Opinion For a change this New Year, try the 'One Word Resolution'

Resilience coach Siobhán Murray says it’s time to forget the overwhelming and unreachable resolutions and to instead focus on one key word for 2021.

DID YOU KNOW that around 70% of people who set New Year Resolutions fall back into their old habits by the end of January?

One of the reasons is simply the resolution is just too vague, or the goal is too ambitious without any clear strategies to get support you in getting there.

We can probably all identify with that deflated, flat feeling you reach by Spring every year, when you realise you’re still eating the chocolate, have not done that couch to 5K and are still in the same job and on the same salary, with no real plans in place.

shutterstock_1858877149 Shutterstock / sofirinaja Shutterstock / sofirinaja / sofirinaja

The problem with grandiose New Years resolutions is they don’t take into account the fact that it’s Winter, the days are short, it’s cold, many of us are exhausted from Christmas and are tired bodies are crying out for some hibernation.

When you think of it, it’s almost cruel to place all this undue pressure on ourselves at this time of the year. The pressure, therefore, brought about by the resolutions takes from the joy of doing them. 

With the year that we’ve all just experienced, you may have let your self-care and self-kindness slip through your fingers. The reality is that no matter what your situation, 2020 has been a year of uncertainty, remote working, lack of social contacts, worry, loss and grief.

Unprecedented  levels of worry

A lot of us this year have spent more time worrying about others than minding ourselves. With that in mind, there may be a feeling of ‘in January I’ll do………’ like ‘in January I’ll start my diet, give up drinking, start running/gym/cycling, or something else that adds stress to an already stressful situation.

The period from the end of 2020 and into 2021 is not the time to be adding pressure and stress to your life.

What if instead of setting resolutions, you choose a word that you could use as your resolution? Two years ago I decided on a ONE WORD plan to provide more direction and clarity in what I do. 

It’s based on a book by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page ‘One Word That Will Change Your Life’.

By choosing ONE WORD as your resolution, rather than an event, you can apply it to many different areas of your life – mental, physical, emotional, relationships, even spiritual and financial rather than focusing on just one area.

Bye Bye New Year Resolutions

To give you an idea of how this can work for you let me tell you about my word for last year, 2019 – IMPORTANT.

Why? Prior to the start of 2020, I felt somewhat overwhelmed and had fallen into the trap of putting myself last, of seeing myself as not important, so I wanted to approach everything I did in 2020 for myself with the same respect as my work and my clients.  

It’s easy to allow yourself to fall to the bottom of the important list, to allow work, family and life to get bumped up the list and become ‘more’ important that you. 

By applying the word IMPORTANT to the different areas of my life I created new habits that I could stick to. If getting out for a daily walk was paired with being IMPORTANT then I did it, likewise if doing my accounts each month and not letting them pile up was paired with IMPORTANT, then it got done.  

shutterstock_1648594324 Shutterstock / SNeG17 Shutterstock / SNeG17 / SNeG17

The key to this is to remember your word is exactly that, your word. So my decisions and care to myself were based on what was important to me, not what was important for someone else.  This is not selfish, it’s called self-kindness!

Do you want to select a word of the year 2021? Here’s my advice: 

Select a word that has a strong ‘why’ behind it. To get to this word, start by writing down 10 or 15 different words that mean something to you. For example, if Empowerment was one of your words, make a note of what you can do in your day to help you feel empowered and take it from there.

It could be managing your mental health, being on top of finances, nutrition, making healthy relationship choices, and even empowering yourself. If this feels right then this could be your word. Or maybe Mastery is your word, if so, can you apply this to all areas of your life? Is this a word that you can use all year? 

When choosing your word think about what you want to accomplish in all areas of your life – career, home, family, finance, etc. Is there an overarching theme? And please remember this is not about overachieving or setting yourself up to give up, it’s about ensuring that you don’t give up on you. This word becomes your ONE WORD for 2021.

When you find a word that relates to all the areas in your life, place that word everywhere. Set it as your screensaver on your computer, your home screen on your phone. Even set periodic daily reminders on your phone.

Then, watch the power of ONE WORD help make the changes in your world that you want.

Siobhán Murray is a psychotherapist and the author of  ‘The Burnout Solution – 12 Weeks to a Calmer You’ published by Gill Books. For more, check out

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