Tired of setting New Year’s resolutions that go nowhere or writing out the same resolutions year after year after year?
If you nodded your head as you read that sentence, I’ve got a softer approach to new year’s resolutions and goal-setting for you to consider – trying out a personal word of the year.
Before we even get into what a personal word of the year is, let me set the context a little bit – I love using the slow days of December to work through some annual reflection & reset journal prompts to take stock of the year gone by +
plan dream of the year ahead. One of these year-end rituals is to choose a personal word of the year for myself which I use as a guiding force, a theme, for the next 12 months and it’s a little thing that I have come to love over the years!
I’ve talked about my experience with choosing a personal word of the year a little later in this post, but I thought I’ll share more about this practice with you all because I think it’s a simple yet powerful tool to design a better life for yourself.
So, What is a Personal Word of the Year?
I think of a personal word of the year as a lighthouse for a given year. Just like a lighthouse works as a navigation tool for boats and ships, that’s how a word of the year can be as well – a guiding light to provide you a sense of direction as you go about your life for the next 12 months (or whatever time frame you choose it for).
It is a word that you choose to focus on and incorporate into your daily life for the upcoming year. This word can serve as a guiding principle or theme for your goals and actions.
It can be a word that represents something you want to improve on or achieve, or it can be a reminder of an important value or idea. By choosing a personal word of the year, you can set an intention for how you want to live and grow in the coming year. It can be a powerful tool for personal growth and reflection.
It’s way less rigid than a resolution or goal – the personalness of the word and its meaning to you is what makes it unique and so powerful. It can act as a driving force and a gentle reminder to you to create a life aligned with your true inner desires.
How to Choose Your Word?
I’ve been choosing a personal word of the year for myself for nearly the last five years now, maybe even longer. It’s something I picked up from Ali Edwards’ One Little Word exercise from my memory-keeping days.
For some years, the word has jumped out at me without much digging. In other years, I have chosen my word intentionally based on what I want to focus on that year. In any case, a little bit of reflection and journaling can definitely help in choosing a word that resonates with you. I’ve put down a few helpful prompts to make the process easier for you.
1| Reflect on the Last Year
Think back over the last 12 months and ask yourself some deep questions:
- What were your struggles?
- What went well?
- What did you wish you’d done differently?
- What do you want more of?
- What do you want less of?
- How do you feel right now?
Record your answers in a journal or a sheet of paper – they should give you a sense of direction about what is important to you and/or what you feel is potentially missing from your life.
2| Look Ahead
Now, cast your mind to the end of the next 12 months.
- Where do you see yourself at the end of the year?
- What do you want to have accomplished over the next 12 months?
- What do you want to focus on this year?
- How do you want to feel at the end of the year?
Again, your responses should solidify your sense of direction about your life and highlight what you want more of in your life over the next 12 months.
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3| Shortlist Words
Having completed this reflection and visualization exercise, some words might already have started jumping out to you. Start jotting down these words and come up with a shortlist.
4| Choose a Word That Truly Speaks to You
From your own shortlist, pick a word that truly motivates and excites you. It’s not a science, so lean into your intuition and see what word triggers the most positive reaction. There are no right or wrong answers, so choose a word that makes the most sense to you.
If you’re really struggling with choosing a word, there’s a list of over 200 words towards the end of the post that you can refer to.
How to Make the Most of Your Personal Word of the Year
1| Know Your Why
First and foremost, get crystal clear on your “why”. Ask yourself what are you hoping to achieve with this word as your guiding light. At the end of the day, choosing a personal word of the year is about intention setting, and the clearer you are about your real objectives, the easier it will be to follow through.
2| Make It Visible
From my personal experience, I’d say that this can make a huge difference. I’ve had years when I’ve written about my word in a journal at the start of the year, and then never actively done anything with it, which is obviously something that you don’t want to happen.
Instead, making your word super visible can act as a constant positive reminder for you to align yourself to that energy. Going back to the lighthouse analogy – a lighthouse won’t really be of that much help to boats if it didn’t throw out that powerful beam of light to make itself known, right?
A few ideas to make your word visible:
- Make a physical or digital vision board
- Create a phone/laptop wallpaper with your word
- Include your word in your passwords
- Include your word in an affirmation (or two) and read that affirmation to yourself every day
- Have your word inscribed on a small token that you use/see regularly. Like a key chain, or in the form of an inscribed stone (like Liz Lamoreux’s Soul Mantra products) that you can keep by your bedside.
3| Set Yourself Some Actionable Goals + Habits
Merely choosing a personal word of the year isn’t going to be enough to uplevel your life in the ways you want to. You need to use the word to come up with a list of action items.
If “joy” was your chosen word, one of your actionable habits could look like “do something every day that brings me joy”. As a precursor to that, you should make a list of things that bring you joy.
Of course, the actionables could vary depending on the kind of word you choose. Also, every word need not necessarily translate into specific actionable goals (say, kindness), and that’s okay too. Your word of the year could simply be a feeling/attitude you want more of in your life, and that would be great too!
4| Regularly Check-in With Your Word
You could do this in a few ways. Maybe every night before bed, you could mentally ask yourself if you truly lived by your word today. Or, you could do a weekly/monthly review of your word and the related actionable habits to see whether you’re actually using the word in your life as you intended.
A Few Helpful Reminders
If this is the first time you’re choosing a personal word of the year and if the process of choosing a word seems overwhelming, these helpful reminders might make it easier for you.
You don’t have to choose just one word.
Don’t get hung up about the word having to be “one word”. Choose three words, or even a phrase or a quote, if that’s what makes sense to you. Whatever you choose, the important thing is that it needs to act as a guiding light for you through the year.
You don’t have to be married to your word for the whole year.
If your word stops resonating with you at any point during the year, or if you’ve just overgrown it, feel free to do a hard reset and re-select your word. Yes, you’re totally allowed to change your word if you need to!
You don’t have to choose a single word for the whole year.
On a similar note, you don’t have to have a single word for the whole year. If it works better for you, you could have an overarching word for the year, and then select a word for every quarter/month that ties in with the broader theme.
My Experience With a Personal Word of the Year
I’ve chosen words like Do, Finish, and Action for my One Little Word over the years.
In 2020, my personal word of the year was “Light”. Going into 2020, I’d been dealing with some heavy feelings and negative thoughts, and I really wanted to actively seek the light, and bring more light into my life.
Now, it might come as a surprise to no one that 2020 didn’t quite go as per plan. However, by the end of the year, I did feel a certain kind of lightness in my life. Believe me, the year went nothing as I envisaged it (not even taking into account COVID and lockdowns, etc.), and yet, the Universe helped to shine the light on some key areas of my life, and in hindsight, I am all the more better for it.
In 2021, I chose “Bold” as my personal word of the year. However, fragile mental health (worse off in 2021 than 2020 for me) and some personal losses meant that I felt anything but “bold” as I went about the year. But 2021 also turned out to be the year that I said yes to one big work opportunity (moving to Singapore) and that bold action in itself led to many subtle and some not-so-subtle changes in my life. Sometimes you need a bit of a shake-up to move on to the next version of your life and this year was certainly one of those prime shake-up moments of my life.
In 2022, coming off the back of a hard 2020 and 2021, I chose Heal and Foundation as my two words for the year. I’ve made imperfect progress on both of those words – there are still so many things I am working on (both mentally and outwardly) but the key thing is that I am ending the year so much stronger than how it began. And with that in mind, I definitely feel like my words for the year held me up.
I am still thinking over my personal word of the year for 2023, but I’ll update this post later in the year to talk about how the year shaped up with my new word in focus.
250 Personal Word of the Year Ideas
Lastly, if you’re really struggling to come up with a word for yourself, I’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of 250 ideas that you can use as your personal word of the year.
I hope this helps you to come up with a personal word for the year! Let me know in the comments below what you choose.