Nik Spyratos

Looking Ahead - Setting 2023's Theme (and not goals)

As I write this, November is ending and the end of the year is hurtling toward us at rapid pace. Naturally this gets me to wondering what lies in store for the next year. If you're anything like me, your mind is already in next year and in preparation mode. I've never been a very patient person, which is a blessing and a curse. In this case I choose to look at it as an advantage. Pressing on that advantage means looking ahead at what I expect and what I want, from myself and the world.

Traditionally this in the form of goal setting, or New Year's Resolutions for some. This way of setting intention and action may work for some, but results have been spotty for me. I either laser focus on one thing at a time to the detriment of everything else, or I do nothing at all. Balance is more of a tightrope walk for my brain. In recent years I have found a system that is less stressful and more helpful for me: Themes.

My history of Themes

I came across the Themes idea from this CGP Grey video. In essence, instead of setting goals, you set a theme (or a few) for a given stretch of time (a month, a few months, a year). You prime your mind to view your actions and opportunities through the lens of this theme. This can open up new doors you hadn't seen before, and keep you focused. If your theme is Health and you see a packet of chips, it's a lot easier to say no when it doesn't fit your theme.

To me this is more approachable. Goals don't have to be the constant forefront. This leaves more room in your life for some exploration and playing with ideas.

My first use of Themes was for 2021. I picked 3 themes: Limits, Revolution and Craftsmanship. I then set SMART goals under those themes. The themes were a useful guide for goalsetting, and I achieved many of the goals, but it was tiring for me.

For 2022 I tried a hybrid approach: I set 3 themes for the year with some overarching goals in each. The Themes were Health, Wealth and Connection. I'll be transparent here: I only made progress on the Wealth front via promotions & raises. This wasn't without cost - I burned out for roughly the first half of the year. I had to pivot midway and make some radical changes to cut back. See my previous post, "Swimming in all directions, ignoring the rope on your leg" for more details.

Looking forward

Now we come to 2023's theme. I decided on having only one theme this year, with no set goals. I call this theme Depth, as a combination of a few ideas I've come across:

  1. Long-termism: Being in something long-term yields greater rewards than frequently changing focus.
  2. Focusing on a few things will result in greater progress than focusing on many things. While I've cut back a lot of the noise in my life this year, my focus still hasn't been there. In essence this is the 80/20 approach (Pareto principle) applied to life in general.
  3. Being a cross-specialist: It's difficult to be the top 15% of any given profession/sport/hobby. It's a lot simpler to be in the top 25% however. Less glory but also still many of the benefits of being an 'expert" in a field. Then, by combining many fields, you can hit a very unique niche of expertise for yourself. If you're an OK coder and woodworker, you're the best coder in the woodworkers and the best woodworker in the coders.
  4. Using Depth as a combination of the above 3 ideas, I wanted to pick a few focus areas to guide me. I've picked four:
  5. Craft Excellence: I've focused on climbing the career ladder for the last few years. I need to take a break for a while, though without stagnating in my actual skillset. This also involves learning new skills, and using them on productive personal projects.
  6. Health: While this was its own theme for 2022, I haven't been consistent. Focusing on this to improve my health (mainly weight loss) for me means a return to what worked before: basic calorie restriction and lots of walking.
  7. Hobbies: To get out of my comfort zone more often, I wanted to add a hobby as a focus. This had to be something active (aids health & weight loss), pro-social (gets me out the house), and make me more present. For this, I've decided on Salsa dancing. I've dabbled before, but now I want to actually get good at it.
  8. Relationships: Another 2022 theme brought over as a focus area. I want to connect deeper with my "core" in-group, and make more connections out in the world.

I'm excited to try this theme out - with its positives and negatives. This is my first draft of it and subject to change before & during the year, but it's still a good start.

Perhaps related to my future-mindedness, I'm starting with this theme from December 1st. December in Cape Town is the start of full on summer, which is the perfect time for walks, dancing and connection!

What's your theme?

I write this as a statement for myself and as a call to action to any reading this. Whether you like themes, goals, todo lists, or none of it, find your ideal flow for planning your medium-long term actions. Even if your aspirations are arbitrary, planning for them gives you direction in life. In this age, I think that's extremely valuable.

If you enjoyed this and want more, make sure to subscribe.

#goals #life #lifestyle #self improvement