Forget New Year’s resolutions. Try a theme instead.

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We often make, or think we should make, “New Year’s resolutions.” Lose weight, go to the gym, quit smoking, eat better, save more, travel more, spend more time with family — you know the drill. Chances are you’ve made these or similar resolutions in the past, maybe even the same ones over and over.

If this is you, consider something different for 2017. Instead of those old tired resolutions, have a “theme” instead.

It’s much simpler—after all, you need only one theme per year. Even better, themes tend to be positive whereas resolutions often involve deprivation and even pain. Themes put the focus on living our lives, both personal and professional, in ways that are more rewarding and satisfying for us.

Your theme can be as simple as a single word (“mindfulness,” for example, if you want to focus on savoring each moment, or “movement” if you seek to improve your physical health). Or it can be a phrase, like “break out of my comfort zone” or “become a kinder person.” The key here is to choose a theme that really stirs your soul—that speaks to you.

Then simply make it a guiding light in everything you do. “Breaking out of your comfort zone” may include enrolling in a class, asking for a raise, reading nonfiction instead of fiction (or vice versa), finding a new mentor, making a new friend, or joining Toastmasters.

The beauty of a theme is that, unlike resolutions like quitting smoking or losing weight, it’s a lot harder to “fail.” If you don’t manage to make time for Toastmasters, for example, you can still shake up that comfort zone in a host of other ways. Arrange to check in with yourself throughout the year, and give yourself permission to tweak or expand upon your theme.

One great thing about themes is that they can be used as a tool in decision-making. When faced with choices ask yourself, “Does this break me out of my comfort zone?” or “Is this in line with becoming a kinder person?”

When you think about it, losing ten pounds is really a sort of small goal (though achieving it does feel good). A larger more overarching theme, however, can move your life in a whole new direction.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at