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What's Your Word? Discover the Power of Your Own Word of the Year as a Guiding Compass

What’s in a Word?

Around 10 years ago I was introduced to the practice of Word of the Year. Choosing a Word of the Year invites us to encapsulate our core values, intentions and ways of being for the year ahead in one keyword – a challenge for someone like me who tends to use far too many words!

Our word can serve as a compass to point the way and a North Star to guide us when we may be feeling lost. There is an aspirational quality to our word – it is something to aim towards, something we would like to invite more of into our lives. At the same time, our word acknowledges that we already possess this quality, this value or way of being within us right now, in this moment. Articulating our word, and giving voice to it can help bring it to life and make its presence in our lives more vivid and felt. In turn, this encourages us to take actions congruent with our intention.

The Power of Intention

It's a practice I have followed every year since 2017. Of course, we don’t need to set our word at the start of the year we can choose it any time. And I have found the practice a refreshing alternative to New Year’s resolutions, enabling me to set a broad intention for the year ahead – an aspiration to live into.

This is not some ‘airy fairy’ wishing on a star and I am not claiming that the process has any magical powers, but I have found some powerful synergies opening up. For instance, the year I set my word as ‘Love’ I found a beautiful sparkly hairclip embossed with my word as I was travelling through Manchester airport at New Year. It was a tangible reminder of my word and the way of being and showing up it represented for me.

I won’t dive deep into the science of manifestation in this article but I will offer a few pointers. Setting an intention can be powerful because it helps us clarify where we want to head and points us in the direction of travel. Our natural human tendency towards confirmation bias means that we tend to look for what we are expecting and therefore that's often what we find. For example, if I view myself as clumsy I'm more likely to trip, whereas if I view myself as careful I am more likely to behave in that way.

Experience-dependent neuroplasticity offers another perspective on this. In the words of neuropsychologist Donald Hebb, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Simply put, this means the more often we have an experience the more well-rehearsed that pathway in our brain becomes, just like a pathway in a forest becomes well-trodden the more times it is walked. By directing our attention towards our word we are more likely to take actions that are aligned with it we begin to create neural pathways in our brain that support the ways of being congruent with our intention.

If we are inclining our energy and attention towards our intention - our chosen word of the year - we are more likely to notice how it shows up and maximise the impact.

Choose your word carefully and be prepared for the impact it may have! The year I chose Courageous was a year that required me to draw on my inner reserves of courage and to draw on strengths I hadn’t realised I had until then.

Creating Conditions

If you are interested in giving it a go yourself, I will offer some pointers to help you tune into your inspirational word for the year ahead.

There is no one way to go through the process of choosing your word so I will share here what I have found works well for me and the clients that I work with. Approaching an activity like this with a sense of ceremony and reverence can give it more weight and meaning. Setting the scene by choosing a supportive environment, whether that’s a cosy corner of your home with candles and inspirational music or opting for inspiration from nature on an intentional walk.

Connecting with Your Values

I often like to begin the process with a meditative reflection, considering the achievements and challenges of the previous year, what made me feel alive and fulfilled and what contributed to me feeling drained or overwhelmed. I find some of the following questions particularly helpful as I begin to consider options for my word:

  • What values and ways of being are important in life right now?

  • What do I want to invite more of into my life?

  • What relationships are most important to me?

  • When have I felt most alive and present over the past year?

  • When have I felt drained and overwhelmed in the past year?

  • What do I want to invite less of into my life?

  • What qualities and ways of being do I most admire in others?

  • What qualities and ways of being repel me and why?

  • In what ways do I most powerfully contribute? Here you may want to consider your family, friends, job or wider contributions to your community

  • What would bring me the most joy?

  • What brings me the most fulfilment?

  • What would help create more peace and ease?

Reflecting on these questions, or brainstorming your own list, can help you connect with the word, or if you are anything like me, a shortlist of potential words, that best fit your intentions and aspirations for the year ahead.

Your Word of the Year Worksheet and Ideas Generator

The template attached offers some further prompt questions to help bring your Word to life.

Word of the Year form full version
Download PDF • 451KB

I am also sharing a handy Word of the Year Generator to help get your creative juices going as you consider what word could be the best for you this year.

Once you've decided on your word I would love to hear from you and what the practice has opened up for you. And in case you are wondering, here's my word for 2024:

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