I swapped New Year’s resolutions for a single word 

WORDS BY Teneal Zuvela

“Choosing a single New Year’s word over a set of carefully constructed resolutions has given me the space to explore my intentions in a more sustainable way.”

I’ve always fallen for the allure of the New Year and its irresistible offer of a clean slate. For most of my life, the last three days of December have revolved around making plans, setting goals and constructing the perfect New Year’s resolutions for the year ahead.

Despite feeling smugly accomplished with my efforts, the unpredictability of life almost always turns these solid plans into liquid before January is over. So a few years ago, I changed my approach and chose just one single word to guide my year. 

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The idea of a one-word resolution is more about setting an intention for the year than it is about making strict plans or promises to yourself. You may have given this exercise a go in a yoga class, when the teacher encourages the students to choose a word to guide their practice. In this case, the word doesn’t just guide your practice but your entire year, acting as both a valuable anchor and a guiding force to reach for in times of indecision.

The first New Year’s word that I ever chose was ‘career’ and in that year I focused my energy on professional opportunities and getting published. It often meant turning down well paid casual jobs for low paid writing gigs and internships that offered more long term benefits to my career.

While the lack of money was often challenging at times, knowing that I had made a conscious choice to focus on my career and not income that year made me feel more comfortable in the decisions I was making.

I went into the next year with a desire for a little more excitement and decided to choose the word ‘adventure’. With no specific resolutions, I gave myself the space to lean into the adventurous opportunities that life presented. The year involved spending two months on an island, building a more flexible career as a freelancer and making a spontaneous move to Tasmania. 

Choosing a single New Year’s word over a set of carefully constructed resolutions has given me the space to explore my intentions in a more sustainable way. I might not realistically be able to commit to working out every day of the year but I can be guided by the word ‘health’ and make room for more spontaneous dips in the ocean, weekend hiking trips, and cooking healthy meals with a friend.

When I take a more intentional approach to the year ahead, I don’t feel my motivation slip towards the end of January and I feel more comfortable with the changes and uncertainty that the year may bring. 

While cynics may discredit New Year’s resolutions entirely, I think that taking some time to reflect on the previous year and set some intentions for the new one is still a valuable ritual to take part in. It’s worth remembering that your year is going to pass with or without a direction so it’s probably safer to give it one.

I know that I don’t want to get halfway through my year and wonder what I’ve done with the first six months of it. But I also don’t want to have planned my life so much that there’s no room left for surprises, curiosity or change. 

When I choose my New Year’s word, I now usually set aside a morning in late December and take some time to reflect on the year that’s passed. I’ve swapped the planners, to-do lists and excel spreadsheets for a journal and a mug of tea, and my definition of a successful year is no longer about what I’ve achieved but more about how I’ve lived.

I consider both the highlights and the lowlights of the previous year and think about what I’d like more of in the new one. This could be anything from more joy, spontaneity and excitement, to connection, boundaries and rest. This practice usually helps me feel clear about my focus for the New Year and the word that it’s going to be guided by. 

While I don’t think I’ll ever stop romanticising the New Year and its hopeful offer of a new beginning, I’ve found that a single word can encourage more joy, freedom and success than a set of resolutions can. While I haven’t yet chosen my New Year’s word for 2022, I’m looking forward to taking part in the process. 

For more on one-word New Year’s resolutions, try this.

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