Instead of a Resolution, Consider Adopting a Word of the Year

published Jan 5, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

As 2022 gets underway, the chatter about resolutions will persist. People want to exercise more, read more books, unplug from devices, and drink their requisite amount of water every day. For several years, I fell into the trap of making several resolutions at the same time, and in three weeks, most of my “new” habits had already lost traction.

For me, creating resolutions wasn’t effective and ultimately made me feel bad about myself because I wasn’t able to maintain a goal for more than 21 days. It turns out I am not alone. A recent study shows that 64 percent of people drop their resolutions within a month. 

About seven years ago, I decided to change my outlook on the new year and resolutions. Now I adopt a word of the year and it allows me to focus my energy on specific ways to be intentional with my word. One year I chose laughter as my word of the year. I’d find different ways to integrate laughter into my day — looking up funny memes on the internet, listening to my favorite stand-up comedian on YouTube, or making an effort to smile in the mirror when I looked at myself. Another year I chose pause as my word. In times of stress, focusing on the word “pause” gave me the ability to take a deep breath or hold back saying angry words I might regret later. 

This type of resolution feels liberating and allows me to center my focus on different habits and goals to put my word into action. If you want to ditch your resolutions, here’s a handy guide on how to adopt a word of the year. 

Contemplate several words before committing to “the” word. 

Your word needs to reflect what feels right for you. Brainstorm and write several words down on a list before deciding on the word that works or feels right for you. Some words I’ve adopted in the past include compassion, breathe, laughter, pause, and gratitude. You can search through the dictionary or thesaurus on potential word choices or download a workbook like the one found here on potential choices. 

When I choose a word, I write several options on a piece of paper and then the following day I circle five choices that resonate with me. During that week I contemplate the list and eventually choose one that speaks to the season I am experiencing in my life. You may need to ruminate on your word choice or it may come to you immediately. There isn’t a right or wrong way to arrive at your word. 

Make certain your word choice aligns with your intentions and goals. 

Choose a word choice that aligns with your intentions. Pick a word that you want to fulfill and will enjoy reflecting on throughout the year. The temptation is to choose a word you “should” adopt, but it’s likely this choice will become something you resist. Also, don’t vet your word choice with family and friends, because you want an unbiased approach to choosing your word of the year. 

As you contemplate your choice, think about micro goals that will help you stay motivated. Remember a word of the year is more about progress and working toward building small steps to keep your choice a part of your day-to-day life. 

Once you decide on your word of the year, write it down.

I am an avid bullet journaler and so I dedicate a few pages to my word of the year choice. I write my word, my motivation for choosing this particular word, and my intentions and goals on how to include more of my word choice into my life. 

Don’t make your word of the year a passive act — after you choose it, make certain you reflect and note what specific actions you are going to take to incorporate more of this word into your life. Note those ways on a piece of paper so you can revisit your progress throughout the year. 

Think of your word of the year as a gentle guide.

A word of the year has a freedom that resolutions often don’t possess. It’s a guide to go into a particular direction instead of completing tasks. That doesn’t mean you don’t treat it seriously. There are ways to incorporate this guide into your life. You can set up sticky notes with your word on it and also let friends know about your word choice. Some years I order a pendant and necklace reflecting my word of the year as a reminder. 

Every week, focus on one or two things you can do to incorporate the word into your daily routine. Gradually, thinking about the word will become a part of your life.