This new year, replace wordy resolutions with a single word

Word of the Year is a hyper-focused practice that's easy enough to pick up at any point across the year

The Word of the Year practice allows you to remain centred and link most decisions to the sentiment you want to channel. Getty
Powered by automated translation

As we ring in the new year, goal-setting is a natural inclination. This can take the form of making hackneyed New Year resolutions, which studies say are likely to fail before the year (often even the month) is out, or trying your hand at a more honed in practice called Word of the Year.

In a word

Based on the One Little Word programme set up by self-help book author Ali Edwards in 2012, WOTY is a practice that offers a compassionate way to concentrate on your vision for the coming year.

It is a decision that enriched this writer’s life greatly during the pandemic, arguably one of the toughest times for scores of people. If one could live through that, most regular years could seem tame by comparison, ensuring success if you choose to embark on the path of this practice.

Practitioners can start by compiling a list of potential words. For instance, I selected “peace” as my word for 2020, and it offered me the most profound of experiences.

Peace, during the pandemic and beyond

What I had envisaged was a comfortable silence and stillness, but as the world went through the pandemic and lockdowns, it took on a totally different meaning.

I cannot forget those seemingly peaceful when public spaces were bereft of all life, where the silence screamed and I longing for the sounds of civilisation, even cacophony. When I lost my mom in October 2020, “peace” suddenly became “noisy”, when I woke up to the realisation that she wasn’t here and never would be again. From crying to a shocked silence, I finally made “peace” with reality.

There was a lot of new stuff going on, so the word ‘renewal’ was something I hung on to as my intention and my guide
Jenny Bhatt, writer and translator

Alisha Purandare, the parenting blogger behind Two Purple Lines, began her WOTY practice inspired by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. One year, after being unwell for months on end, Purandare selected the word “health”, realising this was the area of her life that required all her focus and energy.

Purandare says her 2020 word, “calm”, helped her breathe and get through many panicked moments. “I had set the intention before knowing about the pandemic; it was to be my guidepost because I struggle to stay calm. But it became a way of getting through many hard times.”

Writer and translator Jenny Bhatt began the practice when she left her corporate career. “Among the many life changes, I also switched to this from the traditional annual goal-setting approach.”

Bhatt’s experience with her word “renewal” in 2020 was deep. She had moved back to the US after a few years in India. “There was a lot of new stuff going on and the pandemic made all those life changes much harder to navigate. So ‘renewal’ was something I hung on to as my intention and my guide.”

Ring in the new

Bhatt says, for her, the word must relate to whatever major changes she’s anticipating or hoping for in the coming year. It must be a single word, one that’s specific, yet broad enough to fit the coming year. Accordingly, she spends the month of December journaling about this, reprioritising things and discussing options with her spouse.

For systems coach Sridevi Datta, WOTY “is a meditative practice rather than a productive mantra or something to fetch instant results”. Datta says she pays attention to her requirements throughout the year, then “suddenly sometime between November and December, the word reveals itself to me. I trust this intuitive revelation. Above everything, I suggest people should enjoy the process.”

Vision boards of your word can act as a road map for the mind, providing visual reinforcement
Ira Poladko, motivational speaker

Of all the words she has set over the years, Datta says she found “play and pause was the most effective”.

“It helped me move and rest in the way my body needed to,” she elaborates.

WOTY can be done alone or with friends. Purandare and Bhatt practice privately, while Datta has started doing it with a friend who became her accountability partner.

As an aside, Bhatt wrote about the practice for a few years via essays and on social media. However, she says she has stopped doing so now because it shifted her attention to other people’s reactions instead of focusing inward.

Motivational speaker Ira Poladko, who is the creative mind behind the Mira Vision Board Kit, says the Word of the Year practice is a profound tool for personal growth and transformation. It empowers individuals to approach the year with intentionality, making conscious choices aligning with their word.

She also suggests incorporating the practice of choosing a word of the month, to break down complex tasks into manageable components for effective planning and execution.

Grand vision

Poladko offers her followers an approach that transcends the traditional notion of resolutions. Instead of setting future goals, “I guide individuals to step into a mindset of abundance, happiness and gratitude by envisioning their lives as if a year has already passed and they are reflecting on the incredible year that already unfolded”, she explains.

Aligning with the feelings of already fulfilled aspirations can help some to deal better with the overwhelming task of goal setting.

Connecting and associating with the word you choose can come about by journaling, creating a vision board, using sticky notes or engraving a physical piece, such as a pendant or study table, with it.

“Vision boards of your word can act as a road map for the mind, guiding you towards goals with clarity and purpose, providing visual reinforcement for motivation and commitment,” explains Poladko, who has conducted a series of related classes at home-grown cafe Society Dubai.

Purandare writes her word on the first page of a new diary and also pins it above her bed or on a mirror so it serves as a reminder. She then creates a mind map of actionable goals and related ideas to create mini weekly and monthly goals.

Bhatt writes a small manifesto for herself on New Year’s Day about how she sees the word being important and begins the year by meditating upon it.

She keeps this manifesto front and centre in her journal and on a memo board on her desk. She also has an electronic vision board to the home screens of her devices, and bases most of her decisions by thinking about how they will or will not relate to her word, as “often this makes the decision process easier,” she says. “At the midpoint and the endpoint of the year, I take stock of how my decision-making and life changes have aligned with my WOTY, and how has it helped and even hindered me.”

Bhatt reveals she has selected words from myriad languages, including Gujarati, Latin, Japanese and Persian. “There are beautiful words in languages across the world and their meanings cannot be translated exactly into other languages. I love each of these words for what they mean and for how they helped me with my annual intention practice,” she says.

Purandare believes this practice has made her “more creative over the years to experiment with not only words such as ‘calm’, but also ‘celebrate’ and ‘orange’. To me, it meant: Look on the bright side. And so I did.”

Updated: January 03, 2024, 7:28 AM