I first encountered the theme system listening to the Cortex podcast, hosted by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. As someone who has always struggled with goals, I was intrigued by this different way to conduct my life. I’ve been a user of the theme system for the last four years, and it’s been an extremely helpful way to keep my year on track without stressing me out.
This week, I want to take a look at the Cortex Brand’s Theme System journal and give you some of my first impressions.
What is the Theme System?
First, a bit about the theme system itself.
People get worn and stressed out by their goals and New Year’s resolutions. I mean, how many resolutions have you actually committed to and completed in the last few years? I know it was near zero when I was doing that with my life.
If you’re like me, SMART goals suck the life out of you. You set one, then life happens and you’re never able to move forward on it. Then you feel bad because you’ve failed in achieving something you’ve set out to do. The theme system resolves some of that.
Instead of focusing on goals and achievements, the theme system sets you in a direction. Think of it as a guiding principle for the year.
Let me give you an example: in 2021, my yearly theme was The Year of Slowing Down. I chose this theme because I needed to slow down in just about every way. I was doing too much, getting wound up and wanting to move too fast, and not taking care of myself as much as I should’ve.
From that theme, I picked a few outcomes, including:
- Building rhythms of rest into my schedule
- Finding space for margin
- Disconnecting from technology and stimuli so my brain could unwind and relax
The Year of Slowing Down turned out to be a successful one. I spent way more time doing those things because I had a theme I could easily remember. That theme helped me more easily make decisions in the moment to know if I should commit to something or not. In short, if something didn’t help me slow down, I didn’t do it.
Where Does the Journal Come In?
I’ve practiced the theme system for quite a while now by using a note in my Obsidian vault to track my theme. Over time, I’ve become a fan of paper for reflection, though. Being able to step away from a screen helps me to think more deeply about what matters to me. It helps me unwind.
I ended up purchasing the Theme System Journal because I wanted a place to reflect specifically on my theme, and try tracking a few items that help me stay on course.
I plan to do a full review once I have more time with this notebook, but here’s an unordered list of my first impressions of the journal.
- The overall quality of the notebook is nice.
- The cover has this suede-type feel to it. Very tactile and pleasing.
- Paper quality is outstanding. You could use a fountain pen with this and have absolutely no issues.
- I’d prefer a bookmark to a corner tear-off, but considering manufacturing constraints, I think this is an adequate solution.
- The lightly-structured format is helpful for people who want to figure things out on their own, but might not be great for people who need a bit more hand-holding.
- The daily page layout is helpful split into four sections. You could literally use this for whatever you want.
- The tracking section toward the back of the notebook is the unique selling point of the journal.
- Being able to fill in a half-circle for a partial completion reminds me of honoring the habit — for example, if you play piano and you don’t feel like practicing, just touch the keys that day.
- The format without a framework does feel like a lot of cognitive overhead to figure out.
Where to Buy
If you’re interested in the Theme System Journal, you can purchase it over on the Cortex Brand store.