How One Word Can Change Your New Year

Experts say narrowing down your goals to one word rather than making the same old resolutions may point you in the right direction in 2015.

How One Word Can Change Your New Year
[Photo: Flickr user merulu5]

Odds are that you will fail.


According to a study by the University of Scranton, about 92% of us will fail at losing weight, saving money, getting organized, or anything else we resolve to do. But that won’t stop us. More than half of us keep trying year after year even if we don’t follow through.

Broken resolutions are what prompted Mike Ashcraft, pastor of Port City Community Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, to take a different tactic. Instead of making–and breaking–another promise to himself, he decided to pick one word and stick with it for a year. He chose “flow,” and used it as a lens though which he’d approach personal change.

“It felt doable, memorable, and sticky,” he says. “Choosing one word solved the attention problem I had with resolutions, and helped me become laser focused. The results were greater than I expected.”

Ashcraft took the concept to his congregation the following year, and the results were surprising. “I’d be in the grocery line or in traffic at a red light, and people would stop me to tell me what their word was,” he says. “They were excited about it, and I was amazed how quickly it stuck.”

The idea spread like wildfire, and Ashcraft shared the concept in My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word (Zondervan; 2012).

Coauthor Rachel Olsen believes the concept has been well received because resolutions are usually behavior based: “You’re going to go to the gym, stop yelling at your kids, sell X amount of units,” she says. “As soon as you fail, you’ve broken the resolution. A word can’t be broken. It serves as a reminder; a filter. It’s who you want to be instead of what you regret.”


The My One Word process involves three steps:

1. Think About Who You Want To Be

Instead of dwelling on your bad habits, ask yourself what kind of person you want to become. Olsen says the process shifts your mindset from regret to vision.

2. Make A List Of Characteristics You Desire

Once you have a picture of that person, identify their major characteristics and write them down using single words. Then take that list and look up each word’s definition.

3. Pick One Word

Using your list, pick the word that resonates with you most. Some of the most popular choices include trust, patience, love, discipline, and focus. Ashcraft says it’s important to choose just one, and resist the temptation to do them all.

“A lot of people have paralysis, and worry that they’ll pick the wrong word,” he says. “It’s not a matter of right or wrong. There’s simplicity and beauty behind this. Often, one word can incorporate others in the way you frame things.”

Olsen likes to remind people that they can choose another word next year. “Make your choice and settle in,” she says. “One word reduces pressure to improve in a gazillion areas, optimizing everything. It’s a filter to make decisions. When you return to your word, you return to your focus.”


Sharing your word can put more power behind it, says Ashcraft, who suggests sending out a tweet, adding it to your email signature or posting it to the My One Word website.

“Talking about your resolutions can be an awkward conversation,” he says. “When you choose a word and share why you picked it, it becomes a matter of the heart. It’s about hope, and that feels different than sharing your struggles. Sharing also creates accountability.”

Adopt One Word At Work

The one-word technique isn’t just for people; companies have adopted the process, too. Popular choices include “integrity” and “character,” says Olsen. One company chose the word “honor” and displayed it in the office.

“Choosing ‘honor’ instead of something like ‘profit,’ ended up paying dividends in all kinds of ways,” says Olsen. “They found that employees were going to meetings, getting to work on time, and treating customers differently. It had a wide impact, and they were surprised at the end of the year how many things it had touched.”

While the process has had profound results for its users, Ashcraft says there’s nothing magical about it. “When you do something long enough, it becomes part of who you are,” he adds. “It can be hard, but that’s part of process. Keep your word in front of you; it will make a difference.”