If you're one of those rare people who actually achieve your New Year's resolution each year, congratulations. Seriously, you are rare indeed. According to U.S. News & World Report, the failure rate for New Year's resolutions is said to be about 80 percent, and most lose their resolve by mid-February. If this is true, it's clear that there is nothing wrong with us; the problem is in the tradition itself. 

Why resolutions don't work.

You'll find psychologists and research firms online that cite any number of issues to explain away this massive failure rate of 80 percent. Anything from lack of clarity to setting expectations too high. I agree, but I think there's more to it than that. 

One problem is the psychology behind the word itself. Resolution. It's a strong, demanding word. It screams, I must! It's a demand that we place upon ourselves, and there is no room for failure. Yet, failure is pretty much inevitable. Most of us simply don't respond to this word, and when we don't, we feel disappointed in ourselves--even ashamed. Why, oh why, would anyone do this to themselves?

We are unreasonable about resolutions.

Have you ever started off the new year resolving to do something that either you've never succeeded at before, or haven't done since a major life change? Ask yourself if your New Year's resolution coincides with who you are, as well as where you are in life. Are you asking yourself to be more disciplined about your business by achieving a list of things you've never done before? Bad approach. It's likely that it has nothing to do with a lack of discipline at all, it goes deeper than that. Perhaps you lack passion, clarity, or inspiration. This is where the focus needs to go. 

Try a new approach.

Here's what I've done for years, and it works. I'm in good company with Melinda Gates and many others who practice this far more effective, gentle method of creating positive change.

I identify a word of the year. Yes, a single word that reminds me how I can fully support myself in creating a positive life change and achieving my most important goals. A word of the year can also identify something that you need or want to equip yourself to move to the next level of success.

Examples of a word of the year.

Four years ago, I was stuck in a business model that was no longer working for me. (Yes, even coaches get stuck!) I struggled to find the answers, even though I knew that struggling with something never works. My mind needed to relax to allow the answers to occur to me; the tension created by my mental struggle was pushing these answers aside. 

In one word, what I needed was clarity. There are many ways to define most words and my definition of clarity meant that I would relax and trust that the answers would come. That I would soon be absolutely clear about my next steps.

I wrote the word on heart-shaped sticky notes and put it everywhere. I repeated it like a mantra many times a day. And, most effectively, I created a little statement (you could call it a prayer or intention) that I read out loud twice a day--before sleep and upon waking. 

Within three weeks I woke up with the answer. As the solutions occurred to me, I knew, with absolute faith, that these changes would work. Within days I'd made the adjustments to my business model and they began to work almost immediately. 

Melinda Gates chose the word, grace, for the second year in a row.  "What I love about grace, at least the way I define it, is that by pulling us up out of ourselves and onto a higher plane, it makes us more open to the world, to new experiences, to each other," she wrote on LinkedIn. "It creates connections and encourages empathy," she said.

How to determine your word of the year.

Determine your realistic goals.

Think about the things you'd like to achieve this year. Be realistic and be kind to yourself--don't tempt failure by burdening yourself with unrealistic expectations upon yourself. 

Identify what will inspire and support you.

Now think about who you need to be to feel inspired and develop the character to achieve these things. What mindset will help you to move forward? For me, clarity meant that I needed to let go of the worry, still my mind, and trust that the answers were right in front of me and would surface at the right time. In 2016 Melinda Gates chose the word, gentle. It functioned as a reminder to go easy on herself, to fight the pull of perfectionism, and to encourage others around her to do the same.

What one word encapsulates what you want and who and how you need to be to get it? What is one word that describes the mindset that best supports your overall goals? What word might inspire you to be your best self? Because, when you are your best self you will achieve your goals. 

Here's what to do once you select your word of the year.

Get creative.

This year I am creating a piece of art to hang in my office, one that visually captures my word of the year. What creative means can you use to keep your word top-of-mind throughout the year? 

Write about it.

Define what your word means to you. One simple word can capture limitless inspiration and many meaningful feelings. Your definition will go far beyond what the dictionary has to say about it.

Use your word as a mantra. 

Whether or not you create an affirmation, prayer, statement, or whatever works for you, use your single word as a mantra throughout each day. See it in your mind's eye by creating a mental image that captures its meaning. 

Share it if you like.

Sharing your word could serve a purpose. For some, the act of putting it out there on social media, #wordoftheyear, is like a proclamation of intended success. Sharing your word with your partner or best friends may give them an opportunity to support you in some way. 

Let go of the resolution mentality.

The word of the year process is meant to be a gentle one, but don't confuse gentle with weak. In my personal experience, as well as many of my clients and social connections, this is a powerful practice. It's far more effective to gently focus on a word like "health" than to command yourself to get to the gym. As you inspire yourself toward good health, it's likely that you will find a way to achieve it. Make sure that your word feels good to you, not pushy and demanding.

What will you choose as your word of the year? Tweet it! Hashtag it. Include me in your tweet so I can mentally support you, @MarlaTabaka. 

Published on: Jan 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.