For well over a decade, I’ve been doing the “word of the year” thing. In 2021, my word was “Intentional,” and a funny thing happened…I was getting a lot of hits on that post. But not (sadly) because people were so interested in my word. No…people were interested in CHOOSING an intentional word for the year.
For good reason! Choosing an intentional word of the year is not only fun but inspiring and aspirational. So as this old year winds down and a new one is on the horizon, I decided it may be helpful to write a bit about the practice, not just about my word in particular.
What Is an Intentional Word of the Year?
Some people make New Years Resolutions, and that’s great. I’ve done those many years, because there’s something about writing out my goals and decisions that makes me want to stick to them more than a vague “Maybe I’ll…” mental goal. But resolutions aren’t for everyone, and they’re not for every year. Still, as the calendar turns over, many of us want to recognize that this new year is something NEW. We want to set down in writing something to guide us through the twelve months to come. So if we’re not doing resolutions…what do we do?
An alternative- to New Years Resolutions is a Word of the Year. It can also just be an addition to New Years Resolutions, if you want both a set of goals and something to govern them.
In general, an intentional Word of the Year is when you choose a word that is meant to be your inspiration, aspiration, hope, goal, or motivation that will underscore EVERYTHING for you in the year to come. Maybe it’s meant to remind you of your faith or God’s promises. Maybe it’s meant to help you focus. Maybe it’s meant to reassure you throughout the year or inspire you to something greater.
Whatever your particular need or purpose, choosing a Word can help you make decisions, keep your eyes on the proverbial prize, and motivate you to keep going through challenging times.
How to Choose an Intentional Word of the Year?
But once you’ve decided to choose a word of the year, that leaves an important question: HOW?
When I first started out, I had in my head that this word had to be something from God, not something from my own mind. I would start praying about it a week or more in advance, and wait for a word to just hit me.
Sometimes it did—in a song, in my Bible reading, in my prayer, in my daily conversations.
But sometimes…it didn’t. God being silent? My heart not listening? I have no idea. But I did notice that the years I had a Word to guide me were years when I made better choices, when I clung more tightly to His promises, when I kept my focus more on His Kingdom and less on my own little (ahem) empire.
I wanted to have a word. I wanted to have a word every year. And finally I realized that I didn’t have to wait for one to “come to me.”
I could choose a word.
Okay, so I didn’t realize this from my own brilliance, actually. My best friend/critique partner, Stephanie Morrill always chooses a word deliberately. I eventually decided she had the right idea, and instead of waiting for a bolt from the blue, I started being deliberate about my choice.
There are, of course, still many options for how to pick.
Make a List
The first and most obvious way is to simply start making a list. Focus on where you feel you need to work or focus in the year to come, and then jot down different words that fall into that space. For instance, the year I chose “intentional” for my word, I’d started with a list of things I knew needed my attention like: rest, organization, time management, focus on prayer, time with my family.
Once I had a list of things that I wanted to pay attention to, I looked for the through-line and words that could capture that. “Intentional” was a fairly obvious choice for me that time. It was the one word that would govern all those things—I had to be intentional about everything from taking enough breaks to making smart use of my space.
Chances are good that your list from year to year will have a lot of the same themes, but hopefully you’ll be ever growing, so some items will fall off and new ones will come. You’ll also be exiting and entering new seasons of life, and as you do, you’ll find that your list needs to reflect that. Maybe you’ll be balancing a new baby or kids going to school or kids leaving the house; maybe it’ll be sorting through belongings before a big downsize or choosing a new career or finally working on that dream project you’ve been thinking about for years.
Whatever season you’re in, embrace that and make your list—and hence your word choice—reflect it.
Do an Internet Search
Still coming up blank or don’t feel like making a list? You’re in luck! Plenty of people have already done it for you, and you can always do an internet search for lists of good “word of the year” choices and pick one that resonates.
You can search for “word of the year generator” yourself and see if you find a site that aligns with your goals and worldview. Here are a few that turned up in my search.
Pray and Listen
If you’re a person of faith, you certainly can use the method I used for years, which was to pray for inspiration for a word and then seek it through that prayer, Scripture reading, church attendance, etc.
As different words resonate with you, write them down and sit with them for a while to see if they really capture something you need to focus on in the year to come. Sometimes a word will hit you so strongly that you just KNOW, and other times you may not be certain at first, so it becomes a matter of which ones sticks with you for a few days.
Once I’ve selected a Word…Then What?
So you’ve figured out which word you want to choose for the year to come. Great! But…now what do you do with it?
I’m a writer, so my first instinct is always WRITE IT DOWN. My bias aside, I think it’s a good instinct. Writing it down—whether on a sticky note, in a notebook, on an index card, in a word processing doc, or in a social media or blog post, will help cement it in your mind and heart and also give you a place to go back to on that day nine months from now when you can’t even remember why you went into the kitchen, much less what word you chose last December or January.
So write it down somewhere and put it in a place where you can’t lose it—if you chose a physical place to write it, tape it somewhere. If digital, bookmark it or put a digital pin in it.
If you’re artsy, considering making a pretty image with the word, which you can display. Or see if you can find a fun notebook or journal with the word on the front, to inspire you throughout the year. If you enjoy journaling or other writing, write a paragraph or a page or a post about why the word resonated and how you hope it will guide you in the year to come.
The idea here is to keep the word present. You want to contemplate this word frequently throughout the year, so either put it somewhere that you’ll see it regularly or consider setting yourself reminders to revisit that will pop up on your calendar. If you’ve written about it, schedule a few times throughout the year to reread what you’ve written—at the end or beginning of a quarter or season is a great time.
Some Intentional Word of the Year Suggestions
Don’t feel like visiting a generator or quiz tool and just want to browse a list? That can be a great way to see quickly what resonates with you or doesn’t! Here’s a list of some suggestions for your intentional Word of the Year:
Some of My Word of the Year Choices
If you’re looking for some context of how and why people choose the words they do and perhaps how they play out through the year, you’re welcome to browse my previous years’ choices, and then the end-of-year reflections upon them.