Set a One-Word Theme for 2020

Whether it’s commit, dare, or explore, a theme can guide you through the ups and downs of the year

Niklas Göke
Published in
4 min readJan 3, 2020


Photo: Chase Clark/Unsplash

YYou’re an ambitious person. You set goals for yourself, and then you hustle to achieve them. You’ve never shied away from working hard to get what you want.

But maybe this sounds familiar: For some reason, despite all you’ve accomplished, you still feel unsettled. The milestones that were supposed to bring you a sense of contentment never did — and now you’re worried that whatever you do will never be enough.

You can put your worries to rest. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not wired to be unhappy. You’re just using the wrong system.

In his book Happier, the Harvard researcher Tal Ben-Shahar describes what he calls “the arrival fallacy” — the false hope that “reaching some future destination will bring lasting happiness.” The arrival fallacy is what makes you think, “If I could make $10,000 more each year, then I’d be set.”

Once you hit that goal, however, you don’t feel any different. So what do you do? You set a new, higher goal, and start hustling again.

If you allow your level of fulfillment to be a by-product of your goals, you’ll spend a lot of time feeling unfulfilled. But there’s a way to reverse this dynamic: having a theme.

A theme is a baseline ideal, one that you use to guide your actions and decisions. It isn’t worried about tomorrow, nor does it care what happened yesterday. With a theme, all that matters is what you do today. It turns happiness into an attainable, daily standard that’s based on your behavior, not your accomplishments.

For the past five years, I have set a one-word theme for myself:

  • In 2015, it was “commit.” I committed to the idea of becoming a writer, and spent a lot of my time practicing in public, even if I didn’t make a cent from it.
  • In 2016, it was “invest.” I spent 2,000 hours building a website that would go on to provide a full-time income two years later.
  • In 2017, my theme was “grow.” I tried lots of new things to become a better writer, entrepreneur, and person, all while nurturing my projects.



Niklas Göke
Writer for

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. Read my daily blog here: