Why choosing One Word might make all the difference to your year ahead.
About a year ago I talked about the importance of setting quarterly resolutions in the form of projects, with the expectation that you’ll fail half of them. The point was to not get too specific, too far into the future (as many of us have been conventionally taught). Instead, we go ‘micro-ambitious’ (as Tim Minchin describes it) on multiple fronts, allowing our bigger strategy and game to become more emergent.
In a previous musing, we also looked at why ‘progress’ is much better for you than ‘success’, and how curiosity is much more useful than belief. Francesca, a wonderful fellow subscriber, sent me this link to a brilliantly thoughtful comic on the value of questions (as opposed to answers). Do check it out.
And so here we are now: progress, curiosity, questioning… questing, research, experimenting, play-testing… you get where we’re going with this. Hopefully you are sufficiently armoured to protect yourself from the raft of ‘goal setting’ ‘vision crafting’ ‘success planning’ and other fixed-notion themes that usually assails us in January.
But this is a good time of year for reflecting and planning. So here are a couple of thoughts on how you can make the most of it.
1. Reward yourself for the good work done
At this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the land of new ‘to do’ lists. You focus on all those things you want to achieve, and forget about all of those things you have achieved. It’s not always about the to-do list — it’s about your have-done list as well.
If you’re like me, this is incredibly important. For most of the year you’ll operate in a state perpetually constructive discontent — there’s always progress to be made, always more that can be done. There’s always the next thing. So, some deliberate reflection can be a good thing.
In most instances, the progress made and the experience gained will be reward enough, in and of itself. But why not give yourself a ‘now-that’ reward? Only, here’s the thing — let’s make this reward something that is an investment in your future progress.
For example, The Dangerlam and I have rewarded ourselves with tickets to the 99u conference in New York (see you there?), and I recently went a bit crazy buying cooking stuff (as part of my health-quest to cook more when I’m home). You could just buy yourself more cookies as a reward, but more cookbooks might serve you better. Or a good journal, or some new running shoes, or a new iPad Air so that you can use that new Pencil thing from the people who created Paper. And so on.
The next thing is more important…
2. Reword yourself for the good work ahead
Choose one word.
One big contextual word to serve as a fuzzy beacon for the year ahead — at a yearly level, that’s all you need. Beneath this umbrella word you might have three ‘theme’ words to run through the year — but let’s try to keep it simple.
The thing to realise is that we’re all on a quest here. Some sort of quest towards development, betterment and meaning. And each of us are at our own stage in our hero’s journey. If you ‘zoom out’ and look at your past year as though it were a chapter in a book, what would the theme be? What will the next chapter be about?
You might recall that for this year I chose the word ‘kingly’ (actually, I think I chose ‘elevate’, which then evolved into kingly; much cooler). I think I may have copied this from blogger and author Chris Brogan. To me, kingly meant things like ‘stepping up,’ ‘taking responsibility’, ‘serving others’, avoiding petty gossip, being magnanimous and growing a beard (among other things). I had a friend who made their year ‘The Year of Vitality’ and another who had ‘The Year of Style.’ And these guys had amazing years.
The important thing is that these words don’t need to mean anything to anyone else. In fact, brace yourself for people to ‘not really get it’ — the only thing that matters is that they are meaningful to you.
I suggest you give this some thought — for no doubt there’ll be challenges abound in the year ahead. More trials and tribulations, and more boss-levels to conquer. It’d be easy to get lost, or to simply get reabsorbed in the busyness, ‘too busy for progress’ (and before you know it, another year will have passed).
But if you have Your One Word, and if you’re setting quarterly resolutions (3x projects that matter), there’s a much better chance you’ll keep progressively on track.
Think of this as more of a deliberate, self-set ‘calling’ cast a year into a future. A quest — not a mission or a goal.
So far, a few people have shared their Word for the new year with me. I’ve heard ‘brave’, ‘meticulous’, ‘unleash’, ‘amplify’ and ‘discover’ — just to name a few.*** It’s easy to think of these as ‘just words’ (which, in a way, they are). But words have power; the aspiration, the curiosity and conviction that sit behind them are mighty powerful.
I’m still musing over my word for the new year — but I’ll share it with you soon. In the meantime, please let me know Your Word if it comes to you. I did this last year and it was wonderful. I’d love to hear it.
So yes, do share ^_^
PS: If you ARE setting New Years Resolutions, here’s a handy set of realistic things you can aspire to.
* Thankfully, the world is largely waking up to the fact that, unless you are working in a factory or training for something that requires highly repetitive inputs for predictable outcomes, goal setting and it’s ken aren’t the bees knees when it comes to sustainable motivation. And while Tony Robbins and other fist-pumping rah-rahs might have you take MASSIVE ACTION for your BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOALS**… modern motivation and behavioural scientists would instead suggest you work on your habits, and create massive shifts not through massive action, but through the massive accumulation of teeny steps over time. Focus on your system — your game — rather than any fixed end state. And, if we do create fixed end-states to achieve, make ‘em projects, not goals.
** I was tempted to include the word ‘throbbing’ here. I should also point out that the narrative component of big hairy audacious goals can serve very well when framed correctly. Just try not to get too SMART with them.
*** Sometimes one can get too clever or cute with their words. I had one person tell me their word is ‘perspiration’ and all I could think of was antiperspirant deodorant. I had someone else excitedly tell me their word was FOOD! (spoken in all-caps) which made me think of those monster movies where a big beast crashes through a city eating things. But maybe she was a chef. Anyways, the important thing is to choose something that genuinely means something to you, and that serves your progress in the chapter that is 2014!