You do it at the start of the year, not at the end.

A friend once suggested that instead of making new year’s resolutions, you pick one word as a theme for the new year.

One word to put a frame around it to stay focused on your intention for the year. It has to be a good word to last 365 days. A word strong enough to carry you through 12 months. A word interesting and challenging enough to not leave you bored by April 1. A word you alone hear whispered from the quiet of your soul.

I’ve done it for a few years now. I choose one word or it chooses me. One year, it was the word abundance. Another year, joy. Another year, others. I tried to focus less on my wants and needs and more on how to be of service in the world.

I didn’t pick a strong enough word last year, because I’ve forgotten what I picked. But one thing I won’t pick is a resolution.

I’ve given up making resolutions for the year. Resolutions, like promises, seem destined to be broken. Resolutions make the year ahead feel like an endless to-do list. Some people make a whole list of resolutions and turn the year into a massive self-improvement project with a series of goals and objectives and deadlines. They make the year work.

Work is not a good word to pick for an entire year.

Sometimes we’re just too hard on ourselves. We flog ourselves with vows to wake up earlier, exercise harder, eat whole grains, cut out white sugar, drink less, spend less, save more or finish school, and we use Jan. 1 as the starting pistol. No wonder so many of us stumble before we’ve completed one lap.

There’s a lot of pressure when you’re faced with a blank slate. A new year is a clear canvas. It’s scary to lift your brush and make that first messy splash. I asked my Wild Women Warriors Book Club what word they would pick. Here are some of their answers:

Adventure. Unencumbered. Hope. Abundance. Strength. Malleability. Balance. Energy. Fire. Flamingo.

Flamingo? Yep. Pam is from Florida and loves them.

Some women chose places they want to see in 2014: Sante Fe. Ireland. Italy.

Harriet chooses the same word every year: Happy.

My friend, Debbie Schoonover, reminds me to make it a joyful exercise. Last year, she picked the word friendship, and then sent all her friends a note. She lost her husband to cancer shortly after I met her.

“Do we tell our friends how much they mean to us or do we just assume? I’ve had occasion over the last two years to read some of the things written about John after he died. I wonder if he knew how people really felt about him. I know I didn’t tell him enough times what a wonderful man he was in so many ways. But why should we wait for funerals and obituaries to share our feelings about those we care for so deeply? And shouldn’t those communications be in person, or at least be handwritten?”

For one year, she wrote thank-you notes to her friends. Not to thank them for gifts sent, but for the gift of friendship. I felt so special to be one of them.

This year, she announced her word at her annual holiday party.

Dance.

Her parents danced. Her dad danced with her in the living room. She gave her kids dance lessons. She told us all, “I love to dance. The kind of dancing when you wear a beautiful dress with a big skirt and someone holds you close and you feel like a princess.”

Before we ended by dancing all over her living room, she shared one of my favorite quotes, from writer Anne Lamott:

“If you haven’t already, you will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and you never completely get over the loss of a deeply beloved person. But this is also good news. The person lives forever, in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through, and you learn to dance with the banged-up heart.”

It’s what we’re all doing. We’re all living with broken hearts that don’t seal back up. They stay cracked to allow in more joy and light and love.

That is what I wish for all of you in the new year: More joy and light and love.

That, and your very own perfect word.

Every year deserves its own word.

What’s yours?

rbrett@cjn.org

Disclaimer

Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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