one word

Choose a Word to Live By

Starting the new year is exciting — it is an opportunity to start off fresh and think about the change we want to implement in our lives. But about this time after the holiday cheer has died down, we may start to feel the stress associated with our new year resolutions. They may feel burdensome or unenjoyable and the urge to let go of them grows, which can often leave us feeling disappointed with ourselves. That’s a terrible way to start off the new year!

But it is not too late to take a different approach. Instead of a resolution, I urge my clients to choose a word to live by in the new year that encompasses a number of smaller goals they want to work on. A single word serves as a reminder of how we want to be.

Unlike a resolution, which often focuses on the negative or restrictive — “less junk food or more exercise” — think more holistically about your life in the upcoming year and something that you would like to work on. What type of person do you envision yourself being? What are some characteristics of this ideal person? After you have this vision, you can then figure out what word reminds you of it.

The word you choose is a theme for the new year that should permeate all aspects of your life. Last year, I chose the word “time” for myself: it served as a reminder to think of better ways to manage my time. The word nudged me to go to bed earlier, place boundaries around work and to give myself more space for self care — like reading and celebrating moments in my life. My vision was to feel more in control of my time.

Picking the word should be fun too. Do it with your partner, a friend or a family member. Get suggestions about what it should be and reflect on what makes the most sense for you — you are not alone in this activity!

After you decide on the word, commit to living by it. I often tell clients to write the word down and post it on the refrigerator door or to keep it in their wallet — whatever works best as a reminder. Hold yourself accountable or ask someone to help. Others will often be able to offer different interpretations of the word and can check in with you periodically. But importantly, be patient and compassionate with yourself in the process. Don’t let yourself get discouraged: half the battle is making the conscious decision to change in the first place!

One of the most rewarding parts of choosing a word to live by is that over a period of years you will make enormous personal progress. Progress may seem small each year, but the cumulative effect of these changes are durable. I encourage you to try using a word this year and promise you that it will be a completely different experience from those age-old new year’s resolutions. Wishing you a very healthy new year!

What is your word this year and what does it mean to you? Share it below!

Joseph A. Zagame, LCSW - NYC Therapist

Joseph A. Zagame, LCSW - NYC Therapist

Director & Psychotherapist at myTherapyNYC
Offers individual, couples and group counseling. He facilitates the Gay Men's Therapy Group on Monday and Tuesday evenings. He specializes in LGBTQ, trauma and relationship issues.
Joseph A. Zagame, LCSW - NYC Therapist

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7 replies
  1. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    This is such a great idea and a great cornerstone to revisit throughout the year to check in with yourself. I especially like the idea of hanging it up around the house or keeping it with you as a reminder of your intention.

  2. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    I love this. My word for 2017 is “engaged”, inspired partly by the political climate, and partly by an intention to be more present, engaged, and in the moment – as often as I can be.

  3. Cate Hickey - NYC Therapist
    Cate Hickey - NYC Therapist says:

    Great points! For me, this is a mush healthier way to think of a resolution for the new year/ period of transition. Me mindful of an intention rather than something confining and rigid. My word for 2017 will be “love.” An intention to love myself and love those around me, even if I do not agree with their path. Thanks for the blog!

  4. Brent
    Brent says:

    I’ve chosen a word for the last few years, and it has been enormously helpful. My word for this year is Permission, which is general enough for lots of possibilities (permission to…), but specific enough for me to measure my results during the year. Thanks Joe!

  5. nikki
    nikki says:

    I think this is such an effective change from creating resolutions and love the idea of putting the word up on your refrigerator to remind yourself of it. It is so important to remember that this shouldn’t be an individual activity, because if you’re able to talk about it with others, they can help hold you accountable and be positive support for the change you wish to make.

  6. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    I like the idea of choosing one word as a theme for the coming year. It feels more encouraging, more open and serves as a touchstone to come back to when I might feel off track. My word this year is “drive” to remind myself to keep moving forward and stay energized to follow through on intentions.

  7. Omar
    Omar says:

    I love the idea of taking some of the pressure of that comes with new year resolutions. There is this sense that one has to come up with a goal like “lose 10 lbs!” which is really restrictive and is often thought of without much of a game plane. Choosing one word takes the pressure off which makes it much more achievable. Great job!


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