Nrdly templates
Try Nrdly for free Try Nrdly free

Don’t set goals, set a theme instead

As you might have figured out I am a big fan of setting goals. All my life I have been setting goals.

Setting SMART goals was ‘the‘ thing of my time. All motivational speakers were harping about it including Brian Tracy who made goal setting a phenomenon in the nineties and the twenties.

Goals are great but there is one big problem with them when you can’t achieve them you feel terrible.

On a day-to-day basis, goals often lead to anxiety, worry, and regret rather than fulfillment, pride, and contentment. They exert pressure from afar. Once fulfilled they just disappear, leaving a vacuum which we try to fill with a new goal.

And when you do achieve them, the happiness that comes from it only lasts momentarily. Then they leave behind a vacuum that we try to fill by setting more goals, bigger and higher ones this time, and the whole cycle of begins again.

A Harvard researcher, Dr Tal Ben-Shahar (I had the pleasure of attending one of his workshops), describes in his book Happier, something he calls “the arrival fallacy” — the false hope that “reaching some future destination will bring lasting happiness.”

Recently I came across an article by Niklas Göke you don’t need a goal you need a theme.


Because a theme has no end date.

According to Niklas Göke a theme gives you an achievable, meaningful, daily standard you can live up to. The point of a theme is to make you happy.

A goal splits your actions into good and bad. A theme makes every action part of a masterpiece.

A goal is an external constant you can’t control. A theme is an internal variable you can.

A goal forces you to think about where you want to go. A theme keeps you focused on where you are.

A goal condemns you to order the chaos of life or deem yourself a failure. A theme provides room to succeed amid that chaos.

A goal shuts out opportunities for current fulfillment in favor of a distant payday. A theme looks for opportunities in the present.

A goal asks “where did we get today?” A theme asks “what went well today?”

Goals are sticky. They’re clunky armor, weighing you down. A theme is fluid. It sinks in, becoming part of who you are. It flows from the inside out, allowing you to change as you go.

When we use goals as our primary means of attaining happiness, we trade long-term life satisfaction for short-term motivation and reassurance. A theme gives you a meaningful, achievable standard to live up to. Not once in a while but every day. It’s a way of being content with who you’re becoming, choice by choice, one act at a time, and finding peace in that.

No more waiting. Just decide who you want to be, then be that person.

Niklas Göke

In other words, you feel happy, content and fulfilled and make more progress than you do while going through the cycle jubilation and desolation of goals setting.

It was James Altucher who first switch goals with themes.

The only times I’ve ever made money (and I’ve been on this roller-coaster quite a bit) is when I switched from ‘goals’ to ‘themes’. Instead of having a goal: ‘I need to make money’, I switch to a theme: ‘I want to help people with this product’. Or…” Forget about money completely. I want to help people by writing a blog about honesty, failure, myself, entrepreneurship, and whatever else I can write that people will relate to.

Don’t set goals – Business Insider

Psychologists too emphasize the importance of meaning over pleasure. Meaning comes from your actions, pleasure from results.

The difference between goal and theme is like the difference between passion and purpose, between seeking and finding.

A goal asks “what do I want?” but a theme asks “who am I?”

Now the question is, how to set a theme?

According to Niklas Göke, good themes are verbs and nouns at the same time. Such as ‘Focus,’ Love, ‘Balance,’ ‘Compassion.’ So are the ‘invest,’ ‘help,’ ‘kindness,’ and ‘gratitude.’ 

Each year you can set yourself a new theme depending upon what you want to achieve that year.

With a theme, all you have to do is ask one question: Is this aligned with my theme?

There’s a clear answer, yes or no. For every thought you have, the decision you make, and action you take, if they are aligned with your theme, and you’ll go to bed happier.

Themes support goals, they reduce the pressure goals create. At the same time, they replace the need for your goals to make you happy.

Full converted, I decided to set a theme for myself.

My theme for 2020 is: FOCUS.

The question that will keep my thoughts, actions, and decisions aligned to my theme is: “Does this add to or take away from my focus?”

What will be your theme for 2020?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *