How to Pick a Word that Works for YOU in the New Year

For years, I was a diehard New Year’s Resolution person. Each year, I would identify as many as 5-10 commitments for the new year. These often included commitments to health, learning new things and breaking bad habits.

Some of my commitments were success stories. I did, intermittently, exercise and remain calm more, learn a bit more French, or attend church with more consistency. But somewhere along the way, my resolutions stopped feeling fun and started to feel like self-loathing.

For the past few years, I’ve ditched resolutions, choosing instead to select a word or words to focus on in the new year. These words were selected because they communicated what I wanted more – or less – of in the new year. They were reminders of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live.

Through the years, I’ve had a number of focus words, including community, connection, whimsy, calm, consistency, development, steadfastness and fun. Friends have also come up with some excellent words – things like prayer, hope, faith, love, fearlessness, exploration, studiousness, intention, carefreeness, peace, challenge, learning, leadership and renewal.

Here are some tips that might help you in choosing a word for 2021.

  1. Find a word that can evolve as the global pandemic shifts. One of my words for 2020 was whimsy. Oops. After the shutdowns came in mid-March, I confess that whimsy was not a top priority for me, as I shifted, at times, into more of a survival and adjustment mode. This year, I am choosing words that can shift slightly as the year evolves. They can include, for example, goals of travel and socializing, but also can continue to work while social distancing.
  2. Avoid the “shoulds.” When I look back at some of my early resolutions, I realize I sometimes picked things I thought I should want to do, instead of things that were truly important to me. For example, I knew I needed to eat more healthily, but at the time, I had not truly reached a place where I wanted to do it. Before selecting a word, really stop and think, “Does this truly matter to me? Why?.
  3. Consider your season. Some things can be important to you, but not be realistic for the season that you are in. For example, a few years ago I picked the word “friendship” as one of my words. Some of my commitments included seeing friends more frequently, going out to dinner, meeting new people and joining a group or two. This word ended up not working for me because the season I was in realistically did not allow for a focus on socialization. The truth was, when it came down to it, I preferred to spend my time in that season focused on my elementary-aged children, my teaching and my writing. And that was OK. This can be true with career-related goals, too. Maybe you would like to pursue more leadership roles at work, but you also recognize that your family demands make this a season for holding steady or even ramping down your work commitments. Saying no to a word one year doesn’t mean saying no to it forever.
  4. Plan to give yourself grace. This experience is meant to inspire, encourage and focus you. Remember to show yourself grace if you realize that a particular word is a poor fit for the year – or for you. I have changed or abandoned words several times when I got into the year and realized they did not work for me. Whimsy, for example, ended up feeling too frivolous for me in 2020. Friendship didn’t work for me once I realized that trying to jam in more social gatherings while parenting young kids just made me feel grumpy and longing for down time at home.

Will you pick a word for 2021? What are your words? How did you pick them?

Happy New Year!