The Benefits of Choosing a Word For the Year—Instead of Setting Goals

In addition to glasses of bubbly champagne and (hopefully) a kiss at midnight, New Year’s Eve also brings with it a desire to start fresh. January tends to be a time for cleaning our slate—disposing of baggage, literal and emotional—in order to usher in clarity, hope, and new ideas for the future.

For many of us, setting goals has long been a tradition, often starting in childhood. When I met my husband as a college freshmen, he showed me a list of 100 goals he set, something he and his family did together. Over the years, we curated our goals to a list of 10, and tried to cover a variety of circumstances—relationships, career, finances, etc—in an effort to be well rounded.

But a few years ago, the constant list making felt off. Although I appreciate the satisfaction that comes from crossing a task off a list or making a triumphant check mark, I was also itching for something that felt more nurturing.

That’s when I stopped setting goals, and started choosing a word. 

It’s important to know choosing a word for the year doesn’t negate your specific hopes and dreams. Instead, it supports them by allowing yourself space to grow, change, and make adjustments along the way.

The way Claire Diaz Ortiz puts it, “pick one word that word that imbues the type of year you wish to have, and a word that can serve as a guidepost for what you want in the year to come. One simple word that will help you decide between X and Y, and help you remember what’s important when you find yourself in an endless loop of Facebook/Twitter/Email checking you can’t get out of.”

3 Steps to Choose a Word for the Year 

Step 1: Set an intention

The best words arrive when they’re ready. It might take a week, or a month. (I often begin considering my new word in October or November, then make a firm decision at the end of the year.)

@@When choosing a word for the year, don't rush the process.@@

The best way to determine your word is to simply set an intention to find one. Give yourself some time to ponder it. Reflect on the current year, and as far ahead as you can see, what the new year might offer. Ask yourself how you want to feel, not what you want to do or accomplish.

Step 2: Gather some options

As you reflect, gather a handful of words that might be contenders. See how you respond to them, and if you like, talk it over with your significant other or a close friend.

Step 3: Make your choice

When the time is right, commit to the word. Don’t worry about making the wrong choice. The beauty of a single word is it can manifest its meaning in several ways.

For instance, my word for 2015 was OPEN. This ended up applying to small moments like being open minded about an idea or recommendation (not caring where a group decided to go to dinner, say), and larger experiences like navigating new career options as well as quite literally, in childbirth.


Once you’ve settled on your word, embrace it. You don’t need to do anything specific, just be aware of it, and enjoy seeing how your word begins to apply to various aspects of your life throughout the year. 

Over to you. Have you ever chosen a word for the year? Are you thinking of trying it for the first time? Share in the comments!