Just One Word


At the beginning of this quickly passing year, I tried a little something different for my New Year’s resolution. I had given up making actual resolutions long ago, as I explained in an end of year article last year, deciding to set goals instead. I’ve known for a long time that resolutions rarely stick, and have had good successes reaching my goals, not just at New Years, but all year long. Then I heard about an idea with such beautiful simplicity, I had to give it a try.

Though the idea has been around for a while, it wasn’t until the end of last year that I heard about one-word resolutions. The elegant minimalism of choosing just one word to set as an intention for the year, that you can focus on every day, that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live, to direct your decisions and guide your goals, streamlines all the jibber jabber into a sticky, easy to remember focus of the year.

I thought a lot about what to choose, creating lists of words that symbolized what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted to work on, and mostly what I wanted to change to be happier. At the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, I was a ball of anxiety, worrying about everything, feeling like the sky was falling, whether they were issues I could do anything to control or not. I was scared and super depressed. Not a place I wanted to be.

At lunch with a dear friend and close adviser, I shared my soul-crushing concerns. As a visual example, I gripped the edge of the table with white-knuckles and explained that was how I’d been feeling - like I was barely holding on. In a sweet, soft way, my friend laid the back of her hands on the table, cupped palms up, to help me understand that you can attract so much more in life in that position, then in clutching for what is lacking. We talked about letting go of what can’t be controlled and trusting in the Divine, or whatever you may call it, to provide solutions. From that conversation, I decided on “surrender” as my word for 2018.

This word, “surrender,” means a lot of things to me, but it certainly doesn’t mean the same thing as “quit.” I realized that the more I tried to force things to go the way I wanted, the worse it got, so I had to learn ways to stop worrying, focus on the things I did have control of, and trust everything will work out for the best. Believe me it wasn’t easy. I read a lot about the subject and talked to a lot of people about it. I’ve worked with my therapist to change how my brain reacts to stressful situations and processes information, with tools like EMDR. Meditation, visualization, and a brainwave optimization app on my phone has also helped a lot.

A turning point came when I had something happen that upset me quite a bit. Although the situation wasn’t totally under my control, it happened because of a not so great choice I’d made. I got angry. I ranted. I cried. I wrung my hands. Then, I realized that at least I was clear about what was happening and could prepare to deal with the outcome. I decided to “surrender” the situation and to wait and see what happened. The minute I released my worry and anxiety, the perfect answer came to me in a flash, and I was able to act to avoid the situation completely. By stilling the swirling mess of emotions and self-talk, I could hear my inner wisdom. It helped me understand what it felt like to let it go. From that point forward, it’s become much easier to stay calm and look for reasonable answers, rather than catastrophizing and panicking.

Making “surrender” my focus of the year helped in so many aspects of my life. In learning to let that stuff go, I’ve gotten my spark back, life is much happier, and all the things I was so worried about have worked out perfectly. Framing “surrender” as a goal, and trying to define it, would have been tough, and I don’t think I would have gotten as far working on this new skill. I know I still have a long way to go toward mastery, and there will be times when I have to remind myself to surrender, but the more I practice the easier it gets.

I’m totally sold on the one-word resolution. I encourage you to try it this year too. It’s not tough to do. Here are some tips:

Don’t get in a hurry to pick your word.

You don’t have to have your word by New Years Day, or even in January. Take a bit of time to do some soul searching to come up with the word that really means something to you.

Brainstorm a list.

There are lots of articles online to help you come up with your word, but to me a lot of them overthink and over complicate it. What words have meaning for you, to help you be the person you want to be to live your best life?

Narrow it down to one word.

There’s a tendency to want to pick more to fully explain what you mean, but don’t do it. It splits the focus and makes it harder to make real progress. Instead, come up with a single word, through the help of our friend the thesaurus, that best summarizes what you’re thinking. Of course, you can make up your own mashup word if you can’t find what you like.

The word’s meaning can be complex and meaningful only to you.

The word I’ve chosen for 2019 has several meanings for me, that branch into more than one aspect of my life. To explain it to others at this point is complicated, and mostly meaningful to me. I haven’t distilled the concept down enough to explain it in a limited amount of words yet. That I fully understand my intention is what matters most.

This is all about you.

To pick a word that’s about how you want others to act or treat you, or in any way relies on someone else’s behavior or beliefs will not work. Basing our happiness on other’s actions or that we can only be happy when others’ beliefs align with ours is bound for failure, since our behavior is the only thing we can even hope to control.

Keep your word in front of you.

I checked in with the person who told me about this new way to make resolutions before writing this article, to find out that she promptly forgot all about it after our conversation. After talking for a while, I remembered what her word was. Although she didn’t focus on it throughout the year, she has made good progress on her intention in spite of her forgetfulness. While the experiment may work by simply naming it, I have to believe keeping the theme of our year front and center in our lives we’ll create more progress.

Be creative with it.

I read an article about a family who have made this a New Year’s Eve tradition. They get together and create artwork around their word and share it with the rest of their family. By telling their word, they hold themselves more accountable and can get help from their support network throughout the year. Whatever you can do to make it more fun for you – work it!

Just do it!

I hope you’ll take the simple way to set your New Year’s resolutions this year with one word. I believe it works better than anything else I’ve tried, and it can for you too. And – if you tell me your word, I’ll tell you mine. Just email me. I love to hear from you.

If you’ll indulge me for another few moments, I’d like to thank you for your support of me and the Finishing School for Modern Women this year. I truly love being the Headmistress and meeting all of you in our classes. The trust you put in me when you show me your most honest vulnerable selves, the love you show other students when we listen and give ideas to each other, the light bulbs I see go off over your heads, and the tremendous amount of growth we achieve together is beyond rewarding.

One more thing:

For all of you who read my blog, whether you make it to class as often as you’d like or not, I appreciate you. Thanks to your attention and feedback, I feel like I’ve become a real writer this year, finally, after 20 years of technical writing of business plans, job descriptions, handbooks and manuals. Writing these articles is meaningful to me, because through this I’m learning how to better speak my voice. The opportunity this has given me to stretch and learn and do more than I ever imagined through your support of the Finishing School is at the top of my gratefulness list every day.

We are going to own this year together! Happy 2019!

Headmistress Jill

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