The difference between themes, goals and structures

We often feel this urge at the beginning of January of every year starting tackling new years resolutions, making those changes we finally want to see in our lives and improve ourselves. And it often seems an insurmountable task.

After doing some reading, listening and research on this topic, I’ve found that what a lot of advice and wisdom about achieving the goals we want to and move our life in the direction we want it to go falls a lot onto our small and daily habits. This advice also has a lot in common, and I’ve found Matt Ragland’s methodology of framing goals and habits internally really useful personally as a way to think about my goals in a more structured and reachable way. Here’s my interpretation and explanation of how it works:

1. Themes

Themes are your overarching motifs and visions for the year. You don’t need some specific outcome like for a goal, but it needs to direct the formation of your goals. It needs to give you an idea of what you want your life to look like/want to improve or change for the year. Basically, when you’re making goals or decisions, make sure they align with your themes. Here’s mine: (I wrote them on the front page of my notebook)

My themes for 2019

My themes for 2019

So, upgrading my skills for me means learning more about web development and UX design, which will in turn direct how I make goals (for example, improve my Javascript skills). Committing to my health means eating better and taking care of my body after having surgery and radiation therapy. More creative projects means actually taking my ideas and executing them so I can build up my personal portfolio.

2. Goals

Your goals should then be shaped by the themes you’ve defined. For example, if your theme is “live healthy 2019”, then a goal might be to get into shape or get into a fitness routine. Or if you want to learn skills like me, maybe choose something specific like a programming language, or a language in particular. Here you’re starting to narrow down what it means to live according to those themes you have defined.

3. Structures

Lastly, your structures give you the day-to-day instructions for how to reach those goals you previously defined. This is where you need to really specifically define what you want to achieve in clear words or numbers. For example, let’s say you want to get into a fitness routine - so your goal might be to run 5km without stopping by the end of April. To build up to this, you’ll have to do a bit of research because running progress isn’t clearly linear, but you get the idea. Maybe by the end of March you need to be able to do 5 km with just a few breaks. That means by end of February, etc etc. Let’s say you want to finish a creative project. Here’s where you estimate what tasks you’ll need to complete and how many hours each will take. Break that down to each month, and week.

By now you should know what you need to achieve every week to reach the monthly or quarterly goal, and therefore be living according to those themes you wrote down. But how to make this structure work and stay motivated? That’s where your habits come in.

Habits deserve a series of blog posts all on their own, but I just want to point out that habits are not easy to build, and take some concerted effort from you. A structure we mentioned is to start running. Well the corresponding habit would be to go out for a run every second or third day (or maybe once a week to start with). To build that habit up, you need to start getting used to the trigger, for example even just changing into running clothes and getting out the door, but not running. Repeating this will eventually get you used to the routine and habit for going for a run. So to summarize this process:

Theme (Live healthy) -> Goal (Run a 5km) -> Structure (Go running 2-3 times a week) -> Habit (get changed into running clothes every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday).

Use the links I have shared below to start building habits!

Links to check out on this topic:

Let me know if anything in this post has been unclear, or if you have any questions!