Word for the year - more useful as a question?

At this time of year, people like me love to talk about how you can set yourself up for the year ahead. It makes sense. Just like my last post, this time of year seems to have a series of cues that encourage a sense of reflection on the previous year and intention for the year ahead. 

I'm going to share a simple process that has worked for me in the past, what hasn't and recommend that you consider doing something similar for yourself.


A lot of dictionaries seem to retrospectively decide on what the word of the year was for 2018. They reflect on words that had prominence and significance over the year and decide that was the word of the year. Recently, Macquarie Dictionary decided that the word for 2018 was "me too" (technically, two words), Oxford Dictionary chose "toxic" and this article lists a few others that made the shortlist like deepfake (a compound of two words) or big d*** energy (three words).

That's all well and good and there is a way that each of those words seems to capture some of the mood of 2018 at a societal level. Not that useful for you and I planning our 2019.

For a few years, I have been coming up with a word of the year for myself proactively. I use it as a guide and intention for the year ahead. It's not my idea, I first came across it when I saw something from Dr Jason Fox and was also a part of Alison Hill's yearly planning tool. What I realise in reflection is that the word for the year has worked for me two out of the past three years. The year that it didn't work was when the word didn't translate into a useful and actionable question.

When it works, a word for the year can translate into a question that acts as a real time decision making guide.

There is plenty of evidence to support the assertion that questions are powerful tools for motivation. They cause us to come up with ways of resolving them, to make our own decisions and own them. As a coach, this is what I see when I work with leaders and groups all of the time. A question that allows someone to own the solution is much more powerful than telling someone a solution. It's even better when the question continues to sit with people and can be used in their day to day actions.

What is my word for 2019? Thanks for asking. I have agonised on this for about a month. I landed on Forward. The question is "does this take me forward?".

I expect that in this year, I'll have good days and bad days. I expect that I'll have good weeks and bad weeks. I know that if I keep moving forward (even after setbacks and times where I feel I have moved backward), I'll keep moving towards where I want to be. I'll be moving into the gap between where I am and where I want to be. It's a useful word for me and reflective of the way that I want to turn up in 2019. The added bonus is that it reflects the work that I want to do with leaders, teams and organisations - empowering them to move forward. I know that Forward has been used by others, including Barack Obama during his 2012 re-election campaign. The word doesn't have to be original, it's got to be useful.

So, here are some questions for you to reflect on as you approach 2019:

  1. What word do you want to define 2019 for you?

  2. What is the question that can guide your actions this year?

Have a great day and a great 2019.

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Keegan LuitersComment