Choosing a word of the year changed my life. Before that, I spent so many late December weeks sprawled on the floor of my childhood bedroom, college apartment, and newlywed one-bedroom with stacks of white computer paper and pens, making long (and I mean long) lists of resolutions and goals. I would fill up pages and pages listing all the changes I thought I should be making, based on someone else’s definition of what matters. I was attacking my life with my own impossible expectations.
So often, we make resolutions by focusing on all our perceived lack. We ask, “In what ways did I not measure up last year?” and go from there. We forget to think about what matters most to us, and we forget to consider what went well that can be capitalized on again in the year ahead. We use society’s measuring sticks and imposed ideals, and we beat ourselves up before we’ve even begun.
It isn’t fun or helpful to kick off every year feeling like a failure.
So, in 2014, I gave it up, and I haven’t made a resolution since. Instead, I choose a word of the year. My words—like grow, free, joy, dwell, rhythm—have helped me walk away from perfectionism, hustle, and people-leasing toward grace, joy, and peace. The transformation wasn’t immediate, of course, but it has felt dramatic, and this practice of choosing a word has played an important role in the process.
Three Reasons to Choose a Word of the Year
1. A word of the year gives you vision and direction. Maybe you are a more focused person than me, but my resolutions never seemed to reflect my personal values. Statements like “eat better” or “exercise 3 times each week” or “get to bed by 10 p.m.” were all perfectly fine goals, but on any given year, it wasn’t very likely that I gave much thought to what I really wanted my life to look like. I was allowing my perfectionism to set the tone.
Instead, choosing a word of the year begins by asking, “What do I most want to invite into my life this year?” It asks us to notice what’s rising to the surface, push past everything competing for our attention, and narrow our focus. In a hyper-distracted world in which everyone has competing ideas about what you should prioritize most, a word of the year allows you to declare what’s most important.
2. A word of the year is holistic and flexible. Some people love their SMART goals, but I’m more of a big-picture person. If you choose the right word, you can easily consider how it might apply to almost any area of my life. When my word was “free,” I asked myself questions like, “What will financial freedom look like this year?” or “What would it mean for me to experience freedom in relationships?” You can choose a word that applies all across the board. A word of the year is also flexible, which strikes me as especially important for parents. Nothing derails our best-laid-plans like being responsible for small children. A sleep regression interferes with your early morning gym classes, homework help might cut into your reading time, new food allergies might mess with your meal planning mojo. A word of the year is flexible, changing its meaning or application throughout the year.
3. It’s impossible to fail. And because this practice is holistic and flexible, it’s impossible to fail. If you spend some time thinking about your word, considering how it might impact your life, you’ve already done the work. Of course, there’s more to be gained with more effort, but ultimately, you simply can’t mess this up. I love a word of the year for the grace if offers.
Doesn’t it feel good to head into 2020 knowing there’s one thing out there you can’t mess up? So, open up a notebook or pull up a blank Google doc and start brainstorming. What’s inspiring you lately, and what kind of energy are you hoping for in 2020? Think less about what you’ll do this year and more about who you’ll become.
Somewhere out there, a great word is waiting.
Want to learn more? Ali Edwards and her resources I first learned about the concept of a word of the year from are my favorites. But you can also get some ideas and inspiration from One Word 365 or, if you are a Christian, from (in)courage. But again, you can’t mess this up! I really mean it. And for more inspiration, check out Indy Moms contributor Lauren’s post about her 2017 word, “boundaries.”