I wrote detailed New Year’s resolutions for years, spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve detailing every possible change I would make. I had specific categories with my resolutions related to each listed underneath. The point was to keep my mind focused all year long on what I hoped to accomplish, whether it was learning a new language or exercising a certain amount of time a week.
The problem was I couldn’t keep my resolutions. I put a ton of effort into placing words on paper only to not accomplish them year after year.
According to researchers, the reasons we fail to keep New Year’s resolutions are many. We set unrealistic goals. We set goals that we’re not actually ready to keep, hoping that the magic of making them will overcome our lack of effort. We also make too many resolutions. Change is hard, and even focusing on one major life change a year is difficult. Expecting to change in many different areas in one year is unrealistic for most of us.
There’s also the disadvantage of jumping off from a negative point. We make resolutions because of what we’re not. We’re not in shape, so we resolve to work out. We’re not financially responsible, so we resolve to budget. Every resolution we make is a reminder of where we’ve already failed.
Even when resolutions don’t fail, which is rare because 78 percent of people were found to bail on their resolutions in one study, resolutions require a focus that may not be healthy. A person who wants to lose weight may go to dangerous extremes to do it because they’ve lost the ability to view the entire picture. Keeping this one resolution is all they see, and they can’t comprehend that what they are doing to reach the goal is not worth it.
Resolutions narrow our focus instead of broadening it to encompass an overall fulfilling life.
A new approach
Frustrated with the time I was wasting on resolutions, I decided to change my approach a couple of years ago. Instead of a never-ending list of well-intentioned resolutions, I chose to pick a focus word. For 2016 I chose “gratitude,” and for 2017 I chose “simple.” There were no long lists or constant failures piling up. One word encompassed my plans for the year in every area of my life.
The well-roundedness of the one-word approach was the greatest appeal for me. Focus words don’t leave me neglecting quality time with my family while I run on a treadmill for hours trying to lose weight. They don’t require me to neglect certain portions of my life to excel in others. A focus word offers balance.
Focus words are also easy to remember. In 2017, every day when faced with a decision, I grasped the word simple. This practice had profound effects. We chose simple food, simple budget approaches, simple pleasures. I discovered minimalism and hygge, giving me other ways to embrace simplicity. What would not have been simple was writing down a list of resolutions of how to achieve simplicity and then forgetting them, complicating my life even further.
Focus words make room for progress, not just performance. When we don’t write that novel by a certain date or lose those pounds by a certain time, we feel lost. However, when we embrace a focus word, the entire year is about progress. It’s not a one-time commitment but a focus on everyday life changes that stick.
I know I have to get up every morning and think about my focus word to set the agenda for the day, and there is no end to it. Unlike resolutions, focus words fold into life, seamlessly offering us development instead of just results, or in most cases, no results.
How do we figure out one word to help navigate an entire year? It’s a big responsibility and the task can feel daunting. Luckily, there are tools to help.
My One Word offers three easy steps to choose a word for the upcoming year. The approach is positive, with the first step asking us to think of the kind of person we want to be. We need to search beyond the base ideas of what we want to do, such as make more money or finish a degree, and think of who we actually want to be.
We then choose words to describe this kind of person. What characteristics do they have? Disciplined? Kind? Joyful? From that list of characteristics, pick the word that encompasses that person and make it your focus word.
I loved my word for 2017. It’s not an exaggeration to say that focusing on simple has changed my life. Now that I understand how to achieve simplicity, I am ready to become the kind of person who stays dedicated to the causes I’ve found to fit into my simple existence. I want to be a follow-through person, committed to what I choose and not too overextended to show up for my life.
My 2017 word not only helped me fulfill many goals, but it also led me to my focus word for next year. Instead of making the same resolutions all over again because I didn’t keep them this year, I’m moving on and spending 2018 focused on perseverance. It feels like a natural progression, and progress is what we’re supposed to achieve in life. The do-or-die perfection demanded from resolutions isn’t realistic, but the natural progress a focus words offers is possible for anyone.