Each year since 2012, I have practiced a ritual of choosing three words as a core guiding structure for my year. I first learned about this ritual from author Chris Brogan, who has influenced thousands of other people to join in this practice.
What is My Three Words About?
The idea behind My Three Words is simple: you choose three words as a frame for your year. Any three words that resonate with you.
These are not a replacement for your goals or outcomes. Nor are they necessarily meant to represent your core values — although they could.
My Three Words are the guideposts that keep me on track to my destination.
As I go through the year, I use My Three Words serve as a filter to keep out distractions, and as a checkpoint to keep me aligned when I’m choosing where to invest my energy and time.
One reason I love this ritual is that I believe in the power of words and language. Words are the vehicles of creation. We can use words to inflict great damage or to heal.
Why not leverage this power to create a structure that will hold you throughout your year?
Some Examples: My Previous Words
To give you some examples, here’s a history of my three words from previous years:
2012: Empowerment. Relationships. Energy.
2013: Bravery. Consciousness. Action.
2014: Rituals. Relationships. Roar.
2015: Trust. Presence. Deep.
2016: Voice. Energy. Grace.
2017: Release. Open. Trust.
2018: Experiment. Engage. Enjoy.
How to Choose Your Words
Like Chris, I’ve found that when I have loaded my words with too many layers, they haven’t been as effective for me. For example, in 2014, I had so many layers to “relationships” that it simply couldn’t deliver on all of them.
Simple words tend to be most effective.
The past two years, I intentionally chose action words. I really liked how that kept me in motion when I might otherwise have been stuck.
Some years, I go through my entire visioning process and planning before choosing the words. I’ve written lists upon lists of words in search of the right one. I’ve done mindmaps of my key outcomes and scoured them for common themes. I’ve selected words that are a broader representation of my outcomes.
Other years, the words come first, and everything else flows from there.
As I’m selecting my words, I like to say the words aloud to myself to hear how they sound together. Even when we read, we use the part of our brain that processes sound. The words need to sound good to me as I read them and hear them.
I listen for cadence and rhythm. It’s a little like writing poetry. Some years, I’ve locked in on two words and spent weeks trying to find the third word.
Another factor for me is that I like the words to work together as a cohesive unit, without overlapping too much. You get only three words; it seems silly to duplicate.
Because I’m a word geek, I always look up the meanings and etymology of my words, even if I already know what they mean. Sometimes I find surprises.
All that said, there’s no ONE way to do this. What’s most important is to find words that resonate with you. You do you.
What I Do With My Three Words
It should go without saying that the words can only work for you if you keep them in front of you. I view this ritual as the start of a relationship that I am creating with my words. Throughout the year I stay engaged with my words to deepen that relationship.
Some people put them on a post-it note on the bathroom mirror.
I put My Three Words in my journal, and at the top of my master mindmap that I create for the year. I add it to my vision altar and vision boards that I create throughout the year. When I had a permanent desk, I kept them on the white board above my desk. I create screensavers with them.
My 2016 words were so powerful for me that I had them engraved onto the back of my iPad.
I also say my words as a mantra. I take them for a walk and to my workouts. I meditate with them.
I live the words.
How the Words Live On Within Me
Although I choose words for a year, some of the words have evolved into daily practices or have become fully embedded into my way of being.
I’m constantly working on building trust, maintaining presence, releasing, and opening. Developing my voice did not end with 2016; it’s an ongoing process. Experiment is a key mindset piece for me even as I move beyond 2018’s words.
Other words from past years have become central parts of my work. In 2014, when I was only a few months into one of my early daily rituals, I chose Rituals as one of my words. Now, the concept of creating rituals as a way to drive behavior change is a cornerstone of my work.
You never know where the words will take you.
Saying Goodbye to Last Year’s Words
It’s always bittersweet when it comes time to declare my new words, because it means letting go of the previous year’s words. As I’ve written recently, this is part of the process of transition: letting go of what was to create space for what is emerging.
Before adopting my new words, I spend time reflecting on and releasing last year’s words.
The past few years I have chosen words that represent ways of being that I want to further cultivate within myself. In this way, my intention is that the words continue to live on within me as I move on to the next year.
And so it is with My Three Words for 2018. Experiment, Engage, and Enjoy served me well. They helped me publish to my blog for 365 days. They guided me to take a stand-up comedy class and pursue a new creative outlet. They helped me embrace the impermanence and find joy in rough year of darkness and uncertainty.
I honor those words for how they served me. The core essence of them will continue to live within me.
As for what’s next … tune in tomorrow for the reveal.