(Note: This post originally appeared on December 31, 2017, under the title “Word of the Year”. An afterword follows this re-posting.)
I stopped making New Year’s resolutions well over a decade ago. I saw no point in setting myself up for certain failure; it was simply depressing, and merely reinforced my bad opinion of myself. (I feel the same way about goals. Goals are something I set just to prove to myself that I am a failure. I don’t set goals anymore, either.)
For a long time prior to that decision, I’d followed Robert Fulghum’s sterling advice: On New Year’s day, I sat down and wrote a list of every good thing I’d done in the previous year, backdated it, and called it my resolutions. This was eminently satisfying for a number of years, even though I knew I was sort of missing the whole “resolution thing” point.
So, casting about for some way to set myself some type of goal-yet-not-a-goal, I was struck by an idea: I could still forego a resolution, yet choose something—some character-building, life changing something, to focus on during the coming year. Not a goal, I decided; a focus. With that in mind, what if I chose just one word, one meaningful word, and attempted to concentrate on it throughout the coming year? Not to accomplish it—simply keep it at the forefront of my mind, and make it active in my life. One word was so little. Surely I could do that much.
I liked the concept. One word, one focus, seemed like a challenge I could meet. The trick, I realized, would be finding a way to make myself remember to focus on that word— to keep adding it to my life. (Well, that, and picking my word in the first place.)
Amazingly, having come up with the concept, I found that my answers came easily. I’d recently discovered that a lack of assertiveness had caused me a number of problems; assertiveness, then, seemed like a very good first focus word. But how to keep it at the forefront of my mind? How not to forget, not just the word itself, but the need to concentrate upon my focus word? Ha! That was going to be the real challenge of my not-resolution.
During that first year, I found that tricking myself into remembering my focus word was the best way to go. I took post-its and scraps of note paper and proceeded to hide them throughout my home in places where I knew I would not find them to easily, yet was sure to look. Since I wasn’t about to turn the heavy mattress on the bed more than once a year, one of the notes emblazoned with “My Focus This Year Is Assertiveness” was pushed into the thin hollow between the mattress and box springs. Another went under the couch cushions—I had been known, from time to time, to actually lift them up and vacuum beneath them (or at least search for loose change). And, yes, one note, slipped into a plastic bag, went into the bottom of the vegetable bin in the frig!
And, amazingly, it worked. I came across those notes again and again throughout that first year and was forced to remember that I was supposed to be keeping my attention on becoming more assertive. And while I cannot now say that it changed my life, I can say with certainty that it made a difference. By the end of the year, I knew that I still had a very long way to go on learning to be assertive, but I was no longer quite the wimp I’d been twelve months earlier, either.
I’ve used many Focus Words in the intervening years, and I’ve learned to choose them carefully. The Universe, I’ve discovered, will cooperate with me—oh, yes, will it ever! Choose Peace as a focus word, and every possible non-peaceful situation imaginable will be tossed at me like errant baseballs. And, for the love of heaven, never, ever, choose Patience !
But, defiant in the face of overreaching myself, the focus word I chose for 2017 was Magnificent.
And it was.
Afterword: In 2018, the Word I chose was “Kindness”. I learned, quite amazingly, that kindness is not just something we extend to others, but also that we must, humbly and with gratitude, receive. It is also something we must extend to ourselves. I learned, too, that though I may behave in a kindly manner to another, requiring of myself that I treat them with courtesy and consideration, I’m often shamed to admit that true kindness from within my heart is absent. I will carry this knowledge with me into another year, and hope to create and extend more true loving kindness to all.
I’d love to have you share in the Comments what you choose as your Word of the Year for the upcoming change of the calendar.