"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Productivity
January 18, 2020

Momentum – Yearly Theme For 2020

For the past few years I’ve chosen a single word as a theme to clarify the decisions I need to make throughout the year. For 2020 that word is momentum.

We all know the game. As the year comes to an end we’re supposed to make a list of the things we want to change in the coming year. Lose weight. Go to the gym more often. Maybe take more walks in the park, see more films, or eat healthier food. So we make a list of resolutions, only to forget them a week or two into the new year, as old habits choke our hopes to change.

New Year’s resolutions often don’t work because they are additive – we want to add something to our lives, often without changing the causes of that aspect of life we want to change. So we add “going to the gym” or “meditating more often” to the list without really addressing the reasons why we didn’t do those things more often in the past.

Themes Versus Resolutions

One response to the disappointment of resolutions is the idea of setting a yearly theme instead. Rather than make a shopping list of things you want to change or add to life, you pick one word that will help you with the decisions you make throughout the year. A word that clarifies how you want your life to evolve, that helps you navigate away from the frustrations you feel and towards everything you hope to experience more of in the coming months.

I first encountered this idea while listening to the Cortex podcast. The hosts, Myke Hurley and CGP Grey, not only choose themes every year, but also explain in depth why they chose those themes and how they worked out. The latest espiode sees them reviewing their 2019 themes and mapping out their themes for 2020.

Themes Are Not Tests

When we make resolutions we’re testing ourselves by setting up a pass-or-fail situation. So if we resolve to go to the gym more often, and come the third week of January we still haven’t had a workout, we feel like a failure.

But if we chose a yearly theme, like health for example, then we might measure that in different ways throughout the year. A lot of different things can feed into the idea of health. It’s more fluid, better able to adapt to life, and it moves throughout the year, leaving us more room to experiment and try different things, or simply not get hung up with negative and guilty feelings in the days and weeks when can’t do as much towards the theme as might hope to do.

Also, the theme allows us to clarify the choices we make. In 2018 my theme was ‘simple‘. Whenever I was stuck with a decision I asked myself: which option is the simplest, or which option will make my life simpler?

Of course, behind this were a whole bunch of things I wanted to improve in my life: anxiety and stress, my tendency to procrastinate and overthink things. But I wasn’t thinking about that all the time, because there’s so much guilt and shame intertwined with all that stuff. So I just chose simple, over and over again, and by the end of the year, leaning into that theme helped address a lot of other difficult emotional and artistic challenges.

2019 – The Year Of Conviction

My theme for 2019 was ‘conviction‘. How did it work out? Well, as mentioned, themes don’t really have pass-or-fail states as resolutions do, so it’s not exactly like I could’ve failed to live up to the theme. Although I didn’t follow through on everything I wanted to do.

For example, I wanted to focus a lot of attention on Jerry Saltz’s Rules for Artists, and although I kept that copy of NY Mag close at hand for most of the year I didn’t really do anything with it.

And I had a notion that at some point in the year I’d write another manifesto, maybe like the manifesto for photography I wrote a few years ago. But for reasons I’ll explain in a future blogpost, I didn’t do that either.

Mostly the theme came to mean defining boundaries and notating my relationships with reality.

The Theme That Nearly Was

As 2019 drew to a close I thought my theme for 2020 was settled. I’d decided on the word ‘novation’. A quaint old legal term that meant renegotiation. It’s from the same root that we get words like innovation and renovation. In 2020 I was set to renovate the tired old house I call home now, here in London. And of course, innovation is something I’m always chasing.

As for novation itself – well, I felt like I needed to renegotiate every part of my life after all the change of 2019.

But I started to question how fructable (able to bear fruit) novation really was. Hadn’t I already gone through all the change in 2019? And hadn’t the year of conviction already been about figuring out who I was after all that change and standing up for my new identity?

As 2020 began I found myself in the Japanese Alps, enjoying a ski lesson. My instructor James was steering me into ever deeper pockets of soft powder snow. He would say a few words, maybe about keeping my speed up as the snow softened, letting the C-shape of my usual terms flow into a more fluid and open S-shape, then ski a line for me to follow and imitate.

As James set off ahead of me on one run he shouted back over his shoulder, “Momentum is your friend.”

And there it was.

2020 – The Year Of Momentum

When I consider all the challenges ahead in 2020, the things I need to do and the projects I hope to complete, it’s clear that’s perhaps what I most need is simply to keep moving. I need to keep working and string productive days together. There’s not a lot of new stuff I need to learn but plenty of stuff I know that needs to be applied over and over again. Finding inspiration isn’t the challenge. Rather, it’s making sure inspiration doesn’t grow cold through lack of attention and focus.

Momentum is the perfect shorthand reminder for this.

As I plan each week, and in all the choices made every day, momentum is a reminder to keep things moving, to prioritise the long rhythms of getting things done, and of course, the creative flow that only comes from avoiding obstacles and focusing on the work at hand. When momentum is working in your life, a good hour brings another good hour, a good day can be the gateway into a good week, and a project completed helps kickstart the next project.

2020 will also see me travelling a lot, and momentum is a good reminder to make this travel purposeful. It’s easy to just drift from airport to airport, feeling a sense of wow at it all. Momentum is a good reminder that all this movement is for a purpose; a choice to deepen relationships and bring more meaning to the things I make. Like a well-tuned machine, each part of life can help the other parts keep the whole thing moving forward.


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