Have you ever had a personal word of the year before?
Did you choose the word? Or did a word choose you?
I don’t choose my word of the year. It comes to me, generally in December or January, and sometimes it surprises me. It’s something that’s been happening for me for the last seven or eight years. Sometimes I share the word. Sometimes I just hold it inside myself. But it’s something that I pay attention to, focus on, or embrace throughout the year.
My word of the year can shape my decisions. Or it can give me a different way to view things that happen, like a different lens to look through.
How do I find my personal word of the year?
It could be tempting to try to choose a word that will “inspire you to be better” or to pick one that’s in line with your New Year’s Resolution. Maybe you have some favorite words you just love the sound of, or that seem like they describe the kind of person you want to be, or the kind of life you want to have.
But your most powerful Word of the Year might not be any of that. The one that fills your entire being and permeates your actions might be something you could have never intentionally efforted into existence.
Just open yourself to letting it find you. Speak aloud if you’d like, “I’m ready to receive my focus word. I’m open and waiting. I will be patient, so that it can come to me in its own time. I am paying attention, so that I notice it when it arrives.”
It might not find you in December or January. It might find you in April, in July, or in September. And that’s fine. Because there’s nothing magical about a new year that makes your word so powerful… and there is no rule that your personal focus word has to be a word of the year either.
Maybe you’ll find your word of the quarter, your personal word of the month, of the day, or even of the decade. Just like you’ll know it when it comes to you (if you’re paying attention), you’ll also know when you’re ready for a new word. And that might not be in the timeframe you originally imagined.
Focus on presence.
What are you feeling right now? Do you know?
The thing is, it’s so easy for us to be looking forward to our goals for the future, or ruminating over some event in the past, that sometimes we completely brush off the present.
But in order for your personal word of the year to find you, you really have to take some time and intention to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. I’m not saying you have to meditate for an hour each day, or even that you have to close your eyes and focus on breathing for 5 minutes. But check in with yourself!
When you’re at a red light in your car, turn off the radio and just notice what your heart feels like. Pay attention to how your breath feels. Are you breathing in your chest or deep into your belly? Are your shoulders tense?
Is your heart racing a little since you’ve been mentally preparing to do your taxes, planning your weekly dinner lineup, making a mental note to check in with summer camps about their safety procedures, and fretting over how long it’s been since your last dental cleaning… all while you thought you were just belting out Good Days with SZA on your Spotify.
So take a sip of water before the light turns green. Feel the temperature of the water in your mouth, relax your shoulders, roll down the window to feel the air on your face. Whatever you need to do to get present.
But don’t just do that at a red light. Do it when your toddler climbs into your lap holding a book you’ve read 267 times already this week. Breathe in their soft baby hair and check in with yourself. Check in with the moment.
Do it when you’re chopping veggies for dinner. Listen to the crunch of the celery as your knife cuts through the crisp strands. Feel the resistance of the carrots’ little bumps and lumps as you peel them. Laugh at the stickiness of the papery garlic skins when you try to brush them off.
Be present when you’re brushing your teeth before bed. Feel the mintyness of the toothpaste tickle your sinuses as the bristles massage your gums. Just feel the sensations in what you’re doing. Take a moment to take in the starry sky, or the streetlights, or the view of your neighborhood from your bedroom window. Slide into your bed and notice how the smooth sheets feel on your skin.
As you check in with yourself throughout the day, at the most basic sensory level, you’ll have an opportunity to notice your emotions, and also…
… to notice any sort of recurring themes that may jump out at you.
For instance, what if at the red light, the sound of your TURN indicator seems to match your heartbeat and helps you slow down your breathing? And then your toddler brought you “the wheels on the bus” to read, and you noticed how the wheels TURN. Then as you peeled the carrot, you realized you were TURNing it in your hands. And for some reason the way the toothpaste cap TURNs around to screw on was something you noticed. Then, just as you looked out of your window, the street lights TURNed on. You TURNed over in bed to find the most comfortable position to sleep in. And maybe TURN is a word that means something to you. Could it be your personal word of the year?
That’s a totally random and specific example. And it may seem silly since it has nothing to do with you or your upcoming year. Or it feels silly since the word “turn” doesn’t actually mean anything significant to you in this moment.
But that’s the kind of thing you’ll notice as you are present in little moments throughout your day, if you’re open to a word coming to you. Only, you’ll notice something that DOES mean something to you, or that could mean something to you as you think it over.
And you’ll find that the most significant words or concepts will appear to you again and again as you stay open, stay present, and take notice.
Try it on.
Once you start noticing certain words or themes, try them on as your personal word of the year. Don’t feel like you have to commit to them, and don’t worry about them being right or wrong for you. But when a word or concept begins to stand out to you, play with it.
When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself questions like, “What would _____ mean to me today?” or, “How could I embody _____ before breakfast?”
Or playfully challenge the Universe to show you more of that word or concept like, “I wonder if I’ll see the word _____ today as I’m reading, or in a news headline” or “How many times will someone say the word _____ to me today?”
If you’re a journaling sort of person, write your potential word of the year at the top of a page, and free-write for 15 minutes. See what comes out of you. Read it back to yourself. Is there any nugget of wisdom there? Something that feels energizing to you? Is there any sort of twinge of recognition that there’s something deeper held in that word for you, if this were your personal word of the year?
If you meditate, see what happens when you subvocalize the word upon each inhale. What does it feel like in your body when you inhale the word? How does your energy flow when you’re holding your breath for a moment at the top before letting it go again? What is it you’re letting go of when you exhale?
If you’re walking your dog, see what happens if you just let the word bounce around in your head without any kind of agenda. Does it connect to other involuntary thoughts? Does it inspire a new question for you?
If you try some of these things and feel a positive connection to the word, maybe you’ll want to adopt it as your personal word of the year.
If it falls flat, it’s okay to release it and open your awareness to any other words that might be trying to find you.
There’s no rush.
There isn’t a deadline.
There’s no way to get it wrong.
How NOT to find your personal word of the year:
Please please don’t try to force it. Don’t TRY to find a word that you think would look good on a canvas in your living room, or as a tattoo, or on a necklace written out in script in hammered gold wire.
Don’t swear you are noticing a certain word everywhere and it MUST be your word of the year, if really you’re just trying to give a one-word summary of your New Year’s Resolution, as if you need to remind yourself of a certain deficiency of yours all year long.
“My word of the year is networking!” says the woman who just quit her 9-5 to start a business as a freelancing CPA, and who is nervous about making enough connections to grow her business.
“My word of the year is fitness!” says the woman who’s been frustrated with losing the same 35 pounds 5 years in a row.
“My word of the year is create!” says the woman who feels ashamed that she hasn’t painted anything new since her last child was born.
Even if your potential word of the year objectively seems positive or optimistic, if it is rooted in shame, fear, doubt, embarrassment, inadequacy, or just feels “off” to you when you’re trying it on… it’s a no go.
Why have a personal word of the year?
Having a personal word of the year is definitely not a requirement or necessary to have a fantastic year. But if you feel like you’d enjoy a little bit of focus, or a new way of looking at the things in your life, it can serve that purpose.
A personal word of the year can help you to make quick decisions between two equal-seeming choices, or give you insight into a situation you may not have paid much attention to if you didn’t have a focus word.
In effect, it’s like having a friend over your shoulder at all times, to shine a different light on circumstances. It doesn’t determine what you do, and doesn’t decide your outcomes for you. It’s probably not magical and doesn’t change your future directly. But having a word of the year can be an enriching and introspective experience.
Try it. You might like it!
My word of the year: ROOT
My personal word this year is “root.” I think it came to me sometime between September and November last year. I tried it on for a little while before I fully embraced it as this year’s word. So I want to point out again that you can find your word of the year any time (or it can find you). And the length of time it’s your word could end up being shorter or longer than a year. It doesn’t have to be a January through December thing!
What it means to me so far:
I think of my personal word many times each week, if not several times a day. I haven’t tried to keep track of how often I am thinking about it. But I do notice it or think about it very frequently. So, since I’ve had several months of this so far, it would be really hard to convey to you ALL the ways my word is impacting me and what it means.
But the biggest, most obvious themes right now are that:
- For the first time in FOREVER (yes, forever), we moved into a house with no plans to leave. Every other time my husband and I (and our kids) have moved, it’s been for a set amount of time, knowing we would be leaving again after 1-4 years. Four years was the longest we’ve ever been anywhere, and during that time we even made a move across town after the first year. So, for my word of the year? We are putting down roots in this home. It’s SO different setting up a house to be your “forever home” versus temporarily making it work.
- Related to that, we will be able to make friends that won’t have to nearly immediately turn into long-distance relationships. My kids are SO ready for that, and so am I. It’s been a long long time since I’ve had a village, and while I don’t expect it to happen immediately (especially since we’re in the middle of a pandemic still), building some relationships with deep roots is going to be such a wonderful thing to be able to do again.
- Now that we are staying put, and I won’t have to worry about how to transport dozens of houseplants across the country on a moment’s notice, I’m going full Plant Mama. I’m propagating spider plants and pothos, babying my Thanksgiving cactus, nurturing several indoor trees, and watching my potted ivy reach for the sky. Y’all, my sunroom is slowly going to become a jungle and I couldn’t be more excited for that. Rooooots.
- We are planning a gigantic garden/orchard. Big, literal, honkin’ roots. More on the garden later, if you’re interested. (Comment and let me know if you are.) And be sure to read about why it’s so important to garden with kids.
There’s more, but the other meanings are less overt and more nuanced. More of the “this makes sense to me but I’m not sure anyone else will know what I’m talking about” type. When you find your word of the year, you’ll probably notice the same sort of thing happening.
Where I’m noticing it:
I’m noticing my word of the year all sorts of places so far. In artwork, poetry, and quotes people share on the internet. Or noticing the tree we found along a hiking trail that had been blown over, exposing its roots (but it was still alive and thriving, just leaning). In things my kids say to me, and of course in the literal roots of my plants.
Sometimes, in discussions with friends about settling down, memories that pop into my head about my family roots and traditions, an arc in an audiobook I listen to, the root-like pattern of water trickling along a sidewalk…
My personal word of the year makes itself known pretty often.
How I’m embracing it:
I’m leaning into deeply rooting myself here in Maryland, here in this home. I’m learning about plants that take more than just one season to grow and care for. And I’m making a commitment to nurture them for the long haul.
As I set up this home, I consider the types of traditions I want to facilitate with my family, and the memories I want to create. I cannot wait to cook our homegrown foods with my kids, especially!
And I’m recognizing that sometimes, during what appears to be a period of rest, a root system is still growing. Sometimes when a plant seems dormant, it’s actually expanding, establishing itself, and becoming strong and reliable. So much growth (not just in plants, but in people too) happens below the surface. And it’s that growth that lets us branch out and flower all the more beautifully in the seasons that follow.
Ready to find your personal Word of the Year?
Tell me in a comment if you’ve already started noticing some potential words of the year “showing themselves” to you. Or if not, how you plan to be more open and present so you can notice them.
If you want to try a fun word of the year generator, I’ve shared one for you over at Joyful Abode on Facebook. It’s super fun. Just pause or screenshot as the words flash by, and see what you “land on.” Be sure to share what you get!