We're officially one week into the new year, which can be quite an expectant season! Most of us are looking ahead, thinking about our goals and ideals for the year ahead and who we all want to become.
And that, for many of us, brings us to the idealism of New Years' Resolutions. It's a pretty common conversation point for early January.
Me being me, of course, I have to be a little bit different.
Fail condition freedom with Yearly Themes
The smart gentlemen over at the Cortex podcast have for years now been campaigning against the common practice of resolutions with their own idea: Yearly Themes.
Before we get to that, though, what exactly is wrong with New Years' resolutions in the first place?
One time is all it takes
The criticism of resolutions is fairly obvious, they're too easy to fail!
Made a resolution go to the gym every week this year? All you have to do is miss one for any reason, regardless of legitimacy, and you. have. failed.
Of course, you could set a more vague resolution to exercise the gym more or to spend a greater amount of time with family. But, unless you have an actual hard amount of data of what that baseline is, you're working more of a gut instinct of what calculates to more.
Which kinda defeats the point of resolutions in general, eh?
If fail conditions are the biggest flaw in the resolution's feature set, then Yearly Themes have a simple solution: Get rid of them. It's kind of the whole point.
With the Theme System, it's all about guidance rather than goal-achieving. With a theme, all you need is a word or phrase to describe what you want your focus to be this year, and you're off to the races.
For example, say you want to grow in health, physical or mental, in the year ahead, 2023 can be your Year of Health.
A simple way to stick to the theme is when faced with a decision or opportunity ask yourself, "Does this decision promote health?" Which is really a question I should've asked myself yesterday before having that tube of Pringles.
The Theme then acts as a guide-rail for your decision-making and development in the year ahead. It's similar to the Rule of Life various monastic communities may have, albeit much more simplified.
Past Practice Problems
I'll let the Theme System website tell you more about the whole approach to themes.
Personally, I've been using the theme system for about 2 years: Started with the Year of Tone, which focused on becoming a more uplifting person to be around socially and some personal music learnings, then the Year of I/O, which focused more on my internal image and self-description and speaking more positively about myself.
There were varying degrees of effectiveness in each of the themes, Year of Tone, for example, was great because as a bit of an extrovert I enjoy socializing and bringing more positivity to that was helpful to put into practice when in group dynamics.
Year of I/O was a bit more of a mixed bag.
The Input side went really well, I learned to cut out overly negative thoughts and become aware when I was feeling a bit more needlessly anxious or down about things.
The Output side, due to many different life circumstances, was minimal. I didn't blog as much as I had hoped to, I felt rushed off my feet and didn't feel like I had time to build the habits I wanted to build properly.
But I never failed. Which is kinda the point of the Theme System, I couldn't! I grew in some areas and noticed how I struggled in others.
Which leads me to this year.
A Simpler Take
This year I want to address the general feelings of scattered disorganization I've had since all the lockdowns a couple of years back. I've been saying for a long time I feel like I'm "floating" or "in limbo."
I think a lot of my issues with my previous themes are that they haven't really tackled that feeling, and have been too precise and over-ambitious in what I want to achieve with them.
So I kept this in mind coming into this year's theme consideration.
During a lot of my personal study — both philosophy books or theological texts like the Church's Catechism — and my daily pursuit of purposeful devotion, one word keeps coming up a lot that fits a theme well.
It's a much simpler approach, and one that can be worked out in a lot of ways, so I'm excited about it.
So let me introduce you to...
The Year of Order
I talked a bit in my last post about how things didn't go quite to plan for me last year.
So when thinking about how to readjust and find my new direction after all of that, I realized I had really fallen out of a decent sense of order in my everyday life and routine.
So in the Year of Order, I'd like to reintroduce that to three different areas of my life.
Prayer is important to me, so I need to bring some order back into my prayer time.
I've been listening to Dr. Brant Pitre's book Introduction to the Spiritual Life, and it's been a great resource to help me start building out that routine of prayer I need to find again.
I use to pray at least Lauds and Vespers from the Divine Office when I got back from Scotland, but amid the madness of relocation and return I fell out of practice.
But I intend to start there again and then reorder my prayer life a bit more solidly once I'm going steady with that.
I also intend to connect with my local parish a bit more now I'm back in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, to help add a sense of spiritual community into my devotional life.
My mental health hasn't been bad over this year, but it's had its ups and downs lately. I think the Year of Order could be a great help in this area too.
I fell out of a lot of good mental habits during lockdown and wandered from most of my hobbies.
I think a lack of productivity and the ability to get outside of my internal monologue of life hasn't helped my mood at times. So I've picked back up my journalling, and intend to set more small goals I can achieve in my free-time practices.
Tying in with my mental order, my physical surroundings could use a bit less clutter too.
A simple cleaning/organisation routine should be a good remedy.
I also want to look after my physical health a bit better too, as ever. I need a more orderly diet and maybe, just maybe, some sort of exercise routine to help keep me in shape.
Keeping it real
I know that sounds like a lot, for a guy who said he was previously over-ambitious, but I'm trying to keep it real at the same time. It's not all going to happen overnight.
That said, a lot of order can be brought into my daily life incrementally with small, simple steps I can take in day-to-day life.
For the Year of Order, I'm focusing more on the immediate, short-term investments that can snowball into the bigger ideal later on.
A Guilt-Free Trial
In short, if like me you're generally disillusioned with the incessant idealism of January resolutions chats, why not try a theme yourself? At the very least, it's a guilt-free trial that could make for a more interesting talking point!
It doesn't necessarily need to be as wide-scope as my Year of Order is, but there's lots of areas in life that can be improved just by having some sort of mnemonic device to keep them in mind.
To close, I'll leave you with my little Scripture Verse I'm using to help keep my theme in mind.
"For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." — 1 Corinthians 14:33