Words like ‘goals’ and ‘resolutions’ sound positive, but do you know anyone who’s kept a resolution beyond January? I’ve always viewed New Year’s resolutions as a recipe for future guilt. I don’t have that sort of A-type personality that responds to structure and planning. I need more freedom. I want to be inspired not instructed. ‘Get fit’ sounds like a sensible goal to have, but it doesn’t feel very inspiring. Even the more specific ‘Go to the gym twice a week’ has failure built in. I either go to the gym twice a week or I don’t, there’s no room for any other outcome. So instead of writing a list of things I know I won’t do, for the last seven years I’ve chosen a single word to be my guiding light for the coming year. Friends, this practice has changed my life.
My first word of the year was VISIBLE. It was 2009 and unbeknown to me I was about to teach a course that would form the basis of an entirely new business. VISIBLE helped me seek out opportunities to reach more people and stopped me hiding away. The next year I chose to EXPAND and boy did I! My business grew and a book deal came along, and every time I got scared my word gently reminded me to let my vision EXPAND. Fast forward to 2012 and it was BRAVE that got me through a month-long book tour across North America, literally thousands of miles out of my comfort zone. In 2013 I welcomed the energy of OPEN, knowing I was ready to try dating again (it helped!), and by the time 2015 swung around it was NOURISH that supported me through much-needed surgery and the long recovery afterwards.
This year I’ve been guided by LOVE. It flowed through me as I held my sister’s hand while she gave birth to her son. It inspired me to move house to a part of the city I LOVE and arrived in the shape of my LOVEable labrador. LOVE has reminded me to uphold my boundaries and make self-care a priority when work overwhelms me. It’s been a tender year of softening and blossoming and LOVE has truly been my teacher every step of the way.
This practice works because a word can’t be ‘broken’, so rather than setting ourselves up for failure we’re inviting in possibility. While ‘Get fit’ feels like an instruction, ENERGISED or RADIANT encourages us to make better choices – the words empower rather than order. In this way the word acts like a mantra or meditation and its influence can filter into all aspects of your life. I always keep my word on my desktop so that whenever I open my laptop it’s there to remind me to focus my intention. When I danced with NOURISH I’d ask myself: what’s the most nourishing thing I can do right now? I learned that nourishment comes in many forms and what truly fills me up often has little to do with food. Likewise, ‘how can I embody LOVE?’ soothed a lot of frustration over the period when I moved house.
Choosing a word for inspiration and encouragement isn’t limited to the arrival of a new year. You could choose a guiding word for a new month or a project, a weekend or even a single day. By consciously setting an intention with a specific word we have a north star to guide us when challenges come along. Spending the weekend with family and expecting disagreements? Focus on PEACE and see what happens. Got a big work deadline? Write CLARITY and FOCUS on each hand to inspire you as you type. The key is selecting a word that feels like an internal YES when you say it. In fact, YES would be an amazing word to spend a year with, don’t you think?
I have been sharing my heart online for over 10 years. I write books, teach courses and share my own creative journey to inspire you on yours, because sharing our stories is how we feel less alone.
Take the quiz to find your word
Choosing a word really is as simple as considering how you want to feel, but if you need a hand I’ve devised some journal prompts to help you start your search.
• What’s definitely happening for you this year?
• What dreams are you ready to nurture?
• What qualities do you wish to develop in yourself?
• What does your heart need?
• Describe your ideal day. What are you doing? How are you feeling?
Read through your answers and circle any words that catch your eye. Jot down any extra words you’ve been considering, then explore the following:
• How does each word make you feel? Excited? Motivated? A bit nervous? Expanded?
• Which word creates a physical reaction in your body when you say it? It might be a tingle up your spine. Butterflies in your tummy. A long, satisfying exhale.
• Grab a dictionary or thesaurus to find alternative meanings and variations that speak to you.
• Which word thrills you? Conversely, which word feels like a blessed relief?
• Which word do you want to be your word? Not the word you think you should choose, but the one you really want.
Ideally you want to pick a word you’re a little bit in love with. If you’re having trouble narrowing it down – especially if the words you’ve gathered are similar in meaning – try this trick. Take two of your words and decide which is heads and which is tails. Then simply flip a coin, call heads or tails, and whichever way the coin lands is your word. Pay attention to your immediate reaction – do you feel pleased or disappointed? Your body will tell you the truth here!
Disappointment is a sure sign it’s not the right word. Work through your words in this way – changing the pairings as you go – until you land on the word that feels right. It doesn’t need to be perfect (because nothing in this world is) but it should be the one that gives you the most tingles. Try it on for size, remembering you can always choose another word when you need it.
For more help and inspiration join my free five-day course, Find Your Word, over at www.susannahconway.com/word
Susannah says: “I’m a writer, photographer and teacher. I’m also an aunt, a sister and a Londoner, three of the
best labels to have. My first book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (Skirt! Books), hit bookshelves in 2012, and I’ve also co-authored Instant Love: How to Make Magic & Memories with Polaroids (Chronicle Books). My latest book for Chronicle, Londontown: A Photographic Tour of the City’s Delights, was published in May 2016.”