Bin the resolution – try a Yearly Theme instead

New Year’s resolutions are awful. They mostly amount to, admittedly well-intended, hot air. The Banker on FIRE has already laid bare the pitiful probability of succeeding in your newfound resolve. Instead of crafting a single defining goal for the year 2021, one that you’ll have likely forgotten about come the start of Spring, why not try a Yearly Theme instead?

Fans of the podcast Cortex will already be familiar with the idea of the yearly theme. A yearly theme is…

“…an overall idea of how we would like to approach each year or season”

It’s a subtle slant on how you want to tackle the myriad challenges that crop up in your life each year. It’s how you’re driving the car, as it were, rather than the destination.


New Year’s resolutions are sometimes discrete, specific goals to be achieved. Run a marathon. Lose 10kg. Sculpt a six-pack. Touch your toes. Some other physique-related benchmark (to undo the festive gluttony, no doubt).

The corresponding theme might be: Year of Health. There’s no absolute requirement to be a chiselled Adonis at the end of 2021. Rather, let the Yearly Theme colour your decisions. Is there a choice of foods? It’s the Year of Health so choose the more salubrious option. Did your friends invite you to a walk, cycle, swim, run or climb? Though the sofa is inviting it’s the Year of Health so get up and get out!

I hope you can see the subtle but powerful difference. 


If not discrete, resolutions can be hopelessly vague. Do more exercise. See more friends. Be a better parent, child, partner etc. Loose enough goals that you could mentally massage yourself into believing you’ve kept up your resolve. Or be forgotten about altogether. How many can honestly remember their resolution for 2020?

“But Covid happened Mr. MedFI; it blew 2020 out of the water and my resolution along with it!”

Yep, I get it. 2020 was different to how anyone expected. 2021 isn’t going to be all plain sailing either. Which brings us nicely to the other issue with New Year’s resolutions – they’re for a whole year.

A year is a long enough period of time that a lot can happen. What if your circumstances change such that your resolution becomes obsolete after a few months? Do you set a new New Year’s resolution? What about if your personal annual period runs April-April, August-August or October-October? A January-January resolution is poorly matched to your own mental model of how the year flows. 

Here the theme system comes up trumps again. You could make a Seasonal Theme, one for three months at a time. Malleable in the face of changing weather and changing circumstances. Or alter the time periods to be as long or as short as your need, to fit your life’s ebb and flow.

You could have one theme that touches all corners of your life. Or you could have more than one theme! A work theme, a home theme, a finance theme. In fact, if you’re reading this then you’ve probably been following a finance theme for a while already – financial independence. Although you might have some discrete financial goal (e.g. £1,000,000 by the time I’m 50 or some such), in FI(RE) you have a motif that’s influencing your everyday decisions. A theme for other facets of your life doesn’t seem so far-fetched, does it?

What to pick?

Much like a New Year’s resolution, your theme could be literally anything. To help get you thinking, here are a selection of themes, both historical ones of my own and ones from the Cortex subreddit discussion on the topic.

  • The Year of Less
  • The Seasons of Adventure
  • The Winter of Care
  • The Year of Honesty
  • The Year of Improvement
  • The Year of Yes
  • The Spring of Settling
  • The Year of Progress
  • The Year of Intentionality

You could even make your theme the Year of Following Things Through and actually stick to your New Year’s Resolution!

Instead of proudly proclaiming your (statistically doomed from the start) resolution, take some time to think about the clothes you want to dress 2021 in. What vibe do you want to carry through the year? What’s the theme of 2021?

I’m no fortune-teller, but I can say with some certainty that themes which lend themselves to vast amounts of international travel or close social contact are unlikely to gain much traction! Whatever theme you choose I hope it enriches your year, so as to counterbalance the bumpy road that surely lies ahead.


Mr. MedFI

4 thoughts on “Bin the resolution – try a Yearly Theme instead

  1. Really like this post – and what a great idea. I also wrote a post myself trying to steer people away from the standard method of a new years resolution – instead of setting a goal, set habits. Slightly different to what you’re writing here but interesting nonetheless.

    Gonna link to this in one of my future posts – scheduled mid Feb (bit of a backlog!) but that might be perfect timing for when people are feeling a motivation drain on their NYRs!


    1. Thanks. I agree that, as NYR’s are both horribly cliche and predominantly fruitless, alternative modes of thinking about self-improvement are required. Ideally ones that work, and don’t have to coincide with a new calendar year!

      PS – loved the Charizard vs. Stock Market post, especially the Pokemon nostalgia!


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