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TET #004: Favor Themes over Goals

Aug 27, 2022

Read time: 2.5 minutes

In today's issue I'm going to share how you can get closer to the person you want to be by choosing themes instead of goals.

Don't get me wrong, I love setting goals - even more so, I love achieving them. But goals assume a static environment with relatively stable conditions. And let's keep it real, life happens and the static environment on which we build our goals crumbles.

Regrettably, that leads us to not following up on our goals and loosing focus. Big time.

Enter Themes

What is a theme? It is a topic that you want to improve over time, without attaching a fixed outcome. Examples are: frugality, learning, or adventure.

Here is how themes are different to goals:

  • they are less rigid
  • they adapt well to changing environments
  • they don't force you to do XYZ every day
  • they are easy going and fun to follow up on

Let's have a closer look.

Pick a Theme

A theme is less strict than a rule. Similar to a guiding principle that we gently can come back to time and again.

Themes I am currently pondering include frugalitygratitude and learning.

How do they look like in practice?

When thinking about frugality, they don't force me to have a fixed budget. Instead I am thinking about frugality when making financial decision. I don't follow them all the time, but I keep the theme in my mind and gradually become a more frugal person.

Themes live in the background. They are our best effort. But they can get us closer to the person we want to be.

When you are choosing your themes, try to keep it broad instead of specific. Ideally, your themes reflect your core values.

Making Decisions Based on Themes

A mistake people tend to make, whether they are following goals or themes, is not involving them in their decisions.

Let's take the theme learning as an example. You don't have a specific goal set, instead you want to prioritize learning more naturally. When confronted with the decision to either join the Spanish language course on a Thursday night or meet up with a colleague to drink sangria, your learning theme will steer you towards the Spanish course (assuming the colleague doesn’t speak Spanish) and guide you towards becoming the person that learns Spanish.

Or imagine you are being confronted with two job offers. Job A offers more money, Job B presents more learning opportunities. Acting in line with your theme, you might want to focus on Job B for the moment and see where it leads you.

That's how you involve themes in your decision making.

Ingrain and Reflect

You have chosen your theme. Now how do you make sure you don't forget about it?

One practical approach is sticking post-it notes to places you see frequently. such as your desk. If you pick a theme for a longer duration, a month, a year, you can also make them part of your weekly review.

I suggest picking at least quarterly themes so they have some time to trickle into your every day actions and thoughts. Give it a try!

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