New Year’s resolutions are a great tool for many people, but they’re not for everyone. In fact, the majority of people (64% according to one study) give up on one of their resolutions by the end of January. Even for the people who love and stick to their New Year’s resolutions, they don’t always work out every year.
If you’re the type of person who feels guilt or shame around giving up, or if the idea of New Year’s resolutions sounds exhausting and boring to you in the first place, then you may want to consider adopting a word of the year instead.
What Is a Word of the Year?
A word of the year is just what it sounds like and much more at the same time. It’s a guiding idea for your year that’s important to you. A word of the year provides an intentional framework for your year. It can be a noun or a verb, an action or a concept, and much more.
The purpose of committing to a word of the year is to help you center and guide yourself throughout the next twelve months. It doesn’t have to be about improving your life, but it can be if you choose. A word of the year can remind you to give yourself grace or to prioritize something that’s meaningful to you.
While there is nothing completely set in stone about this practice, it’s a good idea to focus on your word of the year every day. It’s a way for you to live intentionally, so it’s helpful to make time for your word every day (and we’ll explain more about how below).
So just how do you come up with a word of the year?
Step 1: Brainstorm
Before you begin this process, make sure that you don’t tell anyone that you’re choosing a word of the year. Let this be a journey you take on your own; you don’t need the opinions of family members or friends to choose a word for your year.
Once you have set that boundary, it’s time to start brainstorming. Come up with your own list of words that speak powerfully to you. Again, these words don’t’ have to be connected to a personal goal or any type of improvement. These can just be words that are meaningful, somehow, to you.
Take a look at your list. Ideally, you should come up with 10 different words to choose from. If you feel like you’ve come up with a thoughtful list on your own, then that’s great! Move on to step two.
Are you struggling to come up with all 10 or are you not sure about the words that you’ve written down? If you feel like you’d rather have more options, take a look at this list:
You can also look in a dictionary or a thesaurus, or even your favorite book, for inspiration.
Step 2: Narrow It Down
After you have a list of about 10 words to choose from, it’s time to get a little more specific. Choose the five words that speak to you the most and write them down on a fresh piece of paper.
Also, make sure that you aren’t only choosing words that you think “should” be on your list. Society tells us that we need to be, or should want to be, so many different things (skinny, blonde, tall, high cheekbones, organized, athletic… the list goes on) that we either don’t have control over or that don’t actually matter. Avoid trying to live up to an image that isn’t true to who you are at your core. Remember, this is all about living a fulfilling life according to your sense of what that should be.
Then, take a week. Sit with those five words. You can simply meditate on them as you go about your week, or you can adopt a more focused practice and write down your thoughts. In fact, it can be very helpful to sit and journal about those five words. Ask yourself these questions:
What speaks to me about each of these words?
How does each of these words make me feel?
Which words can I see myself truly holding up as my word for the new year?
Spend time honestly contemplating these questions and crafting your answers.
Step 3: Decide On Your Word
After the week is up, it’s time to choose the word that speaks the most to you. Re-read your journal entry where you reflected (either by answering the three questions above or by just writing your thoughts) on your top five words. Try to understand how you feel after you read about what each word means to you.
Think about how you can uphold each word, not only today and tomorrow, but eight, ten, and twelve months from now. Don’t let anxiety about the future affect this part of the process. Simply think about whether this is a word that you’ll be able to commit to for this specific year in your life.
Or, your process may be more simple. After the week of thinking about your top five words, you may immediately know, in your heart, your gut, or your soul, which one is the right word for your year.
Deciding on your word takes patience, thoughtfulness, and care. Remember, this word will help you shape your life for the next year.
Step 4: Write Your Word, Then Display It (Or Don’t!)
There’s a definite value to writing down your word. Choose a piece of paper and write down the one word you’re committing to this year. It’s also helpful to journal about why you chose that specific word and what you plan to do to hold that word up throughout the year.
Write about what you want to do to live your word intentionally. You can even choose checkpoints for yourself. For example, if your word is “considerate,” you might write down “By March, I will have called a friend who I haven’t spoken to in a while just to see how she’s doing. By July, I will have volunteered one time in the community.”
You don’t have to create a strict timeline, but it’s important to be thoughtful and practical. What makes this word important to you? What do you want to do to live this word?
Next, you can choose to display your word, or you can skip this step. The decision is up to you. While some people may write their New Year’s resolutions on their mirrors in dry erase marker, you can do that with your word of the year – but you don’t have to.
There are many ways to display your word. If you are a craftsy or visual person, creating a vision board around your word is one way to help you intentionally commit to it this year. Be as creative as you like and show what your word really means to you.
You can write it on your fridge, on a post-it that you keep in the mirror in your car, on the inside of your planner, on an index card that’s tacked up to your bulletin board, etc.
You can also carry your word with you. You can write it on a slip of paper and keep it in your wallet or purse. Or, you can write it on a stone and keep it in your garden. Do what fits your personality and your life the best.
Step 5: Embrace Your Word
Live your truth with your word in mind. Find time every day to sit with your word. If your word is “delight,” find something that delights you every day. It can be a TikTok or a great meal; as long as it brings you “delight,” you’re intentionally living up to your word of the year.
If your word is “connect,” find a way to connect with someone every day. You can connect in-person (or on FaceTime) with someone you know, or you can connect online with a person you’ve never met in real life. You can connect with nature or with your community. It’s up to you.
A word like “adventure” may be hard to hold up intentionally every day. Let’s face it: there’s probably not something adventurous about every day. However, you can spend some time every day planning an adventure, or going on a small adventure, perhaps to a new restaurant or a weekend getaway to somewhere new.
If you decide to choose a word of the year for the first time this year, give yourself grace. You’ve never done this before, and it’s not easy to stick with a habit for a whole year. Remember, this is for you, so hold yourself accountable (because you deserve respect!) but don’t let this be a source of stress in your life. Your word of the year should make you feel more fulfilled.