme should be something more abstract than a single goal so it can endure minor setbacks and adjust to the changing circumstances in your life. Keeping the theme at the back of your mind will also guide those small decisions throughout the year: if it’s the Year of Health, why not take the stairs and drop the sugar from your morning coffee? CGP Grey explains yearly themes much better than I ever could on his podcast Cortex and the above-linked YouTube video so be sure to check it out if the idea is new to you. You won’t regret it. In this post, I want to share how the year 2020 went for me and what my theme for 2021 is.

I first discovered the theme system in late January 2020. I thought the idea was good and wanted to set a theme for my year. I knew the year was going to be dominated by change: it was my last year at university, and I was due to start working full-time in London in September. I had also started to improve my productivity with a new task-tracking system last year, and now I wanted to focus on more general self-improvement. I named 2020 the Year of Establishment: a time to set myself up to a successful career, as well as establishing healthy and productive habits to my everyday life.

As we all know, 2020 ended up being very different from expected. The job offer I had signed — rescinded. Graduation — cancelled (with my degree sent in mail). But what did not change was my theme. Year of Establishment was perfect for managing the immense change of circumstances — finding a new job was relevant as ever, as were establishing healthy habits for lockdowns. Looking back, I managed to succeed in my most important goals: I graduated from university with the grade I had hoped for and started an exciting job in London two weeks before I was originally supposed to. Moreover, I managed to make exercise and a healthier (and more plant-based) diet a part of my daily life. Overall, the Year of Establishment has been a tremendous success.

Year of Establishment was perfect for managing the immense change of circumstances

While the Year of Establishment was perfect for the year 2020, it has caused some unwanted side-effects in my life. By focusing so much on self-improvement, I feel like my life has revolved too much around my own internal world at the expense of the world around me. Being physically isolated from so many people did not help. As a natural introvert I’ve always been most comfortable in my own company (and with my closest friends), and I fear living like this will make it difficult to open up again after the pandemic is over. This year, I want to focus on building the life I want to live now that I have the basics sorted. The Year of Establishment helped me to build a stable foundation — in 2021 I want to use it to explore new interests and interact more with other people. These are things I’ve been looking to do for some time, but they won’t happen unless I make them happen. It’s time to get out of my comfort zone. That is why I am calling 2021 the Year of Empowerment.

Year of Empowerment

In 2021, I want to get some new hobbies and ways of spending time that I can practice from home. Due to the new, more infectious, coronavirus variant, I am expecting London to remain in lockdown for a long time, and constantly staying at home has caused the weeks to fly by in a blur. Something must change. I am looking to break the blur by scheduling something special for every week that I can look forwards to — ballroom dance nights (in the living room) with my girlfriend, fancy home-cooked dinner nights, weekly virtual hangouts with friends and so on. I’m not yet sure what we’ll end up doing, but nights like these should help us endure the isolation the coming months are almost certainly going to throw at us. And when the lockdowns eventually end, maybe these hobbies can be practiced with other people as well!

The point about isolation brings me to my second main goal: to build better ways of socialising online. COVID-19 has forced people to meet each other in virtual spaces. And since most of my contacts live in different cities after graduation, the internet is the only place we can still regularly hang out. While I think group chats and DMs are a great way to keep up with friends, I am not entirely satisfied with the tools that are available for socialising on the internet. They feel rigid, either too public or too private. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. I aim to tackle this problem with two approaches. The first is simple: trying to find spaces for me to hang out with others using existing platforms. I’m looking to build or join small, interesting micro-communities to share ideas and to improve my social life during lockdown. The second is difficult: I am building a new kind of social hangout app on the side that I’m looking to bring to a soft launch some time next year. I am excited about this project but cannot yet share much more about it, other that I’m hoping it will alleviate some of the issues I see with existing messaging apps.

As some of you may know, I use a “second brain” to track my personal productivity which affects every aspect of my life. To help with the changing theme, I will be changing a few things in the system, with a major focus on monthly reviews and the setting of monthly goals. My first blog post on the system was published last January, and I might write an update on it some time next year. I have a few other interesting ideas for blog posts that I am planning to prioritise in early 2021, and I hope I can get a few post out in the first quarter of the year. As part of my year, I’m hoping to share more ideas with the world, and Medium is an excellent platform to do so.

Looking at my plans for 2021, I have to say it sounds ambitious. I’m not expecting to be able to achieve everything, and new plans will likely end up superseding current ones. That’s the beauty of yearly themes — unlike resolutions, there is no failure as long as the new plans fit the theme. If you are also thinking of ways to change things in your life in the upcoming year, I strongly suggest you to ditch resolutions and set a New Year’s Theme instead. Besides the ones I highlighted in this post, themes other people have found success with include the Year of Less, Year of New and Year of Learning (and there’s more on Grey’s video!). Perhaps they can inspire your theme! Do take your time before selecting one — it doesn’t have to be ready on the 1st of January, the time period is arbitrary. It should feel right to you. Is there something in your life you’ve wanted to improve for a long time, but feel unsure how to?

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Ville Kuosmanen

Ville Kuosmanen

I care about digital products that improve our lives. Software Engineer at a crypto startup.