Seasonal Themes: Get More Done with a Mindset Shift
My name is Matt, and I was inspired to start using Seasonal Themes from YouTuber CGP Grey last fall.
Two years ago, I made the decision that I wanted to read more. I had never been much of a reader; trying to find the time or motivation to sit down and finish a book was always a challenge. However, I wanted to make a change, so I devised a plan: a New Year's resolution stating that I would read at least 4 books a month for the entire year. And guess what? It worked! Until about mid-February.
We have all tried and failed at keeping New Year's resolutions that were intended to improve our lives. According to the Western Connecticut Health Network, less than ten percent of people in the United States who make resolutions keep them for more than a few months. Having quantitative, actionable goals is a great way to accomplish specifics (check out our recent blog post on goal-setting), but according to Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., changing habits works better than setting goals when the aim is to make improvements to yourself and your life. Unless they're already aligned with your current way of thinking and hectic schedule, you're likely to revert to old habits and leave your New Year's resolution in the rear view mirror.
Allow me to introduce something different: Seasonal Themes!
Instead of giving yourself a single goal that must be maintained over an ever-changing and unknown 12 month period, a theme can instead help guide you to change your mindset towards a better habit or lifestyle, leading to accomplishing many goals. By choosing a theme as a layer above goal-setting, you can more easily set up plans centered around that theme that help you obtain your goals. For example, a resolution of "I will read 4 books a month" could alternatively be the "year of reading". Note that a theme does not replace goals, but creates a mental framework that allows you create plans for yourself centered around your theme. To illustrate why this method supersedes the ever-failing New Year's resolution, let's look at how a theme would work in practice.
Rather than saying you would like to read a certain number of books, the theme of "reading" can instead serve as a reminder to read. If you're bored waiting for the bus and pull your phone out, the theme can remind you to open your reading app instead of social media. As previously mentioned, it can also help you create a set of goals that can be tailored to your life, as long as they fit your theme. Themes allow adaptability. If your resolution was to lift weights a certain number of hours every week, a broken arm can unravel the entire plan. However, having a theme of "health" can allow you to stay on track by adjusting to real life circumstances, like focusing more on your diet and sleep schedule while your arm heals. This is also the case if you discover early on that lifting weights isn't really your thing, however yoga is. A theme is flexible and can change as you change, because who you are in December may be very different than who you were in January.
You might be wondering, why is it called a Seasonal Theme? Well simply put, a year is a long time. It's a double edged sword. You might either procrastinate, feeling time is on your side, and end up never starting, or tackle your goal or theme head on and exhaust all of your mental energy, becoming goal fatigued by March. A season is a nice, 3 month period of time that pushes you to get started while still always being able to see the finish line in sight. According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the average time taken to develop a habit to the point of automatic behavior is 66 days. This study shows the majority of people need less than three months (or a season) to form their desired habits. A year spent on reaching a single goal is unnecessary. Additionally, planning your theme in this manner allows it to follow the changes of seasons; you naturally transition to a new theme as the weather transitions around you.
Selecting Your Theme
So now that we you know what themes are and why they're an improvement over stringent resolutions, how do we select one for ourselves? Themes should be simple, broad (but not too broad) concepts that can lead to plans and actions that improve our lives. Good themes can be expressed in a word or short phrase. Your theme should mean something to you, even if its meaning is a little fuzzy. Some ideas are financial wellness, joy, adventure, gratitude, discipline, and novelty. The same theme might mean something different to you than it does someone else, or even something different to yourself at the end of your theme than at the beginning.
My Winter Theme
My winter theme was "Winter of Self Learning". To me, that meant taking time to learn things just for myself, even if they don't have a direct impact on my academic or professional work. My theme has allowed me to explore and learn things I have always wanted to; my two favorite outcomes of this theme have been that I began learning how to play chess and speak Spanish. I created plans like doing at least one Spanish lesson a day (I'm currently on day 41!), and have found it much easier given that I am always keeping my theme in mind. There were even a few subjects that I tried learning about and became disinterested very quickly. By having a theme that is malleable to my needs and desires, I was able to drop them and instead learn something more compelling to me, like chess. Not having a strict overarching goal also allowed for me to cut back on how much time I spent on these topics when I was at home over break, and could instead focus on spending time with my family without the guilt of not meeting a rigid set of rules I set for myself. As long as I was learning more than I would've without my theme, it was a success.
A Theme about Finances
Before we finish, I'd like to give you some ideas on how you can create a theme pertaining to your finances.
Protect my Finances
This theme is beneficial in a few different ways. Protecting finances can mean taking the proper steps to protect your identity and prevent fraudulent transactions, but can also mean taking steps to consider obtaining insurance plans in case of disaster.
Enroll in our Protect Badge course to help you learn more about protecting your finances
This theme can allow you to set goals to review your students loans, perform credit checks to understand what your standing would be when applying for loans, and considering what loans you may want to take out in the coming years in order to financially plan. For example, taking time to understand how much you owe in student loans and subsequently taking steps to prepare to make payments after leaving school would be great plans to make and execute under this theme.
Enroll in our Borrow Badge course to help you learn more about credit, debt management, and loan repayment.
This theme can not only lead you to create a budget for yourself, but also serve as a mindset to keeping that budget. The great thing about having this as a theme is that unlike a strict goal like "I will only spend x percent of my salary on x things, and I will never go over", it is adjustable for your changing life. For college students in particular , having a different job and income every semester is not uncommon. A budgeting theme can help you create a framework that you can use to make new plans and goals when your life circumstances change.
Enroll in our Spend Badge course to help you learn more budgeting and spending wisely.
I have loved my winter theme. It has helped guide me towards creating a set of goals that have worked along with each other, reinforcing the idea of self learning. Although I will soon leave the theme behind me for now -- knowing I can always revisit it in the future -- the habits I have formed will remain. I am excited to begin my spring theme of "healthy living" in a couple of months. I don't know what my schedule, motivations, or life circumstances will be like then, but my theme will allow me to establish a multitude of healthy plans and habits for myself despite the uncertainty of the future.
As we approach the spring season, consider choosing a theme to tag along and guide you towards better habits, lifestyles, and ultimately a happier life.