Do you believe that just one word can change your life for the better? If not, I don't blame you. I was skeptical too until I tried it. What's the special word? It's different for everyone. Here's how to find yours.

I first learned about this process from the book One Word That Will Change Your Life by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon. It's a surprisingly short book, written to be read in under an hour.. It explains how the authors discovered that choosing one word to guide you through the year is much more effective and long-lasting than forming New Year's resolutions that you'll likely have forgotten by April. "We've never forgotten our word," they write.

They lay out their process for choosing the a word for your year, and after I tried it once and saw its powerful effects, picking a word has become a yearly ritual for me. That ritual begins with re-reading the book (it only takes an hour) which seems to put me in the right frame of mind. Whether or not you choose to include that step, here are the rest of the steps that will lead you to your own word:

1. Unplug from your daily life.

Finding your word is a contemplative process. You need the time and space to set aside your daily concerns so you can really focus inward, on your own thoughts, hopes, and fears. You won't be able to do it while sitting at your desk, in between answering emails and making phone calls. So take a little time away from your daily routine. For me, that usually means sitting in a cafe. Going out into nature is also a great way to unplug. 

Wherever you go, make sure you won't be interrupted. I suggest turning off your phone. Once you've shut out the rest of the world, you will hear your own thoughts more clearly.

2. Ask yourself three vital questions.

What do I need? (Not want, but need.)

What's in my way?

What has to go?

These powerful questions will help you get to what's essential in your life, especially if you pay attention to the distinction between what you want (a billion dollars! world domination! rock-hard abs!) and what you need, which is likely much less ambitious and much more essential. Keeping that difference in mind is part of what makes this process so powerful.

3. Open your heart and let your word come to you.

I recommend bringing a journal or some paper along when you go off to unplug, and writing down whatever answers the three questions inspire. As you write, you will likely find a word--or a choice of words--bubbling to the surface.

4. Keep your word front and center.

Once you've chosen your word, put it someplace where you can see it every day. The One Word authors suggest making it into a sign or a screen saver. I like buying myself a simple bangle bracelet each year and having my word stamped on it. This is a big part of why the process works--having your word in front of you reminds you to enact it. It helps you see opportunities that have always been all around you, just as buying a certain model of car makes you see that model everywhere you go.

Here's how it works.

In 2016, the first year I did this exercise. I had big ambitions (still do) and I expected to come up with some aspirational word to propel me to greater heights of career success. But when I asked myself what I needed and what was in my way, my answers were about feeling lonely and isolated. My husband and I had moved across the country, and I needed to find companionship in our new location. And so my word for 2016 was "Connect." It pushed me to reach out to people and socialize and make friends. I ended the year with more and better friendships.

In 2017, when I did the exercise again, my husband and I were grieving the loss of a close friend, one who had been part of our lives for decades. Six months after his death, I felt like all hope of happiness had been ripped from me, and so I thought "joy" might be my word for the year. But just as the authors promised, as I thought things through, a completely unexpected word came at me: "Now." It was a reminder that life can be short, and that it's important to live in the moment, and stop putting off the things you care about most. 

"Now" was a taller order than "Connect," but I did manage to stop putting off a lot of things. I finally began horseback riding again after more than a decade out of the saddle. I signed up for new workshops and began doing live readings and even singing harmony at some of the weekly open mics where all our musician friends gather.

I've never been good at living in the moment, but "Now" made me just a little better. I mentally assigned crows to help me--whenever I see a crow or crows, I take it as a reminder to enjoy the present moment and that this moment is all we have. There are a lot of crows around where we live, so this has worked pretty well.

In 2018, I began the year with the feeling that everything is up in the air and the future seems a lot less clear than it used to. This is because my husband had a heart attack in November and came close to dying. He got some excellent medical help and he's doing fine now. But I'd always assumed we'd have many more years together, and while I still hope we will, it seems less certain than it did in October.

So when I asked myself what I needed, I had a very clear answer. I needed certainty. I needed confidence. For a while, I thought "Yes" would be my word for 2018. There was only one problem--I knew that certainty is always an illusion. What I really needed was to be accepting--to deal with and even embrace whatever this year throws at me. To stay open to love and fear and heartache, and joy, and to the new experiences I'd started pursuing during my year of "Now." 

And so--"Open." The word hit me like a wrecking ball. I wasn't expecting it, hadn't thought of it. It had found me instead of the other way around. 

There have been a lot of surprises in the past two years, some of them wonderful, some of them awful. I have no idea what 2018 will bring. And that's OK. I'll do my best to stay open to it all.

Published on: Feb 8, 2018