The Power of One Word

Christmas is over and everyone is looking to the New Year. Have you considered your New Year’s Resolutions yet?

Every year, we engage in this ritual. We pick a single point in time each year to try and make a huge life decision, (usually with little thought or planning). We aim to change our attitudes and our behavior through a brief moment of reflection at 11:55pm on New Year’s Eve and expect that will suffice to allow us to reach our lofty goal. And yet, these poorly conceived plans and goals rarely end in positive outcomes and by mid to late January are all but forgotten.

It would seem that our three most popular goals are 1) getting fit, 2) lose weight and 3) quit smoking. Yet within a month of setting these goals, we have tossed them by the wayside, some of us with a little twang of guilt.

According to research, most people — 75 percent — who make a resolution fail on their first attempt and most people — 67 percent — make more than one resolution.

So my question to you is….Why not try something different this year?

Why not consider a single word which can represent all your goals and aspirations for 2017. Just consider one big, contextual word for the year. That’s right, no resolutions, no SMART goals, just one word that is meaningful for you and represents all that you want to achieve for the year ahead.

Last year I read “The Game Changer” by Dr Jason Fox. If you get the chance it’s a great read and fantastic for change management and motivation. Dr Fox talks about contextual momentum. This is getting the balance right between specific goals and open possibilities while still moving forward and making progress. He recognises that it is great to have small crisp action steps that give you daily and weekly traction. You can also plan for monthly and even quarterly goals, however when you start to plan longer term than that, things are not as easy and we can’t necessarily see that far out. There are too many factors we can’t yet use our crystal ball for. What we can do is set “one word”. One word against which we can measure all of the plans and goals we set for ourselves for that year.

If we are going to use the 1st January each year as a time for reflection, it certainly is a great time to hit the reset button. What do you want the coming year to represent for you. What “one word” will exemplify your contextual goal for the year? Then every time you set yourself a new goal, or a new project – you can measure it against your one word.

Now don’t go for the obvious here ok!! I know it sounds logical to pick the first word that comes into your head. But don’t do that! This takes time and reflection. Your word will be with you for a whole 12 months. Make it count. Consider: What do you want to achieve this year? Do you have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? Or is this year about consolidation and sustaining what you have? Your word has to instantly represent to you what you want and how you will achieve it.

Last year, my word was “Spirit”. It was a year of tremendous personal upheaval and I wanted a word to represent Resilience and my ability to keep going and get up even when I’d been knocked down time and time again. It was a word for me that represented survival. But this year, I wanted my word to not just be about surviving, but thriving.

It took me a few days to come up with my word.  The word I finally settled on was “Monkey”. On reviewing my Chinese Zodiac, I am born in the year of the Monkey. Interestingly though, it seems that your Zodiac year is in fact not a year of good luck for you and 2016 was the Year of the Monkey. So the next year, (the year of the Rooster), has greater opportunities.

The Monkey has many great attributes including natural curiosity, cleverness, playfulness, and they are fast learners. They are also very social animals with a high need for stimulation and are inquisitive. They also love a challenge. Monkeys also eat lots of fruit and veggies and are constantly on the move – a good goal for one of my goals of getting fitter.  So….. since I want 2017 to represent growth, increasing social interaction and networking, getting healthier, learning and adventure, the word Monkey seems to fit all my needs.

So whenever I am faced with a fork in the road or a daunting challenge, I can ask myself, “What would a Monkey do?” How can I live that Monkey curiosity, playfulness, and social life that a monkey leads? Every goal you set yourself, every challenge, every risk, you can measure against your one word.  

This is a great exercise to do with family members and work colleagues, and people you work with can be great to keep you honest. Let’s say that you set your word as “Pirate”, for the purpose of experiencing new adventures and new opportunities as your goal for the year. Colleagues can ask you at critical moments, “Is that what a pirate would do?” Or what about the word “Nike” – everything you are challenged by consider…. “Just do it”. The options are endless. The only rule is you need to measure what you want your next year to represent against your one word. It will be individual for everyone.

So…… Now it’s your turn. What will your “one word” be? What will your one word be that you measure all goals against for 2017? Have a go. Think about it carefully. Once you have it, toss it around in your head for a day or so and make sure it fits you like a good pair of jeans. Then use a whole A4 page and print out your word and put it on the fridge. Now you’re ready. Go for it. Achieve everything your word represents.


Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited mental toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their mental toughness to improve performance, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or