I enjoyed hearing from some of you regarding your insights and lessons from 2017. It’s definitely not necessary to answer a lot of questions in order to come to these understandings, but I wanted to provide resources for those who feel they benefit from structured introspection. I find that it often helps me to have questions to ponder, although I agree that taking on the task of answering fifty questions can be overwhelming!
Today’s post is all about yearly themes, having a word or phrase that directs our focus and our growth for a given year. I highlight a few resources to help you select your word, if you have not yet done so but would like to. I also debrief how I fared with my 2017 theme, “peace,” and share the word I have chosen for 2018 and why.
Why Select a Word/Theme for the Year?
I started selecting yearly themes back in 2014 during the second year of “Recovering Shopaholic.” Prior to that, I always wrote a long “laundry list” of goals I wanted to accomplish over the course of the year, many of which remained undone by the time December rolled around. While I still believe that goals can be powerful and effective, I no longer write a lengthy list of them each January. Instead, I select a word (well, I actually chose two words the first year, which I don’t recommend…) that encapsulates either the key aspect of my life I want to work on that year or the primary feeling I want to create in my emotional experience.
Although you can certainly choose your word without any guidance, here are a few articles – and one free five-day e-course – that walk you through the process step by step:
- “My One Word: Change Your Life with Just One Word” (Oneword.org)
- “Tips for Choosing Your Word of the Year” (Mountain Modern Life)
- “Choosing a Word to Define & Guide Your Year – 2018 Edition” (A Pair & a Spare)
- “Find Your Word for 2018: 5-Day Course” (Susannah Conway)
I did follow such processes in previous years, but this year I kept it simple. I jotted down potential words as they came to mind and then sat with them for a few days. Then, as I listened to a podcast in which a synonym for one of these words was mentioned, I instantly knew the right word for me. More on that below… but first I want to debrief how things went with my 2017 word.
Striving for Peace in 2017
I didn’t have to give my 2017 word much consideration at all. After focusing on balance during 2016 and feeling a lot of overwhelm over the course of the year, all I really wanted last year was some peace, so “peace” became my 2017 touchstone. As I wrote about in this post (originally published on “Recovering Shopaholic”), I had grown weary of being a relentless taskmaster toward myself, always trying to please others, and constantly worrying about keeping up. I wanted to get more in touch with my feelings, desires, and limitations, and start honoring them more.
I took a lot of steps back last year. I stopped blogging for the bulk of the year, I turned the Facebook group I created over to new leadership, and I discontinued the contract writing work I had been doing for a local marketing firm. I focused increasingly less on achievement and the million and one things I needed and wanted to do. In all honesty, I did much less last year than I did in previous years. While it would be nice to be all Zen about my reasons for doing so and say that it was all in service of my “peace” goal, that really wasn’t the case. In truth, I was broken in body, mind, and spirit. My health had considerably declined in recent years and that was compounded by going through menopause. I had also majorly depleted myself by putting other people first and doing things I thought I should do rather than what was best for me.
I didn’t get a whole lot accomplished during 2017, but I did regain some of my energy, brain power, and creativity. Although I’m still struggling with the same array of health challenges that have plagued me for years, I started to prioritize my wellness over other things and I continue to do so. I can only hope that this will eventually be a game-changer in terms of my health. Because I have backed off on some of the activities and people that didn’t serve me, I now feel that I have a lot more to give and that there is more space for new relationships and opportunities to come into my life. I was inspired to start this blog and do it in a way that resonates with who I am and my individual strengths and limitations. I enjoy expressing myself in writing, exploring themes that matter to me, and connecting with like-minded individuals, and I feel this will be a good venue for me to do all of these things.
Peace Will Remain at the Forefront
Do I feel as peaceful as I’d hoped I would feel at the close of 2017? In truth, the answer is no. I still have a lot of internal demons that impinge upon my serenity. I still feel the inner push to do more and more and tick off a multitude of items on a never-ending to-do list. However, what I feel I’ve created by putting peace at the forefront last year is a “clearing” of sorts. I began to honor myself more and push back on the expectations that others – and myself – had towards me. I chose to spend time with my husband more often and be on my computer less. I broke my smartphone addiction and loosened the grip that social media used to have on me. I spend less time engaged with people who aren’t a positive influence on me, both in person and online. Sometimes I miss some of the frequent online interactions I used to have, but I have gotten in touch with my limitations and am doing better at honoring them. I’m trying my best not to compare myself to others who seem not to struggle with overwhelm as much as I do, as I know that we all have different constitutions, thresholds, and needs for downtime.
Although I have elected to choose a new word for 2018, “peace” will remain a desired feeling state for me this year and always. Each time I recognize the inner nudge that something isn’t right and decide to change gears to a path of more internal congruence, I gain a bit more peace. Each time I honor my body’s need for rest and quiet and my spirit’s need to unplug from the world and commune with nature, still more peace comes my way. Bit by bit, peace will become more of a constant in my life, as it can for all of us. It will never be an uninterrupted state, but it can be a guiding force rather than an elusive target, as it was for me for many years.
This Year’s Word, “Essential”
As I mentioned above, when I was coming around to selecting my word for 2018, I made note of several possibilities. One of these was “priorities,” as I had become increasingly aware of my inability to do as much as I was continually pushing myself to do. I wanted to set better priorities in all of the key areas of my life, including health, relationships, projects, and finances. However, that word just didn’t feel quite right to me, so I held off on choosing it as my guide for the year. Not long afterwards, as I was listening to an episode of “The Minimalists” podcast (a favorite of mine) that included a discussion of what’s essential and what’s non-essential, I had a “lightbulb moment” and knew that “essential” would be my word for 2018.
In order to live a more happy, peaceful, and fulfilling life (the tagline for this blog), it’s necessary to make choices. I realize that I can’t do it all and that trying to do so only leads to my feeling frustrated and unsuccessful. When I start my day or week with a to-do list a mile long, I’m setting myself up for failure. When I try to be all things to all people, I can’t win and end up feeling like I have let others down. When I burn the candle at both ends, I feel worse and I burn out. We all do, although some can keep going and do a lot more than I can. I’m tired of beating myself up for who I am and for the fact that I can’t do as much as other people can. I need to face the truth of my limitations and make the most of what I can do. I need to focus on the positive and look at what I actually can and do accomplish rather than the ways in which I am lacking.
Asking the Hard Questions
In choosing “essential” as my word for 2018, I’m going to ask some hard questions. I’m going to prioritize quality over quantity in all areas of my life. I’m going to pare back to that which truly matters and let go of anything that doesn’t add value to my life. Last fall, my husband and I did a full “KonMari” of our entire home and we let go of many, many possessions that were no longer bringing us joy. I felt a tremendous release as we unburdened ourselves from layers of “stuff,” but the stuff is only one part of the equation. Most of us are additionally weighed down by a lot of mental and emotional “clutter” that also needs to be cleared out of the way.
This year, I will write about the different types of clutter we may all be wrestling with and how to both discern what’s essential and peel away the excess in order to get there. Although I’m not entirely sure of all of the areas I will address, I know I will touch upon time management, relationships, digital clutter, and emotional baggage. And yes, I will continue to write about wardrobe issues from time to time, as I certainly don’t have it all figured out in that department, either. My closet is still fuller than I would ultimately like it to be and I’ve realized that having too much variety often brings more stress than joy.
I feel very positive about my choice of “essential” as my theme for this year. In order to keep it top of mind, I have affixed labels with “Essential?” on my computer, tablet, phone, and credit card, as shown below:
This will hopefully push me to ask myself if what I’m about to do or buy is truly necessary. These reminders have already stopped me from making superfluous purchases and from spending excessive time mindlessly surfing the internet. Of course, I haven’t been perfect in these regards, nor do I expect myself to me. However, my hope is that as time goes by and I keep asking myself whether or not something is essential, I will choose more wisely and pare down the excess more and more.
I will be writing more about “essential” as the year progresses, but now I’d like to hear from you. Here are a few questions to spark your thoughts, but feel free to chime in with whatever you’d like to say regarding the topics of this post.
- If you selected a word for 2017, how did it impact your life? What changes did you make as a result of that theme?
- What is your word for 2018 and why did you select it?
- What do you see as the advantages of selecting a word for the year over making a list of goals?
- What changes do you want to make in your life this year and why?
I look forward to reading what you have to say on these topics and more! I have lots of ideas for future posts and although I’m not sure what I will write about next and what exactly I want this blog to be, I’m glad to be back to blogging. If you have ideas for topics you’d like me to write about, please let me know. I can’t guarantee that I will take all of your suggestions on, but I will definitely consider them. Thank you for reading and I appreciate your support.
17 thoughts on “Striving for Peace and Recognizing What’s Essential”
Oh Debbie. Menopause is a cruel bitch. It’s a time to be really kind to yourself, because it seems like everything changes. Your post says to me that you’re off to a good start. Hugs!
I too am having a really hard time with menopause. The insomnia, anxiety and depression are very tough to deal with. I’m hoping it will let up in the next few years and I will someday feel peaceful inside. I also have a dog with serious health issues which has been creating a lot of stress in my life. Stress for me equals too much shopping. Needless to say my shopping is not under control. I am keeping a spending diary but it’s not helping much. I am also going to yoga classes daily, which helps for the hour a day I am there, but overall, I am still not feeling good. But my word for the year is love, so out of love and compassion for myself, I am not beating myself up about the shopping. The bills are getting paid and I have no debts. Just taking things one hour at a time.
I’m so sorry about your dog, health and the ensuing stress, Tara C. Pet caregiver burnout is definitely a thing. Hugs and love from a supportive internet stranger if it helps.
ps. – Reading some of the old posts/comments, I noticed your previous word “douceur”. It caught my attention because my grandmother on the french side used to say to us kids, “doucement, doucement,” when she wanted us to be gentle with something delicate (like her kitty 🙂 ) I feel like that’s an appropriate sentiment here…
Thank you Claire! I do appreciate your moral support. I am still practicing douceur with myself, being gentle. Beating ourselves up when we’re already struggling is not helpful.
HI Debbie I’ve only just found your blog recently and am enjoying it immensly. You write about all the stuff I think about and never get around to doing much about, but what I need to hear. I am on the other side of menopause, and suffered a lot and to a certain extent its not over yet! My word for this year is Gentle. I am so hard on myself and tend to beat myself up if I dont think I am not doing enough/not doing it right etc etc you all know the drill! So this year I am going to try and lessen that stress on myself and try and tread a little gentler. In the meantime I am also trying to tame my closet/wardrobe with a tiny bit of success but it is soooo hard. But thats all part of the learning process and being gentle too. a little bit at a time without setting up too many goals and stress that inevitable follows. Anyway, am enjoying your blog, and hugs also to you for this year and hopefully we can all learn from each other, and support one another too!
While reading this post it struck me that this way of going about it makes more sense. When you were writing your other blog I think you were trying to make changes according to how you thought you should be. Now you’re changing your circumstances to align with who you are. That sounds a lot more peaceful. 🙂
My word is alter. The definition is” change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way”. So far this has been working well for me. I’m notorious for trying to make huge changes, feeling overwhelmed, and giving up. I feel like I’m making some headway focusing on small changes that will bring me closer to my end goal.
My word is lightness (légèreté in French) : I would like to be as light and joyfull as a butterfly, a dragonfly or a bubble. Sometimes I feel that way, and i’s so good that I want to be always like this ! I wish you all some lightness too. It doesn’t mean I don’t think at all or that I am not conscious about the world we live in…Take care Debbie ! Friendly, Martine
I am glad that you are writing again. Looking forward to the new direction and love your word for this year.
Debbie, what a cool word you’ve chosen for 2018! I love it. It really jumped out at me when I read it, like, i had a visceral response to it… which is actually a nice segue into telling you my theme for the year – some variation of intuitive… intuitiveness, intuition, intuitively – you get the idea. All of that. As a bonus, my husband is interested in that theme for himself too, so that’s a whole nother aspect we can explore together, living intuitively as a couple as well as individually. So yay.
The cultural imperative to make goals/resolutions at this time of year can unfortunately go off the rails and make people feel guilty and crack the whip on themselves and others, especially if the society (like ours) is obsessed with achievement. I mean sure, flexible goals can be fine and help us focus. But locking future you into something that might not even be relevant in a week, a month, a year? It just seems unnecessarily stressful and counterproductive. Definitely not intuitive, and not for me! 🙂
I love to see so many of you commenting here – it’s nice to see familiar names, as well as a few new ones, too! I’m also very happy to see you interact with each others, as I so want this blog to be a place of connection and a peaceful oasis for all of us.
Susan – thank you for the vote of confidence regarding my dealing with life changes due to menopause. I agree that it’s a cruel bitch and it packs more changes than I would have anticipated.
Tara – I’m sorry you are dealing with some of the same challenges as I am with menopause. I hope we will both get some relief and peace sometime soon. And I’m also so sorry about your dog’s health issues. I know how stressful it can be when one of our beloved pets is sick and how it can lead to increased shopping. That was one of the reasons 2012 – the year before I started “Recovering Shopaholic” – was so hard for me. It sounds like you are taking some great steps to help yourself and I think your word for the year is wonderful. I’m glad you’re not beating yourself up and are striving for more self-compassion.
Krissie – Welcome and thank you for sharing about yourself. I love your 2018 word and can so relate to your being hard on yourself. I am very much the same way and it’s incredibly draining. Yes, we need to be gentle with ourselves when we are making changes, including when we’re trying to tame our closets. I continue to work on that as well! Best wishes to you for more gentleness this year!
Tonya – Great observations, as always! Yes, I needed the blogging break to reset and starting this new blog is helping me to do things more in a way that works for me. I love your word for the year and I am going to blog about something very similar probably next week. As has often been the case, we are on a similar path! I have found that smaller changes work better for me, too, and are also more lasting.
Martine – I breathed a happy sigh when I read your word for the year, although I don’t know if I can pronounce it properly in French! I wish lightness for you and for all of us! I love the idea of being as light and joyful as a butterfly, dragonfly, or bubble.
Judith – Thank you for your kind words and wishes!
Claire – Intuitive is a wonderful word for you and how great that it is in sync with your husband, too! It’s always nice when we are on the same page as our significant others (by the way, my husband’s word for this year is “focus,” which is in line with my word because I am focusing in on what is essential). I agree with you about goals and the over-focus on achievement in our society. Sometimes I think we are more “human doings” than human beings, but I want to step back a bit this year and just be more often.
My word last year, persistent, now feels like a comfortable sweater. I think it helped me remember to not look at the big picture, but to concentrate on small steps. This led to trust that the big things would be done if the small steps kept happening without feeling overwhelmed.
You know what? Knowing and respecting your own limitations is a great, great thing. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do and even more difficult to persist with, so I admire you for that. It’s something that I’ve dealt with too. I know who and what I am and I know who and what I’m not and I’ve learnt to love and respect myself for it. There are bad days of course, but I’ve learnt that if there are more good days than bad then that’s what matters. I, too, had to have a reset over the past year; I went back to uni this past semester and although there were plenty of bad days and frustrating times, I’m much more at peace with uni as a whole than I was almost two years ago now. And even if there are lots of times where I still feel useless and that I can’t do as much as other people (I really, honestly can’t…I have all types of proof, really) I remind myself of how far I’ve come, how much more open I am about expressing my emotions, how I’m actually willing to feel bad emotions now rather than squashing all of them down.
The idea of having a “word” for the year makes me extremely anxious, so I don’t do that (I thought clicking on the pages recommended would help with that…no it didn’t! Just made it worse. Did it for the curiosity, though, so it was worth a shot). I am more than excited, though, to read your thoughts on issues such as time management (although that will be very confronting for me because I want to do everything really thoroughly, I get overwhelmed easily, take a long time to understand things and am too hard on myself), relationships (whether it’s familial, romantic, friendships or otherwise) and digital clutter. I’m the type of person who has 20 internet tabs open pretty much at all times, and because of that I’ll rush through the content and not actually enjoy it. I’m finding that it’s the same with food and overeating/eating too quickly/food addiction. Food and internet, are my main vices, really. Especially because I’m impatient with poor impulse control. I’m trying to work on the symptoms, but I’m also trying to get to the bottom of the underlying emotional issues because I know that I’m at high risk of transferring addictions to something else if I don’t. But I never know if I’ve gone deep enough into my psyche to “fully heal” myself. Maybe I never will, and maybe it’s not really possible, because life and circumstances always change, so even if you were to “fully heal” yourself, that state won’t last long (let alone forever. And who would want it to be forever? That implies that you’re immortal, which is just awful for way too many reasons. Anyway, back to non-tangenty stuff).
So I don’t have a word for the year, and I probably never will (if anyone asks why not, well, it’s the whole love and respect your own limits thing, isn’t it?). Apart from the stress of having to choose that one perfect word, having to stick to it and think about it all the time doesn’t allow for the dynamic free-flow of life and for potential change in direction in thinking as new ideas and ways of thinking come in due to these life experiences.
Of course, making goals are even worse. And screw to do lists. Seriously. One deviation from a to-do list is enough for me to not be able to do anything for days or even weeks if I’m unlucky/overwhelmed/demotivated enough. And I become that way directly because of to do lists (especially if they’re time sensitive), which is the exact opposite of what they’re for! It took me a second run in therapy to really feel comfortable to say no to do lists and daily timetabled plans, though. So yeah, more of that knowing and respecting your own limits thing.
As for changes I want to make this year…I guess taking things easier? Going slower? Allowing myself time to enjoy things more? Taking my time? I don’t know. To be honest, I really just don’t want to think about it right now. That’s both good and bad of course, but we’ll have to see how the year shapes up to be first.
Sorry for all 700 words of my rambling, but it’s nice to see you blogging again.
Vivien, It’s nice to see you commenting here and I appreciate your honest sharing. No need to apologize for long comments, as we all benefit from each other’s sharing! I wish I could give you a hug, but I will tell you that I related to so much of what you wrote. I think it’s important for us to try to only compare ourselves to ourselves and not to other people, as that is just a recipe for self-recrimination. We can only do what we can do and knowing our limitations can help us to get along better in life overall. I think it’s great that you know yourself well enough to realize that choosing one word for the year is not for you. From what you wrote, it sounds like taking things easier and slower and trying to enjoy things more would be good intentions (a word I like better than “goals”) for you. I struggle with to-do lists, too, but I still make them. I’m trying to only designate a maximum of three items for each day, but I don’t always do that. We have to take it all day by day and make changes as we go along. My hope is that both you and I (and many others here) can learn to be kinder to ourselves over the course of 2018. xo
I love words, so I am attracted to the idea of choosing a theme word for the year. However, I had the hardest time finding one that I felt truly represented my intention. I am in transition. My kids are almost grown and flown, my health is in flux, and I have more time than ever before to concentrate on developing a full life. “Bloom/blossom” was almost right, but a little too flowery for my personality. “Grow” was too New Agey, “expand” was too corporate. I had the image in my mind of a time-lapse film of a butterfly leaving the chrysalis. That process is “eclosion.” There’s my word. Not metamorphosis, as I am not completely changing who I am. Rather, I am coming out of my shell, my chosen isolation, to experience the world in a different way. It fits.
What a creative and wonderful word, Terry, and it sounds like it’s the perfect one for you. I love the way you put so much thought into finding the right word and I love the way you described what “eclosion” means to you. It seems we have some things in common and some similar goals as well. Best wishes on coming out of your shell this year!
I really love the idea of sticking one’s word for the year to things that might distract one from that word – smartphone, credit card etc. That seems such a good tip, thank you for the suggestion, Debbie.
You’re very welcome, Sarah! It has definitely helped me to be more mindful. I also have “essential?” on my primary credit card, which is helping me to pause a bit before buying things. Sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed when I hand over the card, but no one has asked about it thus far. If anyone does, I will just tell them the truth. Who knows? It might be helpful for them, too.
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