One Word to Spark Inspiration and Create Intention for the New Year

One word to spark intention

Before we get into the idea of picking one word for the new year, take a moment to think back to last January. What were you resolving to accomplish over the year? Maybe you wanted to join a gym, put more money into your savings, or spend more time with loved ones. Regardless of your resolution, if you are in the 41% of Americans who usually make a New Year’s Resolution, chances are you are also part of the 92% of Americans who fail to achieve their New Year’s goals. Well, isn’t that discouraging!

As we adjust into the new year, you could aim to be more specific, more general, more thoughtful, or more organized when crafting your resolutions. But to be honest, you’re going to need more than that to make it through the year! Only 58% of resolutions make it into February. It may be time to try something new to help you meet your goals. May we present the idea of one word.

What it is:

Based on the books, One Word that will Change your Life and My One Word, the idea of choosing one word as your New Year’s resolution brings simplicity and focus to the upcoming year. Distractions are minimized and all aspects of your life can contribute to your word, influencing real change through a variety of activities and paths.

How to do it:

The books outline the process in which you choose your word in three steps:

  1.      Determine the kind of person you want to become
  2.      Identify the characteristics of that person
  3.      Discover and pick your word

While this process may seem easy and direct, it takes time and reflection to find the best word. Put some soul into it!

Why you should try “One Word:”

DMV photographer Mary Kate Battles has been using this method for several years. “New Year’s resolutions never worked for me. Life just always got in the way. I keep my word on my computer, phone, and mirror so I am always reminded of what I can to focus on and set my intentions for the day.” Amy Benton, Director of Community Development, has also found success using this method stating, “Having just one word that you focus your intentions around for me is a little simpler to work with.”

Julie Gaver, author, trainer, speaker and self-proclaimed “lover of one word,” admits that her first year wasn’t successful but she found a way to support the word discovery process that is working. “I can’t even remember what my word was the first year (probably why it wasn’t effective for me). I had read the book, but didn’t feel adequately prepared to fully utilize the technique. In year two, I tried again but this time, in conjunction with a planning and goal setting program. I was more prepared and ultimately, successful.”

“One Word” examples:

Selected words can run the gamut from trust to intentional or enough to persevere. “My words have included less, present, self-care, and content. The year I chose “present” I focused on what was in front of me and tried not to worry about the future or the past,” Battles shared. 

Gaver has found her last two words to be influential during transition in her life. “In 2016 my word was “purge”. My in-laws had passed and we faced the arduous task of purging and organizing their belongings in preparation for two estate sales. In addition, I had begun the task of clearing 37 years of “stuff” from our own home so we could downsize in preparation for our move.  Furthermore, purge represented my need for purging negative and stressful people and situations from my life.”


If you are intrigued by this technique, spend a few days in reflection before picking your word. (Consider munching on some “mood foods” while you’re at it!) Grab the book (designed to be read in only 44 minutes) and begin the journey! You may find it a better process for you than typical New Year’s resolutions. However, remember to be patient. If your word doesn’t come to you right away, it will. You can’t force it. Battles agrees, sharing, “Don’t pick a word just because it’s the first thing that comes to you or is a new buzz word. Really think about it and decide what you want your year to look like.” 

ashley waters
Ashley Waters
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Dr. Ashley Waters is a wife, mom, higher education administrator, event planner, community volunteer and an avid organizer. She loves being busy with a purpose and making an impact with her work and within her local Frederick, Maryland community. Ashley aims to help others fit their passions into their lives and continues to work on achieving just the right work-life balance for her many roles. She is the executive director of Woman to Woman Mentoring, a nonprofit organization that cultivates mentoring relationships that provide women with guidance, support and community connections.

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3 thoughts on “One Word to Spark Inspiration and Create Intention for the New Year

  1. Carol deLaski says:

    Great article, Ashley! This will be my 6th year using the One Word process and it continues to excite me. It has taught me sometimes surprising lessons that I doubt I would have learned any other way. I love using this tool individually and also within the Wholistic Woman Retreat community. We find it to be a great conversation starter, as well as a way to ‘check-in’ with one another throughout the year. Sharing our words allows us to be a ‘stretch team’ (as the book calls it) to discuss and encourage each other, especially if the lessons become hard and uncomfortable. So, in the spirit of sharing, my words have been Believe, Found, Hear, Ask, Joy and now Beloved! I wonder what we will learn this year from our words!

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