« Simulated Annealing

From thought to theme

Brainstorming yearly theme names

At the start of each year, my husband and I each pick a “yearly theme” instead of new year’s resolutions. The yearly theme acts as a guiding spirit to help direct our energy, activities, and decisions throughout the year.

The original inspiration for choosing a yearly theme came from The Cortex podcast. As CGP Grey and Myke Hurley emphasize every year, themes are a gentler and more adaptable way of improving your life than resolutions, which typically encourage a pass-fail only mindset. Themes can evolve as life circumstances and priorities change. A theme like “Year of Health” can help remind the theme-setter to skew towards the healthier choice, from waking up early to go for a run to skipping a cookie impulse buy.

However, naming things is really hard. If you are anything like me, I start with a long list of aspirations for the upcoming year but then have trouble distilling it down into a simple word or phrase. Since this will be my focus for an entire year, I want it to be a good name. As CGP Grey says in his video explainer Your Theme,

Themes should be broad, directional, and most importantly: resonant.

While stuck agonizing over a name for my 2024 theme, I discovered that ChatGPT is an excellent brainstorm partner. Here I share the prompts that we used to generate the words, mission statement, and images that represent our yearly themes. A few friends have already tested the prompts out and reported back good results. This will also be a useful reference for me for future years!

        « Yearly Theme Prompts for ChatGPT »

To get a good list of candidates for names, having a clear description and specific subthemes for your theme is crucial to guide the LLM in the right direction. These subthemes are typically distinct areas you want to focus on throughout the year, and the overall name for the theme should encapsulate as many of these as possible.

I prefer to borrow from the operatic music tradition and call my subthemes “leitmotifs.” Leitmotifs are reoccurring musical phrases that help the audience connect the musical score to developments in the story narrative. As How to Transform a Leitmotif impressively explains, composers use permutations of leitmotifs to express thematic transformation. A single base melody that represents a character or idea can be altered by transposing it to a different key, or played on a different instrument, and the effect of changing the music creates an altogether new emotional impact. The evolution of the entire set of leitmotifs over the film or opera helps emphasize overall character and story progression, including the development of important relationships as multiple leitmotifs are layered and combined together.

So to extend this metaphor further, I like to think of my yearly theme as an overall musical piece. Each of the subthemes are leitmotifs, which can also transform throughout the year as I make decisions that will alter and (hopefully) improve my life.

The leitmotifs I picked for 2024 were:

  • Joyous: Lean into my existing hobbies and interests that bring me enjoyment and excitement. Spend time with friends and family. Prioritize activities like fitness which will nourish my body and mind.
  • Multi-faceted: Don’t let myself get limited to only caring about work or overly focused on outputting on a certain schedule. Small but steady progress is also great.
  • Bountiful: Focus on output, but in a way that enriches and gives me satisfaction rather than added pressure. Harvest the seeds of ideas for projects that I’ve thought of long ago. Make many things and share them with others who would enjoy them.
  • Present: Don’t obsess about the future. Enjoy the present. Similar to the idea of “small but steady progress,” 30 minutes a day can add up to big outcomes. Meditate. Garden and notice how the seasons change. Focus on seasonal activities that can only happen at certain times in the year.

Coming up with these leitmotifs was very easy for me, but it was challenging to come up with a word or phrase that could encompass all these attributes for me. Luckily, ChatGPT was very helpful in this regard. Here were the eight choices it brainstormed for me:

  1. Flourish: This word captures the idea of thriving in various aspects of your life, from hobbies to personal projects, all while maintaining a sense of joy and presence.
  2. Harvest: Reflecting the idea of reaping the rewards of your long-held ideas and projects, while also implying a sense of abundance and fulfillment.
  3. Bloom: Suggesting growth and development in a natural, joyous way, aligning with your focus on hobbies, fitness, and being present in the moment.
  4. Renaissance: Connoting a rebirth or a new beginning, especially apt since you’re transitioning from a phase of rest and exploration to one of creation and accomplishment.
  5. Kaleidoscope: Symbolizing the variety and multifaceted nature of your interests and pursuits, while also suggesting a sense of wonder and joy.
  6. Savor: This theme emphasizes the importance of enjoying and appreciating each moment and achievement, aligning with your goal of being present and finding joy in the process.
  7. Abundance: Focusing on the richness and fullness of life, this theme encompasses the idea of bountiful outputs and the enjoyment of life’s pleasures.
  8. Zenith: This implies reaching the peak of your creative and personal pursuits, reflecting a year focused on achieving and enjoying the heights of your passions and projects.

I ultimately decided that this year was going to be the “Year of Renaissance”. I feel like it not only had the right connotations that captured all my leitmotifs, but the word “renaissance” also had the particular resonance that I was looking for. It’s specific, inspirational, and memorable.

Hopefully these prompts and leitmotifs help guide you into choosing the right name for your yearly theme. I’ll end with the final name and mission statement that I chose for 2024:

Year of Renaissance: Savor the richness of life, balancing the joy of being with the satisfaction of creating to nurture a garden of diverse achievements.

This article was last updated on 2/4/2024. v1 is 1002 words and took 1.5 hours to write and edit.