Why I Love Having a Word of the Year


I used to be a hardcore New Year’s Resolutions gal. I made all the lists. I made the lofty (and now, looking back on them) unattainable goals. I had 365 days to be better. Look better. Feel better. Do better. Why not go big or go home, right?


Striving to achieve something is not wrong or bad. But I leaned into the big, January 1st energy. I didn’t lean into it, I hurled myself at it as if caught up in a tornado. Like the rest of the world, or so it seemed, I was ready for total transformation. This was the time. Whether it was in my body, mind, attitude, or my future goals.

January was a clean slate, and I was ready to take advantage of a fresh start. I thought I could fill the new year with all my hopes and dreams. It was all-or-nothing right out of the gate.

As you can assume, this lasted maybe six days.

Do you know what many New Year Resolutions lack? (Or at least, mine did.) Sustainability. One-off resolutions often fizzle out when we lose motivation or things get a little difficult.

Have you ever been to a gym on January 1st? What about January 31st? March 12th?

I bet you would notice a downward trend of people showing up all those days. And sadly, it’s not because people don’t want it. It’s that they’ve wrapped their desires in pretty bows and ribbons. But after they peel off the wrapping paper, life gets in the way of their grand plans. So they stop showing up at all. (Ask me how I know.)

Drastic goals don’t bring about drastic change—no matter how much I wish they did.

Sustainable change comes from sustained plans.

Enter, Word of the Year

I’m not sure where I heard about doing a Word of the Year. Probably a friend, or maybe somewhere on social media. But for the last five years, I’ve chosen a word instead of a list of unattainable resolutions.

I strive for slow change, rather than the all-or-nothing mentality. I want something flexible. Not a jolting, rigid list of goals that won’t last into February. And I enter the year knowing the theme I’ve chosen will sustain me all year. Not a quick bandaid to cover up what I want to heal.

Since 2018, my words have been things like intentional, delight, capable, and here. They’ve reminded me to focus and be present and help me enjoy where I am at. They’ve allowed me to center myself on attitudes like competence, presence, and strength. And as the seasons and years ebb and flow, so do the meaning of my words.

The Process

First, I reflect. I think about what I want to improve on and what I want more (or less) of. Maybe a personal quality I want to improve. Then, I spend some time journaling or doing a “brain dump.” I write words that may interest me. Or jot down things I want to improve. I notice patterns and commonalities and move from there to narrow down a word. I start brainstorming my new word at the end of the year.

I enjoy meditating on what my next year might look like. I think about where our family could be, and what may (or may not) happen. But I am not tied to certain events happening based on my word. I do my best to choose something with an overarching theme.

The key is that my word will fit into the new year regardless of what actually happens.

How a Word of the Year Works

When I picked my word of the year in January 2020 (yes, that year) I knew my husband would be gone for a few months. I knew I would have a newborn shortly before the New Year. And I knew we would be moving. (And although I couldn’t quite predict the global pandemic aspect) I picked the word capable because I believed in myself…or maybe I needed the reminder I could.

In 2020, I picked capable because I needed a foundation of strength. I needed to know I could manage a newborn, my husband being gone, and moving to a completely new state in a part of the country I’d barely heard of. Capable centered me when things got exceptionally tough. And on December 31st, 2020, I could look back and smile because I proved I was capable. Even if in January I only wanted to be reminded I was.

In 2018, I was getting out of the newborn fog of my first baby. I was ready to take back the reins and refocus. I wanted to be intentional in all aspects of my life; my time, my stuff, my health, and my relationships. I wanted to purge excess things from my house, be more selective with my relationships (quality over quantity, always), and maybe get back to deliberately exercising my body to feel strong again.

Sometimes my words of the year look like something I want more of (intentionality). Sometimes they’re things to center on (here, delight, nourish). And sometimes they’re a reminder of what I can be (capable).

You Gotta Want It

I’ve had a few friends tell me they’ve tried a word of the year and it “doesn’t work.” A word of the year may not be your style. You may pick it, like a resolution, and forget about it by April.

Author and behavioral expert John Assaraf once asked, “Are you interested, or are you committed?”

Like any form of goal, it’s not something you can force. It must be something you commit to doing. I can tell you from my experience, it won’t “work” if you don’t want it to.

But what I love about doing a word of the year is it’s as laid back or intense as you want.

The process—thoughtfully deciding on a theme—is grounding. Not only during the December before the new year, but into the December of the new year, too. It can be as narrow or broad as you’d like it to be. It prioritizes one thing, no matter where the next twelve months take you.

If New Year’s Resolutions have never “worked” for you before, why not pick a theme instead? Choose a word to point you somewhat near the path you want to take. Even if the road twists or turns, you can at least know you’re heading in the right direction.




  1. This was a great read! I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in many years and I love the idea of having a word. Thank you so much for this.

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