3 Steps to Choose “One Word”

Have you picked one word to focus on in the new year? Now is the time!

3 Steps to Choose One Word

Not Another Resolution

A lot of people don’t like New Year resolutions. I get that.

  • Resolutions are often too hard (or we would have done them already, right?).
  • Resolutions are often too vague or unrealistic.
  • And resolutions are easy to forget about and drop altogether.

That’s why I like choosing one word instead. (Well . . . letting one word choose me—that’s often how it works.)

  • One word is simple.
  • One word is easy to remember.
  • And one word is flexible in the directions it can take you.

Only God knows what the year ahead holds for us. So at our invitation, he’ll guide us to a word custom-designed for our year to come.

That’s a good thing.
And a faith-building thing.

For example, when I chose “Breathe” in 2010, I didn’t know it would be the year both my parents would take their last breaths. When I chose “Venture” in 2012, I had no idea I’d be leaving my old religious heritage that year to branch out into a new faith direction. When 2014 brought “Compassion,” it totally wrecked and expanded me at the same time.

And in 2019 when I chose “Hope” as my one word, I didn’t know that a dear friend would die or that I would be on the road much of the year or that God would stretch me in new ways.

Now it’s time to choose for next year.

3 Steps to Choose One Word

Using the acronym LAP, here are 3 steps that help me decide on one word. Maybe they can help you, too, as we all get ready to take another lap around the globe.

1. L—Listen

Pay attention. God is already at work in you, doing new things, preparing you for new things.

Are you hearing repetitive messages on a specific theme? Does a particular song touch you deeply? Have you been drawn to a certain book or author?

God can work through any of these avenues. Listen for his message. Stay present to his wisdom. It’s not something you sweat over, but something you notice and receive. Accept what comes without having to understand it fully. God will reveal more when the time is right.

2. A—Abbreviate

Now is time to narrow your focus. It’s better to give your full attention to one main word or concept than be distracted by a hundred little resolutions. Be most attentive to one thing at a time. This thing. At this time. With this person.

Your one word choice doesn’t have to be profound or complex. Keep it simple and relevant to this season of your life. It’s a step, not the complete journey.

When you welcome whatever comes in this one day—accepting it as your reality and being with it (even if it’s something that needs to change in the next moment)—you stay most in the presence of God. Once you own it now, he’ll guide you what to do with it next.

3. P—Plan

Think of a few concrete things you can DO to help you live out your one word. For 2019 I chose 28 ways to practice “hope” (I wrote it in a series here).  You don’t have to be that specific, but do come up with a few ideas of how you can use your word.

But at the same time, also release expectations of where your one word will take you. Let go of a specific outcome you may have in mind. It’s about the process instead.

Plan for the future, but hold those plans loosely.

There’s no way you can predict how God will use your word. Just know this: God will honor your intentions to honor him through it. Trust that his grace will be enough.

Pray about receiving your word from God, then hand it right back to him.

Let him embed it into your life one relationship at a time, one day at a time, one situation at a time.

He knows what he’s doing. 

* * *

Have you chosen One Word in the past? Do you have One Word for this year? Please share in the comments.

You can join the OneWord365 community here. Get ideas for a word and connect with others who have chosen the same word as you.

updated from the archives

73 thoughts on “3 Steps to Choose “One Word”

  1. tiffany

    I’ve never chosen a word for the year, but it seems like a really cool idea. I’ll pray to see if anything comes to me! I am a resolution kind of girl ;0 , but I almost feel like I could do both!

    Great post!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Tiffany,
      If you already like resolutions, doing “one word” would be an easy thing for you to tack on. 🙂 It can be as much or as little as you like. Some years I do extensive scheduling with readings and activities for my one word all year; other years I just let it flow. Not sure yet about 2016!

  2. blankDolly@Soulstops

    Lisa,
    I love your acronym “NOW”….I’m not sure what word it will be but it seems like God keeps whispering “JOY”….biblical joy….excited & scared….He is already pruning me….Advent blessings to you, my friend 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I think you’ve already got a good start if it is “joy” for 2016, Dolly! I would love to read how he works that out. It’s such a beautiful (and yes, exciting and scary!) choice. 🙂

  3. blankSusan Nowell @ My Place to Yours

    In years past, I chose “circle” and “shelter”… and watched in amazement as God unveiled truths. Then, the past couple of years, I didn’t declare a word of the year, but “trust” and “intentional” kept creeping into my thoughts. I’ve actually been wondering if God will reveal a word to me for 2016. I’ll let you know if He does. 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Circle and shelter are two fascinating word choices, Susan! I love unusual concepts like that for God to work through. Yes, do let me know if you choose something for 2016.

      I am so enjoying Dirty Faith. You and your husband have had some amazing adventures in your ministries to others! May God continue to bless all you do.

  4. blankJune

    Love your tips and how you tied this all together with your past blog posts, Lisa. What a fab idea! My word for this year was “new” and I need to get my year-end wrap up post written! I haven’t picked a word for 2016 yet. I’ll be taking some time over the holiday to really pray and seek His direction. Looking forward to hearing what He has in mind for us both! Blessings!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’ll look forward to reading your wrap-up post about “new,” June. I’m still working on my word for 2016 too. Praying with you as we listen to God’s voice on where he wants to lead us next.

  5. blankLois Flowers

    What a helpful post, Lisa! This was the first year I had a One Word, and it was “fruit.” I had a simple goal in choosing it … to pray for the fruit of the Spirit for each person in my house every day. I can’t say I did that EVERY day, but most days I did, and it has made all the difference this year. I still have to write a recap of some sort, but I’m also looking forward to putting into words what I sense God is laying on my heart for 2016. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “Fruit” is such a lovely one word to choose! And how beautiful that you prayed for your family with it this year. That’s an awesome thing to do. Sometimes I cycle through praying for the fruit of the Spirit when we do walking prayers through our sanctuary. I’m glad God honors our prayers. I’ll look forward to your recap post and hearing what you choose for 2016! (Just this morning I think I’ve honed in on a different word. ha)

  6. blankPositively Alene

    This is great Lisa!!! I sure miss you. I’m praying through for the specific word. Last year at the last moment God impressed upon my heart “family.” I had no idea I’d have a grandbaby, engagement, wedding, and another grandbaby. WOW.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I miss you, too, Alene! Wow–how incredible that God impressed “family” on your heart for 2015 and look at all that happened. Such a fruitful year. 🙂 Looking forward to what he’ll want to do with us in 2016!

  7. blankTrudy

    This is such helpful advice, Lisa. Thank you. I am especially taken in by #3. To release our expectations and leave the outcome in God’s hands. To “Let him embed it into your life one relationship at a time, one day at a time, one situation at a time.” I started “One Word” in 2014. 2014 was “Trust” and 2015 was “Follow.” I’m still pondering on what I will pick for 2016. I will pay attention and “notice God’s messages.” 🙂 I hope you have a Christmas filled with love, hope, peace, and joy!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      That #3 of releasing expectations is hard for me too, Trudy. I tend to want to plan everything out to the bitter end–including the outcomes. ha. But I’m trying to learn to let go of that part, and just take the steps as he leads, regardless of where they take me.

      “Trust” and “follow” sound like they would be good words for me too. Do let me know when you decide your 2016 word! It’s always encouraging to me to hear how God works in the the lives of friends.

  8. blankGinger Harrington

    I love the way you brought forth what God has taught you this year, your “now,” with helpful steps for receiving our word for the year. I also love the way you bring out some past posts in the form of things to remember. Very helpful. I’m going to come back to this when I have time to read the other posts. What a joy to share your helpful post with others on my FB page. Linky blessings from Coffee for Your Heart.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate you sharing the link, Ginger. I do love the whole One Word phenomena. 🙂 Just yesterday I did another tweak to what I *think* will be my One Word for 2016, but still not sure enough to say yet.

  9. blankTai East

    Great post, Lisa! I’ve never thought to just chose one word, but definitely something I should do. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful message! GOD bless you, beautiful friend! 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thank you, Tai. I’ve found that One Word has been an open door each year for letting God work in fresh ways in my life. It’s not so much to be overwhelming, but enough to be engaging. Blessings to you too!

  10. blankLarissa

    Love this post as I do choose a word for the year – this was my 2nd year and my word is FOCUS! I haven’t made the time to sit and pray about this year’s word yet but your post, shared by my friend Ginger Harrington, has inspired me for sure! Thanks!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for visiting, Larissa. Focus sounds like a powerful One Word choice! I’m sure God used it wisely in your life in 2015. I’ll look forward to the words God will lead us to in 2016.

  11. blankCarly

    This is really helpful. I’ve never had a word for the year but I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it lately so I’m considering it for 2016. Your tips are great. I’ll need to start praying about it.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      If you’ve never tried one word, I recommend you give it a go! Nothing to lose. 🙂 If it doesn’t work, drop it. But if it does? Great benefits. Blessings to you, Carly!

  12. blankfloyd

    I’ve never narrowed myself down to one word for the year, although I’ve contemplated many of them while you were writing about them. For the last few years I’ve realized more and more how important humility is. There is no being in the presence of God without it. That’s gonna be my word for this year… Thanks for the push, Lisa.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Great choice of “humility”, Floyd. It will be interesting to see how God will use that in your life in 2016. You already seem like a very humble man to me. Back in 2005 I informally chose humility to pray over and work through, and wow, I saw how much pride I had in me! But seeing it was/is a good thing because we can’t change what we’re not aware of. I still have a long way to go with humility, so I’ll be watching and learning from you.

  13. blankMarva -- sunSPARKLEshine

    Hi Lisa, I really appreciate your tips. I’ve done One Word for a few years now and like you, I’m waiting for my word to come to me. I am getting hints of what it could be but through prayer, I know that God will make it clear. I can’t wait to hear what your word will be this year. Wishing you blessings and a whole lot of sparkle for the Christmas holidays.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Marva. Do let me know what you hear from God! I discover he keeps refining my word almost daily this week 😉 Hopefully he’ll help me settle it down to actually one word by the end of 2015.

      Just read your latest post but couldn’t find anywhere to comment, so I’ll just say here that I’m glad you had your Kindle app with you as you had to wait. Aren’t they the best? 😉 I go nowhere without something to read, and usually it’s either my Kindle or the app on my phone. How fun that you tapped into Deb’s book. I read her blog when I can and love the insights she shares there. Blessings to you this Christmas!

  14. blankBeverley

    yes, you have to wait for the word to settle and chose you. Last year it seemed to takes forever and this year is happened almost instantly and my words changed from ‘Choice’ to ‘Change’. I can envision some change already, but I am sure there are many changes in store which I have no knowledge of – as yet!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’m still waiting on the word to settle in deeper. It keeps shifting ever so slightly these past few days, so God has pointed me towards a particular theme for sure; now I just have to listen closely for the specific word. I’m glad your word “change” came so suredly! What an adventure-filled year it will be with you and God. 🙂

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    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Such a beautiful choice, Charles! Mindfulness turned out to be an important part of my One Word last year (“Now”), and I hope I’ll carry it forward into 2016 as well. Thanks for sharing.

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  17. blankJoanne Viola

    Lisa, I so appreciated reading this post today. I have picked One Word for the past several years. Usually by this time, I know my word for the new year. This year, I have an inkling but not one word yet. So I am still leaning in and praying for God to reveal the word – His word – for me.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I actually chose my word a few months back, but didn’t want to seal the deal until it got closer, since I often feel nudged to change it at year-end. But this time I think God is keeping me with it…linger (oh, the irony!). Of course there are a few more days to go. 🙂 I’ll look forward to your one word if one is revealed to you for 2020.

  18. blankMichele Morin

    Even for those not intending to choose words, there is rich truth here for a spiritual practice that will make 2020 come alive with the presence of God. And we never know when a word will choose us!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      True. Whether or not we choose a word, we’re wise when we listen to the whisperings (and sometimes shouts) of what God is trying to get across to us. It usually takes several times for me to realize that he is talking to ME about something, not trying to get my neighbor’s attention, but trying to get mine. 🙂

  19. blankBetty Jo

    Wonderful post, Lisa. I’m so very sorry for all the loss you’ve walked through these past few years. I awoke this morning thinking about a word for the new year. As I was conversing with Father, something came to me, not a word, but a number; 2020. As I ponder more about it, I’ll write something on my blog a bit later. Right now, though, I think He’s telling me 2020 as in sight. I want to see His way, through His eyes, this next year; people, circumstances, whatever the year brings my way. Blessings!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I think 2020 would be an incredibly apt word (or number) to choose! We will be hearing it over and over anyway; what a benefit to attach a spiritual connotation to it every time you hear it. Thanks for sharing that here, Betty Jo.

  20. blankDavid

    I’ve been reading a lot of poetry (Psalms, Christian poetry, secular poetry) lately. I’d like to relearn poems I’ve forgotten, learn new ones, be more active with them. Maybe even try and write. Wrapping that into a theme for the year might give it a positive spin. I like your idea of planning activities to live out the word.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      What a creative idea, David. If you do choose poetry as a theme, I hope you’ll share some of your writings with the world. I don’t take the time like I should to slow down and read poetry, but I always benefit when I do.

  21. blankLesley

    I’ve had a word the last 4 years and it has been more effective than I could have imagined. Nothing was coming to me for 2020 and I thought I might not have a word, but in the last couple of days I think one has come to me!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      It amazes me too that having one word can really help me zone in on a particular train of thought or action that God can lead me through the year with. How exciting that you’ve been receiving something in the last few days!

  22. blankMartha J Orlando

    I’m at this point, Lisa, where I need to choose my word for 2020. Your advice is perfect. We need to listen to what God is placing on our hearts. My word for last year was lean. Lately, the word trust has come to mind. As we’re on vacation here in the mountains, I’ll let God continue to speak and I will listen. Blessings to you!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      What a beautiful setting to hear from God! I know you’ll be listening to his whisperings. “Lean” was such a unique choice – I love it. Trust is a word that we ALL could use. Regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord, we always have room to trust more.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’ve never chosen Peace as my word, but what a lovely, lovely choice, LuAnn. You’ve planted a seed in me. Peace is something everybody wants, even when we’re not aware of it.

  23. blankLaurie

    My word for 2019 was “balance”. I enjoyed thinking about one topic for the year and wrote a post summing up my thoughts which I will publish before the end of the year.
    My word for 2020 is “humility”. I am amazed at how God whispers these words to me when I am still and open.

    I love your suggestion #3. It’s good to have a road map of exactly how to use the word.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I can’t wait to see how God uses humility through you this year, Laurie. I’m sure I’ll benefit from it being your word, too. I chose humility one year and it was a tough year! ha. But I learned some valuable lessons and uncovered blindspots about my own pride. Once I get brave enough, maybe I’ll choose it again. 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Sometimes a word just doesn’t come and that’s totally fine too. But if a word does come your way, I’d love to know about it, Anita!

      My words have been more active some years more than others. A lot of that may be how in tune I am with how God wants to use it, and also with how proactive I am about planning ways to practice it. I need to sit down in the next week and think through some tangible ways to keep my new word front and center in 2020.

  24. blankPatsy Burnette

    Lisa, love this!!! I need to choose a word for 2020. I feel like it’s going to be a year that really needs a special word for the journey! Thank you for this reminder.

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      It is nice to have a word companion for our journey around the globe again. A year really flies by so quickly and I’ve enjoyed having a single word to focus around. It helps me keep my spiritual practices narrow enough that I will do them, yet flexible enough to give God room to work.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      And I need to add a verse for the year! 🙂 Thanks for reminding me of that, Lauren. I’ve got my word picked out, but not a verse. I’ll make a note to start working on that tomorrow.

  25. blankJerralea

    Good suggestions on choosing a word, Lisa. L.A.P. I do find the listening part pretty easy because it seems every December I will hear about one topic everywhere I look. I’m pretty sure I know mine and will reveal it next week.

  26. blankJoanne

    I have never chosen a word for my year but I like the idea of it much better than resolutions. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us at Encouraging Hears and Home. Pinned.

  27. blankfloyd

    I think maybe I’m coming up short year after year, because I’m going to make my word of the year as the last several.

    One of these days I might come closer to the humility our Father desires in me.

    It is a beautiful thing.

  28. blankJean Wise

    Ah you know I am a one-word person and am clarifying what word is calling me in 2020 right now. Will write a post on this in Jan. One thing I did differently this year since it is the end of a decade. I just compiled a list of my words over the past ten years. Interesting evolution to read them!

  29. blankTammy L Kennington

    Hi Lisa,
    Last year I chose “Pursue”. I believe God has had me “follow after” or “pursue” His leading in many ways this year. I’ve had to pursue Him spiritually as I’ve dealt with health issues and I continue to follow after the dream He has placed in my heart to minister to others through words.

    I’m listening for what word He’ll place in my heart next.

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  31. blankBarbara Ali

    The word that came to mind as I read through the comments was “promise.” He has promised to be with me always until the consummation. He has promised I will be with Him through eternity. He has promised the salvation of my household, my inheritance! His promises are “Yea, and Amen!” He promises to honor me as long as I honor Him.
    As I struggle through my ups and downs this year, I can always look to Him and know that He is always there. Sometimes He is just waiting for me to come to the end of my rope and turn it all over to Him–so He can fulfill His promise to me.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      What a beautiful testimony of God’s faithfulness, Barbara. I’m so grateful that we can trust God’s promises! His presence is always here with us, if we can just stay aware of it. Blessings to you in this new year as we each believe in God’s promises.

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