How to choose a focus word for the year and use it to reach your goals

Yearly focus words can help you take action towards your goals

What's a yearly focus word?

A yearly focus word or "word of the year" is a word that helps me focus on what I've decided is important. This word or words will reflect my goals for the upcoming year and strengthen my awareness of my commitment to them.

My definition of a yearly focus word isn't always just one word; in fact, I often pick one main word and then a few secondary words. The important thing is this; you must find a word that will help you reach your goals by zeroing in on what will benefit you most.

Here's my take on this exercise.

When we choose our thoughts and actions, we exercise one of our greatest freedoms, if not the greatest freedom we have. However, this doesn't always come easy or as often as we'd like. 

More than this, the act of considering and choosing a focus word each year is a grounding and beneficial exercise, mind-body-spirit and business.

This is a mindfulness habit we are creating.

First, we reflect.

How to pick a yearly focus word

What is a good word to focus on for the year?

A good word to focus on for the year is a word or phrase that can help you focus on what you feel, is most important for you and your best self -mind, body, spirit; in business and life.

I can get overwhelmed with granular business and life planning. But mindfulness and regular attention to my values and goals are helpful. What you focus on really can come true.

Choose a word or phrase that will help you be your best in the new year.

How do I choose my word of the year?

I start with my journal.

I get everything out of my head. I dump it all out on the page. All the energy drainers, all the dreams, all the things on my mind with no rules. Brain Dumping is not only helpful for business and life planning; it's great for managing stress and anxiety.

What comes to mind when you think about the past year?

I think about my health and wellness, relationships, clients, business goals, happiness, income, work-life balance and more. I brain dump everything on my mind about my life and business for the year in review.

Consider what worked and what didn't and why

Sometimes I start lists of what worked and what didn't. And sometimes I don't. You can make this a separate step or naturally review your thoughts on what worked and what didn't last year for you when you do your initial brain dumping.

I will ask myself, where did I thrive, and where did I struggle and ask myself why or why not.  The more you can question your thoughts the better!

The Zen Buddhism meaning of "beginner's mind" refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.

Use your Beginners Mind to dig deeper

You might write something like this in your Journal:

"This year I had many new opportunities to work with people, which gave me more confidence in my work and skills. However, I only accepted a few of these opportunities because I still didn't feel confident enough to accept them all". 

Ask yourself:

  • What does "confident enough" look like to me?
  • How would I define that?
  • What do I need to feel "confident enough"?

As you might imagine, this kind of open-minded reflection can lead to more insights and more questions.

I list all my dreamy goals without limitation

I want to remind you that you can do this whole exercise in many different ways, and it's most important that you find something that works for you.
So let me give you a permission slip right now to jump straight to picking your focus word or words. Honestly, I change this up each year myself but admit that I am an eternal fan of brain dumping. The fun stuff in this section will help you define your goals for the next year. You can use this work to then plan your year, projects, tasks and key milestones.If you don't want to make that part of your Yearly Word process you can jump to the next part now :).

Write freely with no judgement when it comes to goal setting and ideas for what you want from the year to come

The key here is to let your ideas flow without judgement. Don't hold back! I list all the ideas I have without judging them.  Be unrealistic here, it is very insightful to see what comes up, you will see patterns and what your heart desires. Then you can work on what you feel is most important and set more realistic goals for the next year that will align with what you want, need and can achieve.

What goals will give you the best year in business and your personal life?

Consider what was missing from the year that passed, what you need more of and what's important to you now.

Take your time and enjoy these journaling sessions.

I underline things and sometimes create mind-maps. Often I cross out things and start lists on new pages with summaries of what I feel are most important to me. Furthermore, I might just ask myself a bunch of open-ended questions designed to help me understand what's most important to me.

Questions I might ask myself include:

  • How do I want to feel next year?
  • What do I want to have next year?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What worked for me in life and business and what didn't last year?
  • Probing questions:
    • Why?
    • Why not?
    • How could this be different?

Then I look for patterns, reflect, underling more things, use arrows and make a mess. This is me. You do you.

Done is better than perfect.

What makes a good focus word?

I've worked with yearly focus words for several years now, and here are my criteria:

Make them meaningful and easy to put into action

Many of us find certain words inspiring or meaningful, but not all words are very actionable. If the word is too conceptual for you, using it as a focus word won't benefit you much. You must be able to translate it into actions that create real-life results.  

You want to bring the intentions of these words into action.

Consider how easy it is for your brain to understand exactly what the action-items might be attached to your word. 

One year I picked SURRENDER as a focus word, and I knew exactly what that meant to me, in real-world terms. I understood how to put that concept into action to benefit me, my life and my business.

How your "word of the year" can be used in action

If your chosen word is: "FOCUS"

And you wrote something like this in your journal:

"I am inquisitive, and this only serves me well when I limit my time spent on tasks. I didn't accomplish as much as I wanted to or think I could have last year. I want more results-oriented action this year. I want to spend less time on social media. I want to create more time for friends." 

Based on what you wrote in your journal, can you think of action items with ease, based on your word "FOCUS"?

If you are saying YES, then that's all that matters. If not, pick a different word. I've listed a bunch of words below for inspiration :).

Examples of Yearly, Monthly or Quarterly Focus Words

How to pick a word of the year, yearly focus word ideas for soul-based entrepreneurs

Final tips for success with yearly focus words

Pick only one word or no more than three.

  • I suggest that you not pick more than three words. This exercise works best when you can keep it simple. 

Choose words based on what you need most.

  • If you focused on only one thing this year, what would serve you best based on your reflections, needs, wants and goals
  • These can help us with our businesses, but we are our businesses. When you choose your word, find one that supports you fully and holistically.

Select words that make it easy for you to take action. 

  • You can even make up a word if you feel it will inspire action
  • You can define your words however you like -what's important is the meaning they have for you
    • Just be sure your meaning is very tangible

Putting it all together: How to use a yearly focus word

Invite the essence of your chosen word into your life regularly and often throughout the year

This is a gentle act of mindfulness that increases your awareness of what's important to you. The more you draw your attention to the things you've decided are important, the more likely you are to reach your goals.

Showcase your focus word prominently & make it beautiful

You can use your wonderful creativity here. I'll share some examples to get you started and help you understand the value of this exercise.

Ideas for how you can use your focus word 

  • Draw or print your word or words and put them in a pretty frame; place the frame on your desk, or somewhere you will see it often
  • Make it part of your planning rituals, Quarterly, Monthly, Weekly and Daily; ask yourself how you are tending these mantras
  • Meditate on them regularly
  • Add it to the cover of your journal or day planner
  • Have more than one version of your word framed around your home

Share your focus word in the comments below. I'd love to see what you come up with! 

Val Cline

Hey there, I'm Val. Teacher, creator, and uncomplicator. More than websites, productivity apps, small business productivity, and management systems. I'm at least 25% cat toes and coffee.

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