Oh, man. The New Year. There’s something in the air about having a new year — an entire year to make anything possible — which gets me so excited.
I used to be one of those people who loved New Year’s Resolutions. I loved the concept of treating the new year as an opportunity to start from scratch. It has always been the best time to reflect on my life, start new habits, and set some badass goals.
Although a lot went down in the last year, and as we all know, we’ve had some rough months, January is always that bright light of possibility. So, you’d think that I spent my late December days of 2020 aggressively scribbling my resolutions list— but I didn’t.
I ditched New Year Resolutions in 2021.
Why new year resolutions don’t stick
My question at the end of the year has consistently been this —
How can you set a resolution that the future you will certainly want to stick to?
And the short answer is: you can’t. Life is unpredictable. One year ago, I resolved to write more on Instagram, but somewhere down the line, I discovered that I didn’t like writing on there, so I discovered other incredible places to write (hello!). This is not something I could have predicted last January. Last July, I resolved to read poetry more, but after a few months (and several years of Internet pressure), I concluded that I did not actually enjoy reading it. That’s something that I couldn’t have predicted after years of being someone who wrote poetry herself.
It does not make sense to me anymore to decide what my goals will be a year from now. Sure, I have long-term goals, but they may also change, and that’s okay because I’m just letting my past self down — not the present one.
2020 was a bad year, but a good one for reflection. My brain had developed this fog, and I lacked mental clarity. So I sought out an alternative to setting goals for the coming year. And I discovered this:
The simple alternative to new year’s resolutions is choosing a word for the year as a central theme.
The hard truth is that for many of you, half the New Year’s resolutions you set won’t stick.
But change is not impossible. If you really want something badly, you need a single point of focus. You don’t need more goals — you need some mental clarity. Goals are important, but not more than having clarity on how you’re going to achieve them.
Why do you need a word for 2021…and why just one?
The word you choose will be a powerful reminder of how you want to show up for yourself. What the word will do is quickly center you and bring you back to focus. For me personally, just keeping the word in mind when I’m working on projects helps me check in with my intentions.
I have seen several people choose three or more words. But personally, narrowing down my intentions to a single meaningful word is working wonders.
But how do you choose a little word?
It’s quite simple, really. Carry on with how you set your new year’s resolutions but measure them in one single word.
Here’s a breakdown of how to do that.
Ask yourself a few questions. Do a 10-minute mind dump of whatever comes to your mind.
This step is the most important one because when you take some time to reflect, you can work out what went well and what went wrong previously.
2. Close your eyes and visualize what you want your year to feel like
Literally, do this — close your eyes and try to visualize what you want your year to feel like. What habits do you want to build to make the year work for you? Don’t think too much — you don’t get practical here. You really want to get a sense of what you want your days to feel like. Think about what you want to feel in the morning, your afternoons, and how you want to feel at the end of the day before your head hits the pillow.
What is your central need for the year?
3. Make a list of 5–10 words
I agree that coming up with just one word right off the bat is not easy. Spend 10 minutes, stirring up a list of all the words that pop in your head. Look for words that take you to good things in your mind.
Some words to get you going are: patience, abundance, forgive, learn, courage, vulnerability, etc.
Go through your words. Let your word come to you. You will know when you have the right one.
4. Go through your list and choose one word
Here comes the fun. This is the time where you review your list and narrow it down to just one word.
Look at the list and ask yourself — which one of these makes me feel excited, happy, and scared? Think about the word, see what feels right to you, and pick the one that makes you feel the most excited.
5. Ask yourself — why are you really doing this?
Maybe now is a good time to put forth the question — why the heck are you doing this anyway?
Are you just interested in this concept, or are you actually willing to work on your word? How and where are you going to apply it in your life?
It doesn’t matter what you choose, and only your effort is going to bring some change.
6. Lastly, make the word part of your day
Write the word where you can see it daily. This can be on your bathroom mirror, your planner, calendar, your phone, or wherever you can think of.
Journal with the word in mind. Set an intention every time you sit down to write about your day.
Personally, I like to set my laptop’s wallpaper with a little quote that reminds me of my word. I change it now and then as a reminder.
Stop stressing over your word
Do not let perfectionism get in the way of picking your word.
You don’t have to start using your word right when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. There is no right or wrong way to apply your word as long as it’s your solid point of inspiration.
This is your reminder that it’s okay to choose your word at any time during the year. Your life is going to be ever-changing, and you probably won’t use your word as much. And that’s okay. You can always pivot from your original choice and choose a different one if your intentions change.
My word for the year is — progress
In 2021, my word is progress.
In September of 2020, I started a blog. When I was not getting anywhere, I decided to choose one word to be my focus and guide me. But I didn’t want to wait till the next year. So in late December, after a month full of reflection, I settled on “progress.”
For people like me who like to overthink and get stuck in perfectionism, the word is grounding. It’s exhausting how you can always have something to improve yourself, so you tend to lose track of who you are. Picking just one broad intention will help you gain some momentum in your personal growth.
So far, my word has drastically changed my daily actions. I have 12 blog posts already drafted and scheduled to be published. I made incredible progress on my reading by quitting any book that doesn’t spark interest. I am showing up for myself by setting good habits in small increments.
Here’s a page from my journal —
“I want 2021 to be a year when I make progress. It means building more good and easy habits that will help me cultivate a meaningful life. It means more opportunities. It means less about chasing perfectionism. It means less romanticizing everything and more about moving forward. It means getting out of a rut before life gets foggy. It means cultivating a simple writing habit every day.
It means being easy on myself. It means more patience, more presence, and more slow, intentional living. It means more projects I’m actually interested to work on which challenge me. It means getting myself off of the couch, away from excuses, laziness, and perfect standards, and doing that thing I’ve been putting away for years. There will be a lot of discomfort and long tired sighs. But a lot of happiness and meaning will come when you make better decisions every day. It means making time for things that bring purpose to your life.”