How to Choose A Word of the Year that Works!

So how are those New Year’s resolutions going?  Have you already broken half of them? 

For most of my life, that was me!  I would create massive lists of New Year’s resolutions in the belief that if I only kept one or two I would still be ahead in the game of life.  But I didn’t take into account how crappy it feels to not meet the other ten or fifteen resolutions, so I would eventually abandon all of them by February. 

Why Choose Word of the Year

Last year I tried something different, I chose a single word to guide and inspire my choices throughout the upcoming year.   And it was an unqualified success!

A single word is easy to remember, and easy to apply.  There is no need to quantify how much or how well you do it, because it’s not binary.  It’s not win or lose, it’s an ongoing process.  It’s 365 days of opportunities to take baby steps or giant steps that all add up implementing your word successfully.

How to choose your word fo the year

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My 2021 Word of the Year

My word was visibility.  I wanted to start showing up for myself as authentically as I could.  I wanted to learn, fail, and create in public so I could grow and improve with feedback.  This is incredibly excruciating for me, and yet, 2021 was filled with visibility.   The word inspired me to start a newsletter, A Gossamer Thread.  To host a workshop on Mindful Photography.  To speak up, to be less of a lurker in online groups.  To self-publish a book, Befriend and Tend.  To blog more authentically.  And to launch this YouTube channel! You can read a little more about it here.

I have never felt so positively about a year-end review.  Rather than a list of failed resolutions, I had completed several meaningful actions that were inspired and guided by my word.

So how do you go about choosing a word?

How to Choose a Word of the Year

You may know in your gut what word you want to choose, and if that’s the case trust your intuition and go for it.  

But if you’re not sure or if you have no idea, you can start by answering any of the following questions that appeal to you.   For the first round, write down any words that come to mind as you reflect on the questions.  

  • 1. What do you want to do in the next year?   Write down a list of action words.  (Run, Exercise, Plan, Write, launch, invest)
  • 2.  What skills or characteristics will hep you achieve your goals or live a better life?  Write down a list of skills and/or character traits. (Consistency, focus, perseverance, diligence, boundaries)
  • 3.  What do you need or want more of in your life?  Write down your needs. (Peace, balance, courage, purpose, connection?)
word of the year
  • 4.  How do you want to feel? What emotional state do you need more of in your life?  Write down a list of feelings.  (Loved, useful, happy, compassionate?)
  • 5.  What are your core values?  Are there any that you aren’t living out as well as you would like?  Write down a list of values that you would like to embody more with your life.  (Creativity, charity, family, environmentalism, religion)

Once you have a master list of words, cross out the words that you know are not contenders.  For the remaining words, look in a thesaurus (or google) for synonyms.  You may come across a related word that you KNOW is your word.  

If you aren’t having a lightening bolt moment, then sit with the list for a few days.  Talk about it with your friends, pray about it, journal about it, just give it a few days to incubate.

If, after a few days a word hasn’t risen to the top, you can try the word in a jar trick.  Write down each of the 2-5 words that you are trying to decide between on a separate slip of paper.  Fold each one up and put them in a jar or box.  Shake it up and pull out a word.

Before you open it, see how you are feeling.  You may have a feeling of clarity and a desire for a certain word to be on the slip of paper. Then you can choose that word and don’t even need to open the paper.

If you don’t have an inner voice telling you what word you want, then read the slip, and check in with how you feel.  If you are disappointed, then that’s not the right word for you.  Pull out the next word and do the same thing until you pull out a word that resonates with you that you want to work with for a year.  

Don’t let the quest for the perfect word be the enemy of choosing a good word. The truth is, if you are down to 2-5 words, any of those words will be a wonderful word for you to use. So just pick one of your final contenders and let the rest go.

Related articles:

Tips to Make Your Word of the Year Work For you

Journaling to Improve Your Life | Journaling 101

Create a Morning Routine to Jumpstart Your Morning


 My theory is that New Year’s resolutions end up on a downward spiral — when you start slacking on a few of them, you get discouraged and become less likely to get back on the bandwagon or to keep your other resolutions.

Once you choose your word of the year, watch this video or read this article to see how to put it to work for you!