Choose a Word for the Year

I finished 7 years of graduate school in 2007 and started my first business in 2008. I believe it’s no coincidence that that was the year I discovered Christine Kane and chose my first word of the year. Unfortunately, I no longer remember precisely the first word I chose – that would be interesting to think back on! Here’s her original 2006 post about choosing a word for the year. I have done this most of the last 12 years and always find it a useful practice, even if I set other resolutions or goals for the new year.

Essentially, the concept is that instead of making a resolution which can be seen as a wish (a goal without a plan), a goal (finite, possibly self-limiting) or a to-do (finite and potential for failure) you select a guiding concept for the year. This guiding concept requires no plan, is infinite in possibilities and is something at which you can NOT fail. Your word of the year also utilizes some cutting edge behavioral science in terms of motivation. Miranda van der Heuvel expressed it this way:

A resolution addresses the DO level of your life. If I DO this (exercise), then I will HAVE that (a healthy body), and then I will BE that (confident).

Choosing a word, turns the thing around and starts you on the BE level. It starts you from where you want to BE. So if you want to BE confident for example, your word of the year could be COURAGE.

Miranda van der Heuvel, Create and Connect Founder, https://createandconnect.org/word-of-the-year/

This idea about starting with who you want to BE also comes up in the book Atomic Habits, which I’ll be referencing in another post in this series. Essentially, it’s a great way to motivate change and truly, it’s the reason we DO anything. For example, my word for 2020 was CRITICAL, but I didn’t follow the rules to choose a single word and I knew that my wordS were actually CRITICAL, NOT URGENT. This is a reference to the Eisenhower Matrix (see image). This quadrant, usually called “Important, Not Urgent” is usually listed as “decide” when to do it, “do it later,” or “schedule it.” Basically, I scheduled that quadrant for 2020 as a reminder to myself to do the deep work which is critical and try not to be distracted by those urgent items.

Why did this resonate with me? Because I want to be a person who is not distracted by the flags waving in my face – I want to be a person who is able to keep her deep work in focus through all the noise. I have to say that in retrospect, this has been an incredible guiding concept for this year. Despite my personal losses this year, despite the incredible global trauma of this pandemic, despite the changes that I’ve had to make to offer telemedicine and then to reopen to in person business with amped up infection control procedures, I’ve been able to focus on the deep work of providing healthcare for my patients and building a new business, a new clinic, to continue that deep work into 2021 and beyond.

Other words I’ve chosen include HEALTH, SIMPLICITY, BLISS, DANCE, METTA (loving kindness) and PROSPERITY. These words still speak to me, which I consider telling.

So, if you want to try something new for 2021, consider choosing a word of the year. If there is a word that’s pumping through your heart right now – whether you hear it loud or if it is whispering in the back of your mind, write that word down and consider it. If you aren’t sure if that word is for you or if your mind has gone blank click here for a handout you can use a starting point. Whatever word you choose will be the right word for you. Sometimes your word may feel like a warm cozy sweater and sometimes it might feel like a challenge or a call to arms. Because you choose it and it’s your word, your word will be right for you. You cannot make a mistake.

After you select your word, now what? I suggest that you put your word somewhere that you will see it every day, maybe even in multiple places. You can put it on your bathroom mirror, on the background of your phone, in your paper planner (I like this one!), in the center of your vision board, on an index card in your car… If you like mantras, you could make a mantra about it and repeat that regularly. Some years, I have had my word front and center and sometimes it’s fallen to the background. There is no right or wrong, but I do suggest that you at least write it down someplace where you can find it again periodically, at the end of the year or years later. I have to admit that this year’s words were decidedly not front and center for me, but remembering them this month and reflecting on my year, I can see how they influenced me in 2020. I can find that thread that started late last year when I set my word working it’s way through the year.

If you select a word for 2021, I’d love for you to share your word in the comments below. I wish you peace and plenty in 2021 and beyond.

This is the first post in a 6 part series about New Year’s Resolutions. I’m posting a mini summary on Facebook and Instagram, so follow me on the platform of your choice if you’d like to ensure you don’t miss the next piece on resolutions or come back tomorrow for another idea.

One thought on “Choose a Word for the Year

  • Rebecca Kennedy

    I love this and am inspired to choose my word for 2021. I have a few words brewing about and will head to my journal to sort through and find my focus. Kindness, joy, willpower, fun, presence, health are some that come up for 2021.


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