New Year’s resolutions suck. It’s a pretty well known fact that we don’t do a great job of keeping the commitments we make at the first of the year. In one set of surveys, of the 41-52% of Americans making New Year’s resolutions, only 14% kept those commitments. Those studies were done in 2007 and 2016, and interestingly, both the participants and the success of those participating decreased. It’s a trend continued too. In 2020, 31% of Americans planned to make a resolution, but in 2021, that number dropped to 23%. And in another study only 8% of Americans keep their New Year’s Resolutions.
Personally, I’ve always fallen in the don’t plan to make a resolution category. Maybe very early in my life (elementary years) I participated at the suggestion of a teacher, but never very seriously. I never had the interest or drive to make a resolution.
Enter The Word of the Year Project
Twelve years ago, this changed…kind of. On a whim, I joined my wife in choosing one word to focus on for that entire year (2011). I honestly didn’t put much thought into my word (Freedom), but it changed my life.
Okay, that’s a big statement, “It changed my life.”
In this case it truly did. Entering into 2011, my life was in a season of chaos. I had recently stepped out of my wife’s family business, and I was evaluating what was next for my life. I was also struggling with my own insecurities and fears. At the same time, Kia was evaluating her place in a different family business. Our children were between the ages of 3 and twelve. That word, freedom, was a little random and off the cuff, but it was poignant for that stage of my life.
I felt controlled by both internal and external influences in my life. I wanted freedom.
By the end of 2011, I began to uncover freedom in my life. That random choice in January put me and my family on a collision course with huge changes. Within the next 18 months, we moved 30 minutes north, I took a brand new job, Kia started a new business, and our kids started new schools.
My life was changed.
The Word of the Year Project
I’ve continued to work through this project each year since. 2023 is the start to my thirteenth year. No one year has come close to as influential as 2011, however, combined, the last eleven years of participation have shaped my world. So, I invite you to join me in your own Word of the Year Project.
If you participate with me, here is how to begin:
1. Choose a word.
This may be the hardest part of the entire process. So many people I’ve talked to over the years get stuck on this step, so let me encourage you…don’t make this step bigger than it is. Just choose a word.
The word isn’t the key; it’s the process.
As I stated, when I participated in my first year, I chose the word ‘freedom’ a little randomly. However, there are some ways to help you narrow and choose your word. First, think about a word or a few words that keep popping up in your conversations, thoughts, reading or meditating. Second, pray and ask God to put a word or words into your head and heart. Finally, choose a word.
Here are the words I’ve used over the years:
If you would like more help on this step, take a look at this post and video from my friend Todd Van Fleet. I introduced Todd to The Word of the Year in 2016, and it changed his life too. His process to finding a word is a little different than mine, and I appreciate this because it is a creative process, so there is no one way to approach this.
2. Believe it is for you.
Now that you’ve chose your word, don’t let doubt steal it’s power! In order to infuse power from the beginning, take this vital step: share it with someone.
Speaking your word to a friend or family member kick starts the process. Sharing your word gives it power. My wife, Kia, started this in 2011 by sharing her word with a friend over coffee, and then coming home and talking with me about it. I chose my word and shared it with her, and I went a step further by sharing my word on the blog I was writing on at the time.
Here is the lesson you are going to learn by taking this initial step of faith: intentionality. If you really want to grow this year be intentional (using The Word of the Year Project or something else). Share your word with friends, family and even strangers (everyone loves an interesting goal story). As you take this intentional step, it will give you the faith to believe in your next purposeful actions.
3. Listen and Act
This is closely related to the second step, but it is more about the coming weeks and months of the year. Growth from participating in The Word of the Year Project is from continual action throughout the year. However, before you act…listen.
Listen with your spiritual ears
For me, listening is being actively aware of my word as I live my life. This means having my spiritual eyes and ears open as I read fiction, non-fiction and Scripture, as I watch videos, shows, movies, as I listen to podcasts and sermons, as I chat with friends and family, and even as I drive down the road or walk through my neighborhood. In that first year, I remember seeing a YouTube video of a BMX biker riding in the wide open areas of Great Britain. I also remember reading in the Bible about the story of Isaac searching for a place to feed and water his flocks — open space. These became a vision of freedom for me.
Over the last several years, I’ve created folders in my Notes app for my word. When I run across a quote, video, link that inspires me, I clip them to that folder. It’s another way for me to keep my word and it’s meaning in front of me. It helps me listen.
Act on what you hear
Today, I am wearing a hat that says, “Hear. Believe. Obey.” That last word is key, and it’s the ‘act’ part of this step. As you ‘hear’ from God through all these different sources through the year, be sure to obey — put them into action.
One of the things I heard in 2011 was freedom came from learning to say, “No.” That has a lot of meanings – no to sin, no to distraction, etc. For me it also meant saying no to opportunities that didn’t align with my purpose and calling. What I heard forced me to act. I began to say ‘no’ to what wasn’t mine to move forward.
Finally, I find it helpful to do something physical to keep my eyes on my word. In my case, that means writing – both physically with pen and paper and virtually with screen and keyboard. I also have used my screen printing hobby to help with this too. For you it could be knitting, gardening, baking or drawing. My friend, Todd, carved his word into an axe handle one year. There is a connection between the work of our hands and our hearts. Exploit this for your Word of the Year.
4. Don’t stop…be clear.
So, the Word of the Year project is not too different than many different New Year’s goals or resolutions. I know many people don’t complete the process, just like they don’t follow through on a resolution. They quit, so they miss out on the deep value found in The Word of the Year Project. However, you want to grow, so here is the secret you need to be successful.
The secret is a two-fold process: desperation and endurance.
Desperation typically is born out of circumstances out of your control. I grew immensely in 2020 due to a worldwide pandemic that impacted my mental health, financial security and job function. If you were like me, you were desperate to just survive much less thrive. I can’t (and don’t want to) create that kind of desperation on my own. Desperation typically comes from outside of myself, but I can choose to be desperate to change and grow.
Take inventory of a few areas you are dissatisfied with in your life. What would you really like to change? Then determine how these areas are negatively impacting you – physically, financially, spiritually, relationally. Just this morning, I took stock of a few things leading to unrest in my heart and soul. They are nothing as severe as what I faced in 2020, but they stimulated in me a desire, even a desperation, to grow. As you do the same thing, you will develop a self-generated desperation for growth.
Endure through clarity
Endurance then, is the way to work through this self-generated desperation. I recently heard an interview with Rory Vaden. He said, “Endurance is directly related to the clarity of our vision.” The more clear I am on where I am going, the easier it is for me to endure.
Endurance is directly related to the clarity of our vision.Rory Vaden
In my desperation to grow, I need to develop a clear picture of what I want to become. This will develop within me the endurance to keep growing even when the process hard or painful or even stagnant.
One reason my 2011 word was successful was because I had clear vision of freedom (remember the BMX bike video and story from Genesis). Developing a clear vision of your word is a process. The truth is you don’t really know what your word means right now – you think you do, but you don’t. The meaning of your word is deeper than you realize. The vision of your word is wider than you understand.
Your goal is to create a crystal clear vision of your word. It doesn’t need to be today or even this month, however if you can develop a clear picture of your word, the easier it will be for you to endure to the end of 2023 in learning and growing from your word.
Join me in The Word of the Year Project?
If you are still reading, you probably are serious about joining me in The Word of the Year Project. So, let me be honest with you. Some years have been amazing for me, and others have been a little stale. I’ve come to understand, that’s okay. I’ve learned and grown each year — some more than others. I also now realize the power also comes from a combined ten plus years of intentional work on my life.
So my challenge to you is to commit this year to your Word of the Year. Commit to choosing a word. Commit to believing that word is for you. Commit to listening for what that word means for you. Commit to acting on what you heard about the word. Commit to being desperate to grow. Commit to enduring through a clear vision of you word.
What is your Word of the Year?