Happy New Year, it’s time to set your vision

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Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I have chosen to set an annual theme for each year. Though the topic is a bit outside the requirements space, I’m going to share the concept here, as it is very much like setting a vision for an organization.

The idea behind setting New Year’s resolutions is to focus on self improvement. Organizations take on new projects for the very same reason, to grow the organization in alignment with their vision.

I like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but typically they turn into frustrating experiences because we set some goals, work really hard on them for a couple months, and then forget them completely. I think the critical thing missing from this effort is an overall personal vision for the year.

In an organization, a vision helps the team understand the direction the organization is growing. It helps motivate the team, guides their choices and directs changes when off course.

Similarly, an annual theme is a simple idea or phrase that explains your focus for the year. You can think of it as a summary phrase that encompasses a goal or two that you want to set. As the year progresses, I use my theme to guide my choices and notice when I’ve gone astray. To illustrate the concept, I’ll give a few personal examples.

A couple years ago, I set an annual theme of “joy”. In years prior, I had some life changing events that highlighted how I had lost touch with my own identity and a sense of happiness. I set a theme, playing off my name, for my intention to figure out who I was and to do the things that were simply fun to me. With “joy” as a focus for the year, I ended up taking up a new hobby with triathlons. I took the most amazing trip of my life…alone. I also got much better at making choices based on what I wanted instead of what the people around me would want me to do.

After outstanding successes, the following year I tried a new theme of “trust the gut”, inspired by Blink. Again, looking to the past in picking the theme, I could see that most unhappy times for me were a direct result of over thinking and ignoring my gut reactions to situations. I set a theme for noticing my initial reaction and explicitly choosing to follow it (or ignore it and notice how that played out!). For example, I could think through a detailed decision tree for a conversation with a customer or co-worker, consider all the paths it could take and be ready to follow the path in real-time. However I have created some of the strongest relationships with a simple effort to not over-think conversations, but rather follow my gut to navigate them. Looking back at that year, I can see that the times I was most unhappy standout as situations where I ignored my gut reaction.

If you are interested in trying the annual theme concept, here is how:
1. Pick your theme – look at the previous year to see what stands out the most in terms of what you liked and did not like.
2. Solidify the intentions for your theme – think about what the theme means to you, why you are choosing it and what you want to get out of it.
3. Set a simple phrase for the theme – come up with one to three words that will be easy for you to remember.
4. Use your theme!

There is no right or wrong way to use your theme. By simply having one and setting the intention to use it, then you will find at different times you proactively apply it, passively apply it and even forget to apply it. All of these are great – the key is it is just a theme, guiding you through life.

Setting a single annual theme for your year can be a less frustrating and much more rewarding experience than the typical New Year’s resolutions.

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