What I’ve Learned About Personal Growth from a Decade of New Year’s Themes

What I've Learned About Personal Growth from a Decade of New Year's Themes; www.DrChristinaHibbert.comI know. I just posted yesterday. But one “resolution” I actually made for myself this New Year is to post when I feel like it and write about whatever is on my mind. It is my blog, after all, and I want  to use it a little more freely this year. Yes, I will still write articles and posts as “The Psychologist”–with tips and tools and research and facts. I just want to write more as “The Mom,” and plain old “Me,” too.


Today, I want to share something I just realized: I have completed a decade of personal yearly themes. A decade! If you’ve read my memoir, This is How We Grow, or have been following my blog for a while, you know I choose a “theme” each year and work on it for a full twelve months. I’ve actually always been one who enjoys the idea of the New Year. I love a clean start, a fresh look, the possibility of it all. Even as a teenager I used to set New Year’s resolutions–and I actually kept them (or at least most of them)! I can’t say what it is, but I’ve always had a strong drive to improve.


Then, one year, I wanted more. As I write in This Is How We Grow, “A few years before this life-altering event, on January 1st, I had been reflecting on the nature of change. What good is all this change, I asked myself, if it doesn’t change me? I craved positive growth. Tired of too-often forgotten New Year’s Resolutions, I came up with the idea of a yearly theme. This theme would serve as my one resolution for the entire year and give me focused, extended practice in mastering it. It would steer me in the direction of the person I wanted to become. It was time to choose to grow.” (p.4)


What I’ve Learned from a Decade of New Year’s Themes

Grow, I have. For ten years now. Want to know what my “themes” have been? Well, I hope so because I’m going to share them here anyway (even though I wrote a little about some and a lot about others in This is How We Grow):

2004: “Carpe Diem”

2005: Humility

2006: Charity

2007: Patience

2008: Gratitude

2009: Cheerfulness

2010: Joy

2011: Love

2012: Holiness

2013: Optimism

Now, I can’t say I’ve become perfect in any of these themes. Not at all. I still struggle, on and off, with pretty much all of them. I can, however, say with full confidence that I am more of each of these things now than I ever was before. Even if I haven’t completely changed into the person I want to be, I have learned incredible lessons about each of these traits, my own nature, and my true potential. I have seen and felt myself grow.


I could never have predicted how much I would grow nor how many opportunities would arise through practicing these virtues. Who could have guessed I would one day write and publish a bestselling book about these themes? How could I ever have known how I would be blessed with opportunities to teach these virtues and skills to others, to help them grow, too? I had no idea.


But now, I know. I know choosing to grow is not only a worthy venture; it is crucial to discovering who we really are, to feeling our true worth, and to becoming even better than we could have dreamed. It is crucial to helping those around us fulfill their purpose and reach their potential, too–especially our children, spouses, family, and friends.


How to Create Your Yearly Theme

If you’d like to try a New Year’s theme, allow me to give you a few suggestions. This is how I do it, and of course, something else might work better for you. The point isn’t to do it just like me; the point is simply to do it. To grow.


This is my new favorite picture I took on our trip to Mexico, last week. Love the beauty and solitude. I was definitely reflecting in this moment.

This is my new favorite picture I took on our trip to Mexico, last week. Love the beauty and solitude. I was definitely reflecting in this moment.

1) Start with reflection. You can’t know what you need until you understand where you’ve been. As insightful as any of us are, it’s tough to synthesize an entire year of experiences, to learn all the lessons, know what you need next, to have the foresight and awareness right away. So, look back and reflect. I do this every December 31st and January 1st (and sometimes even longer). It helps that I write in a journal all year, so if you haven’t started that habit, you might consider it. I pull out my journal and notebooks (yes, I have more than one. I’m a writer, though, so I’m crazy that way.) Then, I read through them. It’s like reading my year’s story–one step removed, it helps me see things more clearly. However you can, reflect on the past year. Feel what you’ve been through. Appreciate what you have survived. Glory in how you have grown. Then, look for what might come next.


2) Envision the year to come. This is my favorite part. As I wrote in my article on Goal-Setting: 5 Steps to Personal Growth Success, having a vision is crucial to achieving your vision. I look ahead at what I already have planned, at my commitments, expectations, hopes, and anticipated roadblocks for the coming year. I “dream myself to sleep,” letting pictures of all I wish and desire for the next year dance in my head. Then, I take time to ponder what I might need to get me through. For instance, as I write about in This is How We Grow, during one of my toughest years, I chose “Gratitude,” because, “It is in winter that we most need the companionship of a grateful heart… Practicing gratitude reminds us, no matter how dark or cold the skies may be, there is always sunshine within, if we will but look and gratefully see.” (p. 105) Discover what you need, and that will guide your theme selection and make it the perfect choice.


3) Give yourself as much time as you need. I don’t force myself to pick a theme right away, because it takes time to get it right. Some years, I don’t settle on a theme until weeks into January. I do not want to spend a whole year working on something I don’t really need. Give yourself time to reflect, ponder the future, and get it right.


4) Once your theme is selected, begin to set smaller goals. Work out the smaller goals that are going to take you where you want to go. There’s no rush. Just set goals as you feel the need to throughout the year. Good thing I wrote a post all about successful goal-setting yesterday.


5) As the year goes by, let the lessons simply come. Notice them. Write them down. I’ve done this many different ways: with a list in the back of my journal where I write the lesson I learned each month, or by reading books on my theme, or by trying to reflect on my theme each time I write in my journal. Whatever works for you is great. The point, as I said before, isn’t to become perfect. It is to learn and grow.


To close, I’d like to share a poem I just read last night, around midnight, as the New Year rang in. It inspired me, and I hope it will inspire you to “hear the truths inside of” you this new year, too. Happy New Year, everyone. Happy growing.


I want to travel as far as I can go,

I want to reach the joy that’s in my soul,

And change the limitations that I know,

And feel my mind and spirit grow.

I want to live, exist, “to be,”

And hear the truths inside of me.

~Doris Warshay, in Wayne Dyer, Your Erroneous Zones

Do you practice a yearly theme? Resolutions? Goals? How do you select what you need to work on each year? Share your insights with us by leaving a comment below!



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This is How We Grow, available now on Amazon.com!


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About Dr. Christina Hibbert

Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. She really hopes you’ll join the Personal Growth Group and choose to grow together!


  1. Interestingly, I was just getting ready to blog about the theme I had chosen for this year when I saw your post. Last year was the first year that I chose a theme for the year, rather than a bunch of resolutions and I loved it. It was so much easier to keep a theme in mind, to keep me focused all year. Last year I chose the theme of Joy. I needed to find more joy in my journey (it’s hard being a mom, right?) and I also wanted to do more things to help my daughter, Amelia Joy, know my mother, Joy. In January I had no idea that my Mom would pass away in 2013, but God knew I needed to create those memories for my daughter before it was too late.

    And as I have reflected on my self, my behavior, who I am and who I want to be, I’ve known what theme I needed for 2014 for the last few months. In 2013 I turned 40, and spent the year celebrating me – doing things I needed. And now I know that I need to focus outwardly this year, so my theme for 2014 is Charity – not only outside of the home, but probably more importantly, inside the home.

    • Sharon, thank you for your thoughts. I love that you focused on joy last year and I have found the exact same thing–that our themes always end up being exactly what we didn’t know we would need. I am very sorry for the loss of your mother, but it is lovely that you were able to focus on helping your daughter know her namesake when she needed it most. I loved my year of Charity and wish you the very best with yours. xo

  2. I really enjoyed your blog. I love a new year, a fresh start. I always look forward to the new year. But this one kind of snuck up on me fast. I felt pressure within to blog and i hadnt even had time to reflect on 2013. So to give me the time I need to reflect and plan for the future I chose a word: clarity. And I wrote a post about how this is a BIG year for me, my family and my business….lots og BIG life changes. So tomorrow im going to start blogging about 2013 and all I learned and I’ll do my reflecting I guess on my blog. Blogging is still new to me and this week im going to my 1st ever blogging event. Im trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone. So here goes. Heres to a year full of exciting new adventures providing clarity for the future.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Deborah. I love your word, CLARITY. At one point in my life, that was my main focus: clarity. I slowed everything down, started listening and learning more, and soon things got very clear. We can all use a little clarity! Good luck with blogging, too! I’ve been doing this blog for only 2 years now, and I have learned so much along the way. Be patient, and I’m sure it will bring you as much joy as it does for me. Happy new year!

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