Find Your Theme or Dream for the Year

 ADHD Weekly, January 6, 2022

Melissa Brode, a yoga teacher in the Midwest, is not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. She often sees people making resolutions about changing behaviors or their exterior selves, rather than building toward the things that can increase their happiness.

“It has always been interesting to me how people vow to completely change their behaviors on the first day of a new year, as if some magic motivation switch flipped at 12:01 AM on January 1st,” Ms. Brode says. “The problem I have with resolutions is that expectations for these drastic changes are often set way too high. Many people tend to go about them with an all-or-nothing approach—and get discouraged when they don’t get the results they desire instantly.”

Only about eight percent of people who make resolutions actually keep them. We can safely guess that the majority of people who deal with ADHD symptoms are not going to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Instead, look to setting a theme or a goal for 2022, rather than a resolution—a word that demands a thing be done rather than suggests a goal worked toward at a healthy pace. Setting a theme or a goal allows you to project what you would like from your year and let in—or take out—the things that don’t support you. It’s goal-setting that meets your needs.

Setting a goal

Goals don’t necessarily have completion dates; they are often ideals we work toward. Goals can be positioned toward experiences or new skills. When considering possible goals, take into account your interests, your strengths and weaknesses, and select one that you are capable of achieving.

“Rather than setting up a list of ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ I like to think about ‘New Year’s Goals and Dreams,’” says Ms. Brode. “I know they sound similar, but in my experience, the mindset and approach to achieving them is different.”

Goals should be flexible and provide a direction toward the desire outcome. Ms. Brode offers some considerations for setting a goal:

  • Experience the outcome before you begin. “Before I set a specific goal, I try to visualize and feel into the end result,” she says. “What does my life look like while I am working toward my goal? What does my life look like when the ‘goal’ has been reached?”
  • What resources and help will I need to achieve my goal? Where can I find or ask for those resources and help?
  • Take (baby) action steps. What are the little things that can be done each day to get you closer to your desired goal? Keep the steps as simple and practical as possible.
  • Setbacks are inevitable. Expect them to come along the way and don’t take them as a sign of failure—they are simply a pause in your forward motion. If you do experience a setback, evaluate what happened. Update your plan for achieving your goal with this new information and continue forward.
  • Don’t set a rigid timeline for accomplishing your goal. “Trust that as long as you keep going with an open and honest mindset, you are making progress in the right direction,” she says.

Setting a theme

“What makes a theme so special is that you don’t have to stick to it every day,” says Megan Poorman, PhD, a biomedical engineer. “Having a theme for the year is almost like setting a mantra. It serves as a guiding principle when making decisions and reflecting on events. Setting a theme removes the daily pressure of measuring yourself against something you wish you were and encourages a holistic approach to self-awareness.”

Your theme can be an idea, a word, or a simple goal for your year. Dr. Poorman suggests keeping it as short as possible. By journeying through your year with the theme in mind, it can help you make day-to-day decisions or evaluate choices and short-term goals as they come up. Each one of these choices or short-term goals will help to build up and reinforce your theme as you go forward.

For example, if your theme for the year is Time, then perhaps daily choices are “What gives me more time with my partner?” or “Will accepting this invitation decrease time I can spend on my art or hobby?” It may be that a theme of Time includes building a new morning or evening routine. It becomes about how it is important for you to spend your time, rather than giving it away to activities that are unimportant.

“With a theme, it’s not so much about setting a goal and trying to hit it,” says Miranda Marquit. “Instead, it’s about working on adding more to your life, based on your theme. Setting a theme still gives you some leeway to set mini-goals along the way with your life, so you don’t have to abandon goals altogether.”

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, is the author of two books on leadership skills. Her outline for picking a theme includes:

  • Declare what lights you up. Be honest with yourself about what makes you happy—not what “should” make you happy. Where is your creativity? Who brings joy to your life by their presence? If there is something in life you would want to do, what is that?
  • Decide on your theme. What is your joy, your goal, and who brings happiness into your life? Pick your theme based on what supports those answers. Not remaking yourself, not conquering ADHD symptoms, but what theme will offer guidance and support for you.
  • Clean up the path. Going forward, look at your choices in light of your theme. How does what you choose to do or include fit into that theme or support it?
  • Commit to your theme. Some days, everything will fit your theme—and some days, nothing will. That’s okay. Keep your theme in mind when setting your daily goals and short-term plans. Use it to help move toward the things that make you happier and support your long-term goals, whatever they may be.

Themes and goals as part of forward momentum

ADHD interferes with many of our plans. It, along with co-occurring conditions, can sometimes present challenges that in the moment seem too hard to overcome. However, working with a professional and creating a treatment plan that works for you is an important step in managing symptoms and living the life you want.

You might want to work through picking a theme or goal for this year on your own, or you may choose to work with a trusted friend or professional. Unlike a New Year’s resolution, themes and goals give you a lot of leeway and can develop or update throughout the year.

Want more ideas?

Join the discussion: What is your theme for this year?