How to Choose a Focus Word

January 9, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We have crossed the threshold to a new year. Many people like to mark the new year’s beginning by setting resolutions. Others set intentions. Perhaps there’s less guilt in breaking an intention than the more rigid-sounding resolution? Either way, I’ve tried both. Neither of them had any bearing on how I went through my year.

A couple of years ago, I listened to a podcast in which a woman shared her focus word for the year. A focus word expresses a concept or belief that you want to experience, learn more about, demonstrate in your life, or perhaps even reconcile in some way for yourself. It can be a theme used to create life structure. Or maybe the word can help you make decisions that will keep you on track to reach your goals. Perhaps it’s a concept in which you recognize yourself engaging in some aspects of your life but not in others. It’s a reflective word that generates learning all year long. You can check in with yourself at various points of the year to see what you have/have not integrated by exploring your word’s essence. By the end of the year, you’ll know a lot more about that word and how it works for you within your life.

I loved the idea of a focus word! Having a word to guide your choices and experiences over a whole year seemed like a great idea. So, I chose a word. And then another. And then, I couldn’t remember the first word I chose! That year went by without a word. So did the next one, mostly because I didn’t think I needed one going into 2020. There was so much hope and excitement. As I neared the end of my 2020 experience, I knew I had learned a lot about myself, as about everyone could attest for themselves. But the learning was unhinged and reactive. Knowing that the challenges presented in 2020 would not simply expire on January 1st, I decided that I wanted to be more intentional with my growth over the coming new year. And so, I revisited the idea of choosing a focus word. And I vowed to write it down this time.

How does one choose a focus word for an entire year? One way is to brainstorm a list of inspiring words or words that reflect issues with which you are currently grappling. My suggestion would be to choose words that are empowering and inspiring. For instance, if you are experiencing uncertainty in your life, I wouldn’t select uncertainty for your word as you may attract more uncertainty. Instead, try a word that represents the opposite, like stability. Once you feel finished with your list, read through the words, and pay attention to how your body responds. Some words might not produce any feeling for you, in which case, those are not your words. Put stars next to the words that give you a sense of excitement or produce a jolt within your body. Read through your starred list and pay attention to which one makes you feel the strongest reaction. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How well does this word apply to various aspects of my life?
  • What do I already know about this word?
  • How much do I think I have to learn about this year?
  • How excited do I feel about experiencing more of this word this year?

After answering the questions, notice how you feel. If you are still uplifted and engaged with this word, that’s the one! Once you have your word, write it down someplace where you can see it daily. You might consider posting your word in several places throughout your house. Repeatedly seeing your word might be the way to keep it alive and present for you over 12 months.

Another way to come up with a focus word is to meditate on it. Meditation can take many forms: walking, sitting, showering, journal writing, etc. It doesn’t matter what the method is that you use. Just get into a headspace of allowing ideas and words to come to you. As words arise in your consciousness, notice how your body responds. Are certain words uplifting and engaging? If a word generates a strong feeling response, ask the same questions posed above.

So, what is MY word for 2021? I was walking outside when I invited words to come to mind. When the word FREEDOM entered my awareness, my body felt electrified. I ran the word through the questions and knew without a doubt that this was my word. I also realized how hilarious my word choice was. I am currently in the editing phase for my book, The Book of STUCK. As the title implies, this book is all about what makes us STUCK and how we can get unSTUCK in any aspect of life. What else is freedom but the opposite of feeling STUCK?! Also, we’re still in a pandemic. We still aren’t wholly FREE to go out and do things in public as we might want. No WONDER I’m craving a bit of freedom this year!

There are a couple of ways I plan to honor my focus word in very intentional ways. The first is through a vision board, shown below.

Vision Board

My 2021 Vision Board

The word freedom is featured quite prominently in the middle. I saved my vision board’s image to my desktop, so I have to see it upon opening my computer every day. It is also hung next to my meditation mat. I also plan to discuss my adventures with my focus word each week through Facebook Live videos. In my videos, I’ll share the challenges, triumphs, discoveries, and anything else that comes up for me related to this word with anyone who wants to watch. By sharing aspects of what I learn about FREEDOM, I hope that my journey will help others! If you are feeling STUCK in your life, perhaps learning about different topics related to freedom will instigate mindset shifts. More often than not, it’s our mindset that keeps us STUCK, not the external circumstances!

Whatever your New Year’s traditions are, I hope they serve you in supportive and healthy ways. May it be a great year, no matter what happens!

Tess Miller is a Personal Coach and Music Practitioner. She journeys with people who are navigating STUCK places in their lives by helping them develop self-awareness, self-care, and self-love.

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Scott Harding
Scott Harding
3 months ago

Very good, thoughtful writing! Thank you for sharing.



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