#85: How and Why You Should Choose a Word of the Year

New Year’s resolutions fail for a lot of reasons, but January can still be a good time to take a new look at your business and personal life. Instead of resolutions, I like to choose a word (or two, or three) of the year. It sets my theme for the year and reminds me to focus on something in particular all year long.

I was inspired to do this a few years ago by marketer Chris Brogan, who actually chooses three words every year. I started out with three words, but in 2019 I chose just one word: Leap. I wanted a visible reminder throughout the year to try new things outside my comfort zone. It reminded me that before I say no to something in my business, think big and truly consider leaping forward instead. It isn’t a coincidence that I started this podcast in 2019, finally taking the steps to make the leap after thinking about it for more than a year.

In 2020, I started with one word: Explore. I wanted to explore new directions and new projects in my business, as well as new places with my husband. Sadly, the pandemic halted any travel plans we had. But before the pandemic, as I considered my word “explore” I reread James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” to start off my year right. In the book, he talks about the idea of “motion versus action.” Basically, sometimes we feel like we’re doing new things, working on projects, being productive, but everything we’re doing is just “motion.” Motion is the research, the planning, the preparation, but it’s not the action of actually doing something.

That really hit me, and I realized that I loved motion and was really good at it, but I needed something to push me to act. So, I added the word “act” to my word “explore” and made a sign that hung on my wall throughout 2020: Explore + Act.

While 2020 didn’t turn out like anyone had planned, I was able to do some exploring and acting in my business anyway, as I had to figure out how to pivot when the pandemic hit and I lost business.

For 2021, I chose the word: Simplicity.

Simplicity feels like meditation or curling up with a good book. It feels like relaxation and leaning into the slow life and the calm. And I really need that during the pandemic and the political upheaval in my country.

Simplicity in my business means focusing on the work and projects I love to do and going after that type of work. But, for me, 2021 does not feel like the “go big or go home” year. I want to take it easy, do the work I need to and keep it simple.

How will you choose your word of the year? Here’s what I recommend: Think briefly about what you want your year to look like. Set a timer for five minutes and write a bunch of words on a piece of paper. Narrow down your list and maybe look up the words in the dictionary and thesaurus.

Say each word out loud. How does each word make you feel? What does it make you think about? Then, choose your word of the year!

Biz Bite: Calendar blocking and batching

The Bookshelf: The Stranger Diaries” by Elly Griffiths


Psychology Today article “Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

My January 2020 blog post “Choose a Word of the Year

Twitter thread about people’s words of the year

Chris Brogan’s three words for 2021, his words in past years, and tips for choosing your words

Hilary Sutton’s podcast Hustle & Grace

Episode #68 of Deliberate Freelancer: Yes, You Need to Build a Personal Brand, with Hilary Sutton

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