How to come up with a "word of the year"


For the past 10+ years I’ve been using words or themes rather than resolutions to ring in each year. I find them far more fun and less guilt ridden than any resolution. Words are much stronger for long term and sustainable goals.

I recently re-read the post I wrote back in 2015 about having a word or theme. Ironically, that was the year I made a big thing about it with the post, and I know I failed more with that word than I like to admit. The good news is reading that post made me think. Reflecting back on 10+ years of words of the year, I thought I’d come up with some best practices to help set you up for success.

Here are 10 simple guidelines to keep in mind when brainstorming your word.

  1. Words can be either one word or a short phrase.

  2. Words tend to be strongest when there are multiple meanings.

  3. Keep it simple. Super simple.

  4. Let it be open for interpretation.

  5. Don’t set too many rules or overcommit.

  6. Don’t force it and make it something you have to live by every second.

  7. Consider how it can be anchored to something you already do. (i.e. with 2018 word of the year “talk to strangers” my one rule is I had to talk to one new person at any event I went to.)

  8. Make sure it’s something you’re actually excited about (not something you feel you should do; it’s way more satisfying to live your own dreams than someone else’s).

  9. It’s OK if your word changes or adapts. (I had a mid-Jan switcheroo last year, and it was one of my most successful years).

  10. Words may adapt over time. You may not have uncovered all the meanings or interpretations when you set it. Be open.

Some years my word comes straight to me, other years I work for it a bit more. For a couple weeks now I’ve been mulling it over. Yesterday I took my notebook and favorite pens to a coffee shop and jotted down some ideas, after first taking time to reflect back on last year and consider what I want to be working towards this year. I have some good leads, but for now I’m sitting with it and seeing how they feel. (I like having the notebook so I can look back later and see my thought process.)

I don’t know if I’ll be announcing my word, or just living it. That’s what the exciting thing about this approach: you set your own rules! Ultimately, we want to set ourselves up for success.

Would love your take on this in the comments! What’s your experience with having a word or theme for the year? What words have worked best for you? Your welcome to share your words in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with.

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