Big Word

Do you have a “big word” for 2019?

You may have heard about this. Choosing a single word that acts as a “north star” for your year. Recently I’ve connected with people whose 2018 words were calm, conviction, action, pirate and steam train. The possibilities are endless, see?

I’m not very good at single words. I’m more of a “series of big categories” kind of thinker. But I did have a word to guide my work in 2018. It started out as “fearless.” Then it got either downgraded or upgraded, depending on your perspective, to “brave.” That seemed more authentic to me. I can’t control being fearful, but I can control if I behave bravely in the face of those fears.


Getting to that big word is an interesting process. For some people, it’s a moment of inspiration — their word finds them. In other cases, it’s an inductive exercise: you start with data and draw your conclusion. In this case, you might look at all your “evidence” — your priorities, your interests, your passions — and the big word emerges. Or, for you that big word might surface deductively, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy: you identify your desired word, then pull your various decisions and priorities into line with that. To unpack my previous example, these approaches might look something like this:

Inspirational: “Brave. Of course. There it is.”

Inductive: “Wow, look at all the courageous things I’ve done lately and all the gutsy stuff I want to do in 2019. My big word must be “brave!”

Deductive: “I want to be more courageous. I need to be more courageous. My big word therefore needs to be brave. Then, when opportunities present themselves, I’ll be more likely to behave as a brave person would.”

In real life, we often use a combination of both.

No matter what route you take to get there, once the word is established, remember to use it. There are lots of hacks to make doing so more likely. Post it somewhere you can see it. Find a physical manifestation of it (have any trains or pirates lying around? A meaningful photo perhaps?) and put those where you’ll see them. Write down specifically what you would see or do if you behaved according to your word. Set goals for your year that align with your word. Tell someone else what they are.

It occurs to me that these steps are very similar to setting organizational strategy. You can discern or create your goals in various ways but having them helps keep you focused on what’s truly important. Then, once you have them, you need reminders, systems and habits to help make it easier to align your behaviour with them.

I haven’t yet set my word for 2019, but I will. It’s on my want-to-do list for over these holidays. I’ll post it here and would love to see yours too. Even more than that, I’d love to hear what you plan to do to make sure it stays meaningful to you all year long.

10 Replies to “Big Word”

  1. My word is HONEST. Being honest to myself and to others about what I am doing, and why. Honest about what is possible, what is not yet possible, what choices I am making, and what choices I am deferring or avoiding.

  2. My word for 2019 is going to be RE-IMAGINE. After 34 years of working, I am planning to retire so there are many opportunities for change ahead. What I am going to do with my time, where I will live, where I will travel, who I spend time with, how I adjust to living on less, what I keep when I downsize, what my reno of the cottage will look like. I am excited about embarking on such a creative opportunity to re-imagine my life post working! Thanks for this!

    1. What an exciting season for you! I love how positive you sound about it and how open to possibilities you are.

  3. I spent a lovely afternoon over the holidays giving this some further thought and doing some business planning. My word for this year will be STRONG. I need to be stronger in my convictions. I want to become physically stronger. I suspect the year will bring some challenges that require me to be strong. I want to remember where my strength comes from. So, for 2018/2019: Be strong and courageous!

  4. This is a great approach. I suspect these life themes can have application across business, family, faith, and other aspects of life. I’m going to dig into this for myself this year.

  5. This is a brilliant approach to focus initiatives as we start the New Year! Before I had even finished the post, I recognized that I want to work at blocking out all the noise that distracts me from the work at hand – the politics and personality-based rabbit holes. The phrase that appeared was ‘head down’ which, at the heart, is about focus, hence my word for the year…FOCUS! Thank you, Rebecca!

    1. Love this, Jude! So hard to do, and so helpful when we do. Have you read “Deep Work” by C. Newport? Might be worth a look, by way of encouragement.

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