By now, you’ve likely digested a plethora of messages from influencers and publications alike telling you what to do differently in 2021. There are health challenges and declutter projects and vision boards to complete. Don’t forget to crack open your new #bossbabe planner, set 10 #goals, prep a week’s worth of meals, and optimize your morning routine. Are you writing all of this down?
After the holidays is a great time to focus on you. While there’s nothing wrong with setting resolutions, have you ever noticed that sometimes hustling to be better can end up making you feel … well, worse?
There is another way to enter the new year, one that doesn’t involve complex lists, habit tracking apps, bullet journals, or the disappointment of unmet resolutions. Instead of focusing on corrective behaviors, pick a one-word theme for your year. The word you select will become a catalyst for positive thoughts and actions in 2021.
For years, I was a resolution junkie, riding the high that accompanies dreams of self-improvement. Whenever I’d diverge from my perfect plan for the new year, I inevitably descended into self-loathing. Then, years ago, I discovered an article about selecting a one-word theme for the new year. Inspired by one of my favorite authors, I switched to this method. Releasing expectations made for a guiltless entry into January and an inspired 12 months. What’s more, in reframing my desires for the year, I gained a powerful compass that guided my growth.
Since then, various resources and a movement has developed around one-word themes. What follows is the system I use to select a one-word theme for the new year—what I’ve learned works best for me after years of practice. Give it a try and see if you don’t have your best year yet.
Step 1: No resolutions
Period. Set aside your vision board, habit tracking app, food rules, and list of resolutions. Wipe the slate clean. Replace the twinge of FOMO you might feel for not starting Whole30 with JOMO that comes from embracing a no-pressure, carefree start to 2021.
Though a one-word theme isn’t incongruous with resolutions—in fact, if you’re really motivated you could do both—I don’t recommend it. Here’s why: daily, your mind is crowded with dozens of messages from you, your circle, and the media about what you should/shouldn’t do. What would happen if you rejected those messages and began to flow through life unburdened by shoulds and shouldn’ts? What would it look like for you to harness the power of selecting one driving focus?
You’d become, in a word, unstoppable.
Step 2: Discovery session
Set aside 30 minutes for a brainstorming session. Do this during naptime or even enlist your kiddos to help you at playtime. Take out a clean sheet of paper and start by drawing a small circle in the middle of the page. Fill in the circle with your first name.
Start dreaming. What tone or attitude would you like to set this year? How do you want to feel?
Outside of your circle, write down any and all words or phrases that come to mind. This is a brainstorming session, so don’t hold back—outlandish ideas are OK, there will be time to discern later. Keep working until you’ve filled up the page with words or until the time is up.
If you’re having trouble coming up with words, try turning your favorite books or blogs or inspiration.
Step 3: Walk away from your list
Store your list in a safe place and literally walk away from it. Do something to clear your head: play with your kids, meditate or pray, workout, or walk out your door and around the neighborhood.
Step 4: Discernment
Find an additional 30 minutes when you’ll be undisturbed. Come back to your list and circle the words or phrases that stand out most to you. Next, take out a fresh sheet of paper or open up the notes app on your phone and document your top five contenders for word of the year.
Consider each word and how it might influence the course of your actions in 2021. If you’re a journaling type, pull yours out and let the words flow. Write toward what you know and don’t know about this word. Explore its hidden meanings. Look it up in the dictionary. Consider its forms (e.g., grace or graceful). Try it out in a sentence related to you.
Step 5: Decide and display
It’s time! Decide on your word of the year for 2021 and write it down on a Post-it, your planner, or even post about it on your blog or social media. You might even go so far as to purchase custom jewelry with your word if you’re really excited about it. You could post the word on your mirror or refrigerator. One thing I like to do is write my one-word theme in the margin of each month in my printed planner as a reminder.
A word about your word
Make a conscious effort to revisit your word throughout the year. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate and consider its layers. If you journal or blog, consider devoting a few pages to the ways your word may have influenced your thoughts and actions in 2021 every season until year-end.
If you fall away from your one-word theme, don’t beat yourself up. There’s no right way to do this. Your word, unlike a resolution, is simply a compass you can return to whenever you’re in need of guidance.
I’m no psychologist, but in years of trying this, I’ve found my one-word word theme just sinks into my brain and subliminally influences me.
Recently, I was reading an email from a dear friend in which she described me as courageous. Tears began to form in the corners of my eyes. “Why am I crying?” I wondered. Quickly, I re-read the email again, searching for answers.
A third time through my friend’s message, it finally dawned on me—I was crying because she had identified my theme for the year. No part of our exchange centered on this, it had come up naturally.
Care to guess what my word was for 2020? A synonym for courage: brave.
Tell us: what’s your word of the year for 2021?
This article was originally published on January 1, 2020, and has been updated for timeliness.