So, I’ve been sharing this concept of "choosing One Word" for a few years now. To recap, here are a couple of posts from early last year:
Originally, I developed the concept as an attempt to counter the ridiculously insidious plague of SMART goal setting that typically infests our Januaries (and many organisations).
Rather than manufacturing a forced delusion of certainty and clarity, choosing one word for your year was a way in which you could cast ahead a fuzzy beacon — something to guide and rally you through a series of projects that matter. My hope was that people might think differently about how they project themselves into the year ahead.
Don’t get me wrong — SMART goals are fine for formulaic tasks with predictable outcomes. If you're saving money, building a shed, training for a marathon: get as smart as you like. But if we’re looking to do something aspirational and new; the narrowed focus and agility-crippling, myopic-thinking that comes with SMART goals should give us pause.
Also, if you happen to work within an organisation inundated with goal setting, this 2009 Harvard Business School article may be therapeutic — Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side-Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting (pdf).
And now it seems as though this “One Word” concept is gaining a bit of momentum. Which is fab! Fuzzy beacons ahoy.
But I fear it may become another one of those token activities, conducted with little thought. Or undertaken with a shallowness that fails to capitalise on the richness and depth a One Word approach might bring.
I don’t want this to become a lazy alternative to the good planning and thought that goes into progress design. I want this to work for you.
And so, without further ado, here’s a bit more insight in how to…
Make your intentions meaning-full
In this presentation I discuss the notion of choosing One Word as part of a yearly ritual.
Choosing One Word for your year can be tricky. It might be tempting to default to something convenient, off the top of your head — some word at the surface, within easy grasp. Words like success, love, and growth. Now, these words are nice — but nice ain’t going to cut it.
Your One Word needs to live with you through the year. It needs to be distinct.
In the few years I’ve been sharing this concept, I’ve come to develop a rough sense about the kind of Words that work best for their makers. By no means is this scientifically validated — it’s more of an early hunch. The words that work best usually fall within one of the following three categories: abstract, active, or aspect/archetypal.
» Abstract words
…include words like balance, lean, style, care, honour and mindful. They can also include emotive words like joy and courage.
The key to abstract words is to really make them tangible and real — otherwise they’re just, well, abstract.
The way you make an abstract word real is to package it in a way people get. "The Year of Style", for example, makes for a good hashtag. “Leaning into it” could be a way to bring the word 'lean' into things.
Last year, my word was prime. As part of this, I’d try take note of any prime numbers I saw — they were my environmental cues to remind me about the Word and the intention behind it. “Prime time”, as it were.
Of all the categories of words, I find abstract words the most challenging to play with. If an abstract word resonates most with you, give thought to how you will manifest it in your every day.
» Active words
… include words like unleash, create, ignite, build, consolidate, invigorate and make. They’re verbs, and they’re usually something we can easily gesticulate. Active words particularly come to life through our projects. If you choose the word ‘create’, for example, you can bet that people will want to know what you’re creating.
I know someone who has chosen the word renovate. He has house renovations he intends to do, yes. But more importantly, he’s identified a tendency to get distracted by shiny objects and new things. And so this year, he’s bringing the focus back to the core elements of his business — renovating the core offerings and business model. Digging a bit deeper into the etymology of the word, he found that ‘renovate’ is closely related to words like restore, refresh and reinvigorate. And so, he’s taking this approach to some of his relationships — more camping with family, more dinners with friends.
» Aspect/Archetype words
Aspect words are used when we want to take on the qualities of something. They include words like tiger, goddess, rockstar, explorer and samurai.
A friend of mine has chosen the word 'cat' for this year. She’s intending to bring about more of the qualities of a cat into her world and work, à la Cat Woman. Charming indifference, assumed authority, quiet arrogance, impeccable grooming — that kind of thing. A particularly wonderful challenge for someone who is cursed with generosity, considerateness and caring. For someone who is used to putting everyone else first, this is going to be a powerful year.
Find qualities in something worth emulating. Summon your inner lion, alpaca or frog. Make your year the year of tiger. Insist that people play Eye of the Tiger before you walk into rooms.*
*Not the Katy Perry version.
Or perhaps an archetype word might fit you best for the year ahead? Maybe warrior, knight, queen, wizard, or rogue? These are words in which you take upon the role of something. In moments of uncertainty and doubt, you ask yourself “what would a [insert archetype] do?” Or you ask yourself “Am I being [insert archetype]ly?”
A couple of years ago I chose the king archetype with the word kingly. For me, it was about stepping up, taking responsibility, staying true to my word, and serving the greater good (rather than trying to help anyone and everyone who asks). It was a powerful year, that saw me publish my book and really make the transition from motivation science to the space of frontier leadership and work culture.
And so, I’m going with an archetype word again. For me, 2015 is…
The Year of Pirate
While still keeping all the prime qualities of kingliness, this year things are getting a bit more buccaneer.
Last year was a big year for me. I worked in more countries with more clients than ever before.
But the majority of my work was client-driven, and the year was very busy. It felt like I was reacting to work, letting the winds blow me wherever. Well, no more!
Now I have crew (in the form of Bianka my business manager and Kim, the dangerlam), and I’m going to navigate this ship. We’re setting a course for adventure, even if this sees us venture away from convention for a whiles.
To me, the word pirate conjures the qualities of the opportunistic explorer. Commercially focussed and savvy, pirates are also jolly and buoyant. They drink rum and look after their mates.
So ahoy! (really)
It’s going to be a jolly good year.
But enough of me: —
Have you found your Word yet?
If you have, fantastic! Do let me know what it is, and how you chose it. I’m currently working on the next book, and am looking for some examples to unpack.
If you’re still working on your word, here’s a bit more insight on how you can find it.
Three don’ts and do’s when it comes to your One Word
1) Don’t rush it
There’s art in the seeking. You don’t need to land on your Word immediately, nor do you need to find it in January — the gregorian New Year is just a convenient time near a solstice where many people have a bit more time to reflect and reset. Take your time.
2) Don’t anchor it to outcomes
You’re on a quest, not a mission. The very point of this activity is to leave you opportunity to grow and adapt. Choosing a word like success or published might detract from the journey, and set up an unhelpful pass/fail dichotomy. It’s not black and white — most of your year will be grey: a series of mini-wins and minor setbacks. Keep your word abstract, active or archetypal.
3) Don’t care too much about what other people think
It’s your word for the year. Not what you think you should do in the eyes of others (including mine), and certainly not what others tell you it should be (unless, of course, you are in full concordance). Be bold, risky and/or risqué.
But having said that…
1) Do test it out
Your Word needs to survive social scrutiny — the last thing we want is a word that you’re disinclined to share with others.
I remember last year, when my friend Jen chose the Word ‘honour’. It had a lot of meaning to it, and it fitted her well. But then Kim and I killed it by promptly showing her this comic. Please don’t look at the comic though, as it contains penises and is entirely unprofessional, inappropriate and not safe for work. Don’t judge me.
It’s rather amusing though. ‘Show us your honour!’ we’d say, and she’d just shake her head. Yeah, we ruined it for her.
2) Do choose a word that makes you a bit uncomfortable
While your word needs to have a good, intuitive fit for you — it shouldn’t be easy. All progress and growth occurs just outside our comfort zone. And as such, your Word should be something that’s a little bit audacious, and a bit of a stretch. My friend Alison has chosen the word flirt this year, and Kim is going with wild & courageous. (Yes I know that’s two words, but that’s how wild she is).
Make your Word a bit edgy. The edge is where we grow.
3) Do make it fun for your friends
The people around you will play a huge part in how your year plays out. Your Word is a social trigger. It’s something people will ask you about as things progress. So, make it easy for them to hold you true to your meaningful intent. Phrase it into the things you do.
The other day my friend Sean offered me some of his crepe, to which I politely declined. But I really wanted some crepe. I said as much, and they asked me ‘what would a pirate do?’ (thinking that I’d decide to order myself a butter crepe too). I did one better and seized his crepe with my bare hands! Such pirate.*
* It was actually much more polite than that. I tore off a 2x4cm piece at the edge —the bit with no flavour. And then I promptly apologised, washed my hands and ordered a crepe of my own. But still.
Remember: it’s a fuzzy beacon
It’s not a goal, and it’s not a map. It’s a fuzzy beacon — a light to pull you back on track, and to stay true to your intention should you waver. Who knows what adventures you’ll have along the way. Tally ho!