A few years ago, I decided to abandon the idea of making resolutions in favor of choosing a word of the year. I was inspired when I read that Melinda Gates makes it a tradition to choose a word each year that “encapsulates her aspirations for the year ahead.”
To me, choosing a single word to represent my intentions sounded like a brilliant plan. Maybe I was just tired of the same old “eat better and exercise more” initiatives that seemed to bubble up every year for me. Inevitably these resolutions were accompanied by complicated self-improvement plans and goals that never seem to have enough steam to make it through the spring.
A single word seemed doable. It seemed light enough to carry. I felt inspired and lifted up rather than slightly self-shamed.
Come to find out, there is an entire movement around choosing a word of the year! You can join in and even order merchandise featuring your word at the One Little Word project website.
But you don’t have to get fancy. You can simply choose a word and start focusing on it in whatever way is meaningful to you. Here are 3 questions to help get you started:
01 Is there a word that you keep noticing?
In 2017, my first word of the year was Simplify. Everywhere I turned–from internet articles, to home decor at Target, to mugs in my kitchen–the word “simplify” was jumping out at me. There seemed to be a sense of synchronicity, so I decided I should pay attention. That year I tried to simplify my life wherever I could. I unsubscribed from junk emails and donated loads and loads of my old stuff to charity. I started saying no to requests for my time that felt heavy. After I got Marie Kondo’s book, I went around holding objects in my home to see if they “sparked joy.” By the end of the year, my entire life had experienced a pretty massive transformation. My house stayed clean. I felt calmer. I had more space in almost every aspect of my life and it felt really good.
02 What feels important to you right now in your personal life?
With this newfound space, I realized that what I wanted to do with it was to find ways to meaningfully connect with people I loved. In 2018, my word of the year was Connection. I tried to focus on ways to connect with my family and friends and it was incredibly rewarding. Instead of things, I focused on experiences (I couldn’t just fill my house back up with new junk!), and made wonderful memories. I went on a getaway with my sisters, two yoga retreats with dear friends, and spent a lot of time in nature with my family.
03 Is there something that needs attention in your professional life?
In 2019, my word of the year was Mindfulness, which means being present, conscious, and aware. I was inspired by research that showed the positive benefits mindfulness could have for kids, and so I embraced it in my own life. I worked really hard to discover what mindfulness was all about, and tried to come up with creative ways to model and teach it in my work. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my efforts to learn and implement mindfulness practices would serve me very well in coming times of personal crisis. You never know why a word might manifest for you. It might be preparing you for something.
It’s Okay to Change Your Word Mid-Year
I had big plans for 2020, and my word of the year started out as Adventure. On the agenda for the year–a trip to Italy, climbing Mt. Baker (plus dozens of hikes to prepare for the climb), and then leaving in June to explore Europe for 6 months with my family. This was supposed to be a big, bright year full of countless possibilities.
While the year started out great, part way through the year everything went off the rails. Covid ruined (most of) our travel plans. Then my breast cancer diagnosis fully set my year (and my life) on a new trajectory. “Adventure” was no longer serving to inspire me. Instead it reminded me of all of the plans I had made that hadn’t manifested.
I needed a word that represented the hopes and needs of the new reality of my life. So I thanked Adventure and told it I hoped to return to it soon. For the remainder of 2020 my word became Wellness. My energy and focus shifted to healing and self-care, which is exactly what my mind and body needed.
2021 Word of the Year
It took me a little extra time this year to settle on a word. For this year I have chosen Grace, a word with many layers of meaning. Grace can describe everything from the way someone moves in the world to how God reaches His children. The definition that especially spoke to my heart was “divine regenerative power.” As our beloved Mary Oliver says:
I don’t know what it is exactly either. But I look forward to welcoming grace into my life and finding out a little bit more.
Have you chosen a word of the year? If not, I’ve put together 200 ideas to help get you started.
If you have chosen your word, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!