One Word - One Year

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Our Thoughts
  • by Tim Urmston

If you had one word to help guide your outlook, attitude, actions, behavior and decisions for 2021, what would that word be? 

“New Year’s Resolutions” - We love to make them, but by January 30th, most resolutions have lost their power and are relegated to a “nice idea” or a “good try.”  Case in point, most resolutions involve something with diet, exercise or weight loss.  These are great things to be resolute about.  Many take this road, but what happens when we miss a workout or cheat on a meal.  What happens when  life gets in the way, things don’t go as planned or we simply have too many other things vying for our time and energy.  We taper off and have a hard time resetting to a future date when we’re going to start up again.  That’s because resolutions rarely hold their value or accomplish their purpose and what happens after that may be even worse.  The mental anguish we put ourselves through by not sticking with our resolutions can actually harm our emotional health and our ability to recover from our failure in the ensuing months.  Why do we do this to ourselves?

I want to propose another way  

A few years ago when I was coaching high school football and running a weekly leadership class with my players, I came across the book “ONE WORD THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE”.  My reason for reading the book was simple.  I needed leadership material that could be understood by a group of high-testosterone teenagers who wanted to accomplish something as a team.  When I read the book, it not only enabled me to bring the team closer together, but it changed the way I think about living my own life and the way I want to inspire others to live theirs.  Here’s how it works.

Finding a Word

Each December, I spend time alone with a white board and this question.  “What do you want the following year to look like.”  It’s followed by a simple brainstorm (there is definitely some prayer that happens along with this exercise) and I write down potential words that could deliver an answer to the question.

In late 2017, I was red-lining.  My life was out of balance and my areas of focus (Spiritual, Relational, Physical, Intellectual and Financial) which I use to measure that balance, were all out of whack.  I was struggling to make life work.  I knew I had to put this “One Word” idea into practice.  I thought, I prayed, I wrestled, and I asked for perspective from others.  I had to find a word that was going to set me up for the life I wanted in 2018.  My list grew, but none of the words seemed to be the one I wanted and needed.

  • Balance
  • Rhythm
  • Equilibrium
  • Health
  • Discipline
  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Pause
  • Focus

One day late in December, I saw a billboard that had the word "Margin" on it. The billboard had nothing to do with my situation, but the word itself stood out. It stood out in a big way.

Here’s the definition of "Margin"...

  1. the space around the printed or written matter on a page.
  2. an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary: to allow a margin for error.
  3. a limit in condition, capacity, etc., beyond or below which something ceases to exist, be desirable, or be possible:the margin of endurance; the margin of sanity.
  4. a border or edge.

I wanted 2018 to be a year where I created space for the things that mattered.  My word guided me in every aspect of life that year.  I put the word on post-its and stuck it on my bathroom mirror, my steering wheel, my rear view mirror, my desk, my laptop.  I made it the wallpaper on my phone. I embedded the word everywhere. And the word became embedded in me 

I gained focus and freedom. I was able to say "Yes" to the things that mattered and "No" to the things that didn't.  I increased margin in my time, my finances, my relationships, my energy, and my mental capacity.  I made significant life pivots—and I was happy. 

2020’s word was “tenacious” which proved to be a very meaningful word during a year where all of us were tested and forced to adapt to a new way of living and interacting with the world.  If I was going to survive and even thrive during the year of COVID, I would have to be tenacious.  This word helped me get out of bed every morning and face whatever was to come each day.

After a rough year like 2020, I have a new appreciation for what is here and now.  I had my normal date with the whiteboard and landed on a word that will guide me toward that appreciation and keep me present in the moment it's happening instead of always thinking about what’s ahead. My word for 2021 is …


So I ask you—"Will you pick a word for 2021?" And, if at any point in the year you get off track, simply let your word guide you back to your desired outlook, actions, perspective and behaviors.   Let others know your word and ask them to hold you accountable to living that word out every day. It may just change your life.