Not too long ago, I had lunch with a super savvy young woman. Over a delicious salad made with slices of ripened pear and spicy arugula, I asked my new friend if she had ever heard of a focus-enhancing habit called Word of the Year.
Turns out, she was way more than aware of it, and I couldn’t wait to hear more.
Word of the Year Ideas for 2020
Since 1990, the American Dialect Society has been gathering once a year to vote on list of words (or phrases) that became commonplace in their usage during the preceding year. For example, in 2016 the Society chose fam and tweetstorm as the winners for its category of digital words.
The topic of lunch with my friend was not that kind of Word of the Year. What we were discussing was this interesting trend toward designating a meaningful word to rein in one’s thoughts and actions for the year ahead. Consider it a theme, with more precision, the mastery of a meaningful focus.
The idea of mastering a clear focus for 365 straight days is quite appealing, isn’t it? For one thing, it would seem to be a healthy way for setting boundaries around our runaway thoughts. For another, having a Word of the Year could be an effective tool for the elimination of wasted time.
In addition to all that, a well-chosen Word of the Year can serve as a reminder of our blessings, or even a prompt that calls us to action.
Are you feeling encouraged to select a Word of the Year for yourself? Good! Keep reading. Let’s talk a little more about WOTY benefits, and then I’ll offer some word ideas to inspire your choice.
Narrow the Focus
We who are OverFifty should have less to think about than ever before, right?
The kids are gone (pursuing their own dreams), and much of what we’ve accumulated is being given away (decluttering!). We can do our jobs in our sleep (unless we start over), and our routines are pretty set (unless we don’t mind new adventures).
We are at a stage of life with fewer items on the to-do list and more time to think. However, without a plan, too much thinking-time can actually produce a thought-life that’s inconsistent and all over the board.
In fact, if we’re not pretty intentional about the quality of our thinking, that train can go right on off the tracks.
Did you know that one repetitive, negative, unproductive thought can dig a literal trench in the brain? Synapses of unchecked toxic thoughts just keep firing away, making deeper and deeper ruts, like train tracks that sink lower into the ground from the weight of a heavy load.
Why not narrow the focus, and let our Word for the Year take a turn in the conductor’s seat?
Benefits of Having a Word of the Year
Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of such bestselling books such as Switch on Your Brain, has made it her mission to educate people on how the brain can magnificently change with what she calls directed mind input.
Isn’t that amazing? Each of us has the power to swap right thinking for negative self-talk and actually change the synaptic patterns of our brains.
As a Man (or Woman) Thinketh
While the neuroscience could be considered a recent medical advance, the encouragement to be the boss of our own thoughts has been around for ages.
The Apostle Paul encouraged believers not to be anxious about anything, and he also listed some categories of thought for maintaining a peaceful mindset. First, give it to God, Paul exhorts. Next, think on what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.
James Allen wrote his third and most famous book in 1903. It is called As a Man Thinketh, described by Allen as “a book to help you to help yourself.” Based on Proverbs 23:7, which says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” Allen compares the effect of thought on many aspects of our lives, concluding that, truly, we are what we think we are.
Much Less Anxiety
Most of us have felt anxious at one time or another, but anyone who really deals with a lot of anxiety will tell you: You can’t just tell yourself not to feel anxious. The one who masters over anxiety must learn to actively replace the anxious and worrisome thoughts with thoughts of truth and peace. Having a Word of the Year helps.
Makes Things Simpler
I’m a big proponent of speaking truth over yourself. I mean, if you need to own up or confess a wrong, by all means, do it. Sometimes that shoe fits, and we just have to wear it.
But if you are constantly thinking about yourself and how dumb/ugly/boring/fat/lonely/ useless/old/ you are, it’s time to switch gears.
Give yourself a pep talk. Speak kind things to yourself about yourself. Write some journal entries about your God-given gifts and talents. And then choose a Word for the Year. When you’re tempted to “go there” again, meditating for a moment on your word offers a simple way to regroup.
Can Be Broad
My Word of the Year is nourish. Here’s why I chose it.
As 2020 was fast-approaching, I was yet again finding myself in an all-too familiar rut. Every single year I determine to lose weight. By golly, I resolve that I will do it! I come up with ways to hold myself accountable, call it a goal and determine not to eat stuff that doesn’t fit the plan. No matter how much I might love it.
But I learned something new about myself recently that explains why that’s actually a ridiculous resolution for me to make.
I do not like to feel deprived.
But, hey, with a slight change of focus, I might just be able to pull it off in 2020. I have resolved to nourish my body instead of deprive it. When I’m eating an avocado instead of ice cream, I’m swapping right thinking (this is so good for me) for negative self-talk (you’ve already blown it today, so go ahead).
The power that comes from having a targeted Word of the Year can also expand your focus along broader angles. For example, once I got started down the track, I began to pick up steam in other areas besides my weight. I found myself brainstorming ways to nourish my family relationships, friendships, coworkers, good habits, writing skills, bank account, my relationship with God, and even the apartment space in which we live (new furniture??).
Choooooo Chooooo, my friends! This train is movin’ faster than the one the Monkees took to Clarksville.
It’s Very Powerful
In their book, One Word, authors Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page give tons of examples of how adopting a Word of the Year has brought laser sharp focus to the lives of people who do it.
Sports teams have boosted morale with posters of their One Word, and corporations have increased productivity by focusing their sales efforts on One Word through the year.
Is there something in your life that’s grown sluggish, in need of a powerful boost? Has 2020 started off with big challenges and high hurdles? You can choose to stay in a low frame of mind, or you can make plans to rise above the circumstances, reframing life with balance gained from deliberate thinking.
Word of the Year Ideas
The following is a pretty powerful list of words, my friends.
Go through it slowly, letting each word sit with you for just a bit, then read them aloud. Start narrowing the list to your favorites, and then answer some questions to clarify your choice.
Do you like the word? Can you see yourself applying it to your life with broad strokes of the brush? In what ways does this word soothe your soul? Are you motivated by it in some way? Do you look forward to opportunities to focus on this word?
The words in the list above are meant to inspire you but not limit your creativity. If a better Word of the Year comes to mind, mull it over and then make it your own.
The point is to choose a word that reminds you to think beneficial thoughts, on purpose, about yourself, your life, and about every other person who comes across your path in 2020.
My Friend’s Words
As we munched on our colorful salad of greens and fruit, my friend told me all about how choosing a Word of the Year had enriched her life. She had been cultivating this habit for quite a while, and we had lots to discuss.
By giving every year a mental header, her memories, experiences, goals and achievements seemed to be neatly bundled together in her mind under imaginary Word of the Year tabs. She smiled and laughed, bubbling over with a spirit of orderly joy.
I think I’ll try to nourish a little of that in myself this year.
Have you chosen your Word of the Year? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear all about it.
Encouraging a life filled with everyday intentional adventure, and 365 days of focus with a Word of the Year,
P.S. Here are few other posts you might enjoy.