Bring Focus, Increase Optimism & Build Culture: Choose A Word For The Year (detailed examples)

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Pick a word. Bring focus to the year ahead. 

A well-timed text message from your friend, encouraging you to keep going.

Hearing Forrest Gump say, “My Momma always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.” Spending 10 hours on a presentation, but people remember that you spilled your coffee and swore. Getting picked last in dodgeball-again.

The drawing from your four-year-old that looks nothing like a whale.  


The simplest of things can have the most significant impact


Three years ago, I read that John Maxwell picks a word to focus on each year. Sometimes he has the same term a few years in a row. The point is to bring focus to what matters most. So like any good leader, I started using his idea.


The tricky part for me wasn’t telling people what my word was; deciding on a comment was what took me forever. Below are the words I’ve used for the last three years, the process I use to pick a word, and a few ideas for using this practice to build a culture at work.


My words over the last three years:

2020: Clarity

2021: Effective

2022: Prioritize


The Selection Process

This will blow zero minds. I've found these steps helpful. (You could always just jump to step 9)

  1. Set aside at least 30 minutes with a timer, preferably in December
  2. Think about the previous year, 4 minutes
    • If you have notes, quickly scan them to see wins/losses/lessons learned
  3. Think about the coming year, pray for guidance in selecting a word 4 minutes
    • Big goals, how you’re feeling about the year ahead
    • "God, you know what last year held. I know you have my future; guide my mind in this process."
  4. Write down incomplete thoughts, 7 minutes
    • Examples:
      • Pumped about what lies ahead
      • It’s gonna be a fight
      • Too much distraction
      • Want to laugh more
      • Family meal time, bring it back
      • Run marathon
  5. Go to Word & search based on your thoughts. Write down ones you like, 12 minutes
    • Examples to search:
      • “Fight”
      • “Excited”
      • “Distraction”
      • “Hope”
  6. Write down words that jumped out to you, 3 minutes
    • Synonyms/antonyms/funny but won’t use  
  7. Put on schedule a 10-minute block three days from now to revisit. Let list marinate.
    • Other words will pop into your head
    • You’ll notice words being used that will intrigue
  8. Set a timer for 10 minutes, grab the list and make a final five.
    • This year I need to ______
    • It’s going to be different because of ______
  9. Ask your spouse, best friend, or mentor what they think. 
  10. Select word. Don’t give in to second-guessing.


Words Build Culture

Recently, I was with a guy who dropped more f-bombs than a Quinton Tarantino movie. And you know what bothered him? People don’t say “please” and “thank you” anymore.

Words matter. Use them to build the culture where you work.


My encouragement to you is to go first. Try the process I’ve outlined or take pieces and make it your own. Then, get a word for the year. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this on March 14th. Bring focus and intention to what you have left on the calendar.

Once you have your word, tell someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. For example, if you’re over a team by title, use your term in the next meeting you lead. Tell your people the why behind it, use stories and encourage them to pick a word.


If you’re the owner, go first and then roll out the idea to the company. That’s exactly what happened with us. I heard about John Maxwell’s idea, did it myself, told my boss Patrick about it, recorded a short podcast covering it, and then Patrick blew it up by rolling it out to the team at CCB Technology.


I didn’t plan to get others involved; I was just excited about it. When great people with influence (Patrick) hear enthusiastic employees with ideas (me), it can exponentially impact your organization. Because of Patrick making a move with this, over one hundred twenty words have been chosen in the last three years, and tens of thousands of days affected by those words.


This simple practice of choosing a word can help shape how we think and communicate about our years. And at times, it can also serve as a sobering point of accountability. 😳

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