Themes are More Hip than Resolutions
What theme would you choose for 2019?
Well, dear parents. Happy 2019! Are you ready to take on the new year, listing all kinds of optimistic resolutions for your own betterment and the conquering of your universe? Is this the year you lose 12 pounds, commit to Cross Fit six times per week, read daily to your children, volunteer weekly at a homeless shelter, buy all organic, non-GMO, whole foods that have been raised on farms with a sun-dappled pond, and start your own podcast analyzing hot-button political topics? Or...perhaps you’re like me, still muddling around in a daze, trying to unpack suitcases from an ill-advised holiday trip, wondering where to stuff superfluous gifts, and dreading venturing out into the cold, cruel world that is Oklahoma in January. (I know, I know, I’d last 12 minutes in Minnesota.)
Well, if you’re lolling about in this latter state, this is no time to formulate lofty goals that you can’t imagine embarking on today, let alone an entire year. Just as I was deciding that January is a really crappy time for moms to make dreaded resolutions (isn’t September, the beginning of a new fresh school year, better?), I stumbled across an article in Medium Daily Digest, an online magazine that somehow whooshes into my inbox. Written by Niklas Göke, it’s titled, “You Don’t Need a Goal, You Need a Theme.” Voila! This sounds exactly right for approaching a new year. Göke writes, “Goals don’t help you create long-term happiness, let alone sustain it. They never have, and they never will.” He continues, “...on a day-to-day basis, goals often lead to anxiety, worry, and regret rather than fulfillment, pride, and contentment. Until we reach them, goals exert pressure from afar.” Well, setting a bunch of pressure-cooker goals doesn’t sound like a great way to start 2019, does it?
Entrepreneur and author James Altucher tries a different approach. He lives by “themes.” As Altucher sees it, your overall satisfaction with life isn’t determined by singular events. “Instead, the average of how you feel at the end of each day is what counts. A theme might be a single word—a verb, a noun, or an adjective. ‘Commit,’ ‘growth’ and ‘healthy’ are all valid themes. So are ‘invest,’ ‘help,’ ‘kindness’ and ‘gratitude.’ Themes are immune to anxiety about tomorrow. They are indifferent to your regrets about yesterday. All that matters is what you do today, who you are in this second, and how you choose to live right now. With a theme, happiness becomes more about how you behave rather than what you achieve.”
Isn’t that a subtle but refreshing distinction? Don’t you feel a lot less pressure, and a lot more enthusiasm for changing things up a bit just by changing your mindset? So let’s look at a couple of “themes” I’m going to explore this year - but come up with your own!
Commit: I haven’t fully documented my move here to Tulsa, a tortuous journey from a deer-in-the-headlights snotty coastal girl to fully devoted and enamored Tulsa mom; let’s just say it took 12 years of living here to fall in love with our town, but now that I have, I’m not sure I could live anywhere else. Tulsans treasure this town fiercely, and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much. Maybe that’s why there’s a myriad of ways to commit some of your time to improving lives here.
Mayor G.T. Bynum’s Facebook page showcases a wealth of ways you can make our town better in your own way: Oklahoma Veteran’s Connection, New Tulsans Initiative (making our town easier to navigate for recent immigrants), Tulsa Pet Coalition, Urban Data Pioneers (volunteers who analyze data to tackle problems like crime) - if you don’t think you have a passion, spend just a few minutes sniffing around - you’re sure to find something you’d love to devote your energy towards. I occasionally volunteer for Catholic Charities in their child care department, while moms take English and GED classes. It’s a small way to gradually improve the lives of Tulsans that feels natural to me. But for moms of small kids, this probably sounds like, well, like more of what you’re already doing. In fact, if you only have small kids, stay at home and read to them -- commit to life outside your walls when the kids are in high school! (On the other hand, if your kids are older and you MISS little kids and reading to them, try Reading Partners - it pairs volunteers with kids at many different local schools.)
Health: No, I don’t care about losing weight or flaunting six-pack abs, despite what I’m told by the magazines in the checkout line. But, I do care about feeling generally good, energetic and sane, and limiting sugar around here -- if only to prevent a few cavities! I’ve tried to cut down on sugar in my own life, and it’s been a long process with dramatic (to me) ups and downs. But I can brag that I no longer have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Diet Mountain Dew for breakfast — go me! Places like Ediblend Superfood Cafe and Pure Food and Juice have helped me recalibrate my palate -- their smoothies and salads are delicious but so fortifying -- you can actually feel your body soaking up all the nutrients. So, since I’m craving sugar less, I’m buying it less, which means my kids are eating healthier, too. One of them has even gone off soda! As for moving around, we all know it’s better than Netflix bingeing. After using babies as an excuse for sitting around for 15 years, I finally started a light yet regular workout routine; I run a little bit, take adult tap and ballet at the iconic Miss Shelley’s, and find I enjoy classes at Revved, a gym with hour-long classes combining both cardio and strength training. The classes vary, so they’re not so dreadfully boring! Those are my attempts to weave a theme of health through my days. But again, there’s no big goal, just trying to keep all these body parts from freezing over. Maybe you want to limit sugar, or kick your diet soda habit (let me know your secrets!), or want to cook dinners more often at home for the family (services like Shipt for Reasor’s and Target have really helped me here!). Again, daily little decisions make changes far less onerous than setting a hard and fast goal.
Presence: Perhaps it’s a universal condition in the age of social media, but I have noticed that if my children -- one daughter in particular -- start unspooling a long, tedious tale of some incident that happened during lunchtime, I start fidgeting for my phone. How horrible! Even if my kids need to work on their oratory skills, that’s no excuse for me to need a hit of Facebook dopamine. What is more important than living in this moment right now? What I am learning -- gah, such a cliche! -- is that these years with kids are sluicing like sand through my hands, and I can’t stop the onslaught of time. It’s so odd that 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon with only little babies can feel like an eternity, but now the roller coaster just won’t stop. So if I’m going to enjoy this ride, I’m going to soak it all in, brace myself for every stomach-churning drop, and make sure I don’t know more about what’s happening in my friends’ lives than I do about the one smack dab in front of me.
There are my three “themes,” then. So much more organic and natural than always striving towards an elusive goal that may or may not bring you where you want to go. What will your themes be in this wild and crazy year?
“What is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver; well, I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m at least going to pay more attention to it!