Sustainable progress | How I consistently accomplish goals by theme setting

Theme setting is a method of goal planning that has been my most proven strategy for consistent progress. I initially discussed its merits in this article and here I would like to delve into this strategy to further itemize how to employ it within your aspirations.

Theme setting offers a degree of flexibility within concrete parameters that champions step-by-step achievement that is more fluid than the rigid guidelines most of us have been conditioned to utilize.

This rigidity leads to burnout while flexible specificity integrates into our natural lifestyle and accommodates natural growth according to our humanity. Themes champion process over pressure, the functioning trait of over-specific goals that very quickly induce burnout.

Look into the future and work your way backward

I usually visualize a year in advance and attempt to visualize what I want to be accomplished by then. This allows me to tangibly fill in the blanks of how to go from visualizing to materializing, effectively creating a roadmap to a specific destination. The thing that I’ve found in planning by foresight is that generally there are unifying themes that can act as an umbrella to all of the steps to get to this ultimate vision. So this is where I begin. I take that umbrella theme and I begin to let it pervade my life.

Keep it simple

A theme should never exceed a few words. You want something that your mind can digest. You don’t need an entire mission statement, just a word or two. It may sound a bit too ambiguous but you already know the context within this word applies. If you know you are having trouble deciding on a direction in life, even a word like ‘clarity’ will begin to activate your subconscious, which will then allow room for sub-themes and steps to mold accordingly. Maybe if you’d like to try new things or take more risks, a good theme would be “spontaneity” or “discomfort zone.”

Break the theme down

Now in order to stay on track, after I have my theme for the next 365 days, I will break down the increments even further. I start each quarter with a selection of 3–5 primary goals, the culmination of which are due prior to the next quarter. Then I apply monthly themes, still following suit of the parent theme, to keep me on track 30 days at a time. Think of these as sub-themes, or checkpoints, along the path to the desired outcome.

This makes the journey less daunting and still allows the simplicity and flexibility of that one-word theme. My overall theme is still guiding each month’s more immediate calls of duty.


You want to permeate your life and subconscious with your theme and sub-themes. I title each week of my planner with my annual theme and then, below it, the monthly sub-theme. At the beginning of each month, I change my computer screen saver to the word. I set a daily phone reminder simply to flash the word at me when I wake up and before I go to sleep. I literally surround myself with this theme so that my life begins to look like it — so that it becomes impossible to forget or mentally get off task.

Even when I’m procrastinating, there is an incessant echo in the back of my head that keeps me from veering off my path for too long. And many times, my subconscious is so thoroughly inundated by my self-imposed propaganda, that my procrastination gravitates towards productive distraction.

Complete each sub-theme before you move to the next sub-theme

Usually prior to my embarking on my next “sub-theme,” I review my previous theme to ensure its completion before I mark it as case closed. This has been where I find the true beauty of themes. I am much better at 100% completion of a task, so it has prevented me from having to revisit things in my usual scattered and randomized approach. For instance, I had a sub-theme titled “automation,” where I wanted to study and then implement automation across several itemized fields within my life and business. I was able to completely devote my tasks to this end and now will not have to revisit automated sequences, at least in the near future, freeing up my brain and my planner to focus entirely on the next thing.

This is not to say that you can’t do any extracurricular progress planning — there were days that required my attention be directed towards other things. But unless absolutely inevitable, I made a deliberate effort to funnel the majority of my productive energy towards actions that would guarantee completion by the end of the month.

Review your progress

At the end of each week, month, and quarter, I will review my themes and their corresponding tasks to ensure that they were each contributing towards positive movement, that they were completed according to my confidence and satisfaction, and that they are falling in line with and building towards my overall annual theme.

If in my review I find that I was sloppy in my completion of a monthly theme — trust me, it happens — I will make a point to recycle it until I can confidently state that checkpoint is satisfied.


Themes are great for founding habits, routines, and expertise. They should make the notion of your overall goal more fluid and natural. Sub-themes don’t need to be completely forfeited at the 1st of each month, but they may not need the strenuous attention that you had to provide them at first.

For example, if your goal is to ‘network’ in February, punctuated by tasks like ‘initiate small talk with a stranger’ or ‘read How to Win Friends and Influence People,” you clearly should not throw out the idea of ‘networking’ come March 1st simply because you’ve checked off each task. You need to be creating frameworks and connections that your brain can naturally learn, grow, and come back to long after your sub-theme has expired.

Strict goals can be difficult to resume if you have any backsliding while a theme is a bit more forgiving. Writing 3 articles per week or losing 10 pounds becomes a glaring obstacle when you recover from that “breakdown,” applying even more discouragement.

“Health” however, easily pardons your dusty gym membership or the empty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream carton, like a bookmark that holds your page long enough for you to be human. “Health” understands human growth and error and gives it the flexibility it needs to thrive.

This theme strategy has been the sustaining force of my progress since I began employing it 9 months ago. Even when I become derailed, there is always a frame of reference that I can realign myself to once I’m ready to get back on track. We all have those moments where your drive is just not ideal and you get fatigue or burnout or breakdown. But a theme is much easier to pick up, loosely morphing itself to whatever your current condition may be.

Originally published at Pursuit of Daydreams.