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The simple act of choosing a word

Many people choose a “word” as a focus tool for the year. I have been doing this since probably 2005 when Kathy, the owner of the yoga studio where I practiced, passed around a basket with words.

I chose “openness.” At the time I asked if I could pick a different word. After all, the woman next to me chose love, which seemed like a much better word. I remember Kathy telling me that I was stuck with openness because the word had chosen me.

I went home, taped the word onto my computer, and let it be an anchor as I went through the year. Looking back, I know that this made a tremendous difference in my year.


My word allowed me to focus on being a person who was more open to opportunities, more open to challenges, and more open to other people. It required me to “be” or work on “becoming” a certain person.

That is what I like about choosing a theme, whether that’s one word, two words or a short phrase. It is not about resolving to do something. It is about becoming – becoming the person you want to be.

You know those New Years resolutions you make every year? Lose weight, get organized, exercise more, the list goes on and on.

The reason they don’t work is that you are still “being” the same person. You want to have a trim body. You want to have a new wardrobe in a smaller size. You want to have an organized house. It’s what you want to have.

If you want to have those things, you need to choose to “be” a different person first. It’s the focus on being that makes a difference.

We have a couple of weeks left in this year, and before you know it you’ll be turning the calendar on a new year.

I have been thinking about my word, or rather my intention for being, for the year. I looked back at the words from previous years — openness, abundance, challenge, joy, consciousness, impact, trust among others.

A couple of years ago, my theme was no fear. It was about leaning in and taking bigger risks. Like any word or theme, I did have to think about who I would be if I was “riskier.” And it required me to grow.

The following year I wanted to build on taking more risks. I picked the word bold. It came to me while I was a docent at a home on a Christmas home tour. I commented often about the bold decorating choices the homeowner took. The next day when I went on the tour myself, I noticed again bold choices. They might not have seemed bold to others, but it got me thinking about decorating and more so about my life. I want to live bolder and be bolder.

Last year I chose the word flourish. I defined flourish as thriving. It meant tending to my self-care, my relationships, my personal growth, my own art, and my business growth. It meant putting myself first.

Was I as successful with that intention as I had hoped? No. I flourished in some ways, but not in all the ways I wanted.

You could choose to use the same word again if it still serves you. You could also decide it worked for the first six months of the year and then choose another to finish out the year.

Choosing your word

Have you picked a word or theme to guide you for the year? If you have not, give it a chance.

Here are some ideas if you need help getting started.

Think about the quality or direction that you want your year to take. How would your year be different every day if you focused on this quality every day of the year? What would you and your life look like one year from now if you focused on this quality?

Think about what you might have resolved to do and ask yourself what quality is necessary for that. If you followed our four-part goal setting blog series, ask what quality is needed to accomplish those goals.

Consider what comes to you every day. Be open to what is around you. Did you hear a word in a church sermon that struck you? Did you catch a story online or on the television that seemed to stir something in you? Did a book title resonate with you? Did one of your friends note that you seemed to mention the need to “x.”

Try a search online for character qualities and go from there. Lots of people immediately come up with a word that resonates with them. Others need a bit more time.

Sit with the word. It’s about finding your word, not someone else’s. My best advice is to think of a word, mull it over, and if it keeps showing up, that is the one.

Moving forward next year with your word

Once you come up with your word or intention, what do you do with it? Here are four tips:

Create habits or practices that will let you incorporate this word/theme into your life. This could be as simple as creating goal/affirmation cards around your theme and reading them every day. I write my word on a sticky note and attach it to my computer where I will see it every day. Since I work with artists, many of them create a small piece of art with the word.

Share it with someone else. This is especially helpful if the person will hold you accountable. Over the years I have shared mine with some of my mastermind partners or family members, and we talked about why we chose the words we did.

Look at where you’ve sabotaged yourself with respect to this word in the past. Why is now the right time for this word? We are all our own worst enemy, and it’s important to look at where we stop ourselves. When you understand this, it will help you watch for triggers that may stop you from going forward.

Do something that lets you take action on your intention. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to know the “how.” You are letting the word guide who you become. When you are ready, the how will show up.

If you use affirmations, be sure to include your word in at least one of them. This will be more powerful for you and keep you focused.

As you review your progress on a regular basis, ask yourself if your word is still guiding you. If not, how can you get back on track? Or ask if it’s time to choose a new word. It’s possible that the word has served its purpose and you need a new one.

My word

What is my word for next year? It’s simplify.

How did I come to this word? In my personal life, I plan to downsize in late 2020. I realize how much I have that I don’t and won’t need. My business is changing, too, and I realize that some of it needs to be simplified. I hope this word serves me well!

Your turn!

What word will you choose for next year? And, if you picked a word for last year, how did that make a difference in your life? Please share your word below to make that commitment and see what you can create in the New Year!

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2 Responses to “The simple act of choosing a word”

  1. Sandi Colwell said:

    Hi Morna, I have chosen two words for the upcoming year. The first is ‘service’. I chose this as a reminder that I have much in this life and should be better about giving back. My second word is ‘believe’. I chose this as a reminder to trust that everything will be ok. My anxiety got the best of me over the last few years. Time to knock it out!

  2. Morna said:

    Sandi, Those words sound like good choices for you. I think this year will be the one where your last daughter leaves for college, so believe will come in handy.

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