One Word vs. a List of Resolutions

Replace new year’s resolutions with a mantra

Do you still create a list of new year’s resolutions…or have you given up on the practice? 

According to a 2015 University of Scranton study, 80% of new year’s resolutions fail.  And if you’re wondering how quickly people give up on those resolutions, a 2019 USA Today report found that January 17 is the day when most of us give up.  

So it’s no wonder that many people simply forego the whole new year’s resolution process! 

But what if you want to really move forward in 2021 (and leave the horrible 2020 far behind)?  Should you just “wing it” – or is there a better way to set and achieve your goals? 

While planning is important, “goal getting” is not the same as goal setting.  But is a long “to do” list of all those things that you’re finally going to get accomplished THIS YEAR really going to motivate you?  Probably not. 

In fact, having too many goals (or new year’s resolutions) is not always the best way to achieve those goals.  According to the Harvard Business Review, too many goals in too many areas that are set at the same time tend to bog you down.  Why?  Because there’s only so much time and so much energy – and during the time of COVID, many of us are already running on empty. 

So what can you do instead to move forward? 

The answer is:  pick a word to serve as your mantra. 

Why One-Word Mantras Are Better Than a List of Resolutions

At the beginning of 2014, I watched an interview where the guest recommended using a one-word mantra instead of a laundry list of resolutions.  Supposedly picking the right word provided a beacon that you could continuously move toward during the new year. 

Something resonated with me…so I tried it. 

2014 ended up being a very tumultuous year for me (primarily characterized by my father’s terminal illness and administration of his estate).  The word that I had chosen was “FORWARD.” 

That’s it.  One word (and a simple one at that).  But nevertheless a word that provided an intention, a motivation, and a direction to which I would expend my efforts. 

More importantly, this one-word mantra was a lot easier to remember than my traditional laundry list of new year’s resolutions – you know, the ones that go on and on ad nauseum! 

To apply this technique of using FORWARD as my one-word mantra for the year, I asked myself a simple question any time that I was faced with a decision: 

“Will this decision help me to move FORWARD?”

If it didn’t align with forward movement, then it was holding me back – and I didn’t do it.  But if it did move me forward, then I went for it – without hesitation and ultimately without regret. 

The answer was always a simple yes or no.  (OK, sometimes it took a little bit more thought and calculation to decide, but you get the idea.) 

And, yes, there were times that I said “yes” to something that I thought would move me forward…but didn’t.  It was a lot easier to resist dwelling on my mistake or error in judgment simply by remembering that the next decision would focus on moving me forward. 

What Is Your One Word to Move Out of 2020’s Pandemic? 

Like 2014 was for me personally, 2020’s COVID pandemic created a very difficult and frightening environment in which everything was changing. 

We know that pre-COVID “business as usual” will not be returning.  Instead it will be replaced with “the new normal.”  While we don’t necessarily know what “the new normal” will look like, we ARE in a great position to create “the new normal” that will be the basis for our life experiences beginning in 2021. 

And that’s tremendously empowering. 

So, how do you create this one-word mantra?  It’s really very similar to creating a compelling vision for your life (or even your business). 

  • Does your one word speak to your heart (and not just your head)?  Your one word should have enough emotional power to motivate you – in other words, don’t calculate but instead feel! 
  • Is it noble and inspiring?  It doesn’t matter if it inspires anyone else – this is your one word, after all! 
  • Is it directional (rather than specific) so that you can adjust, adapt, and celebrate the small wins along the way?  It shouldn’t require a win/fail or zero/sum result that can lead to guilt or self-sabotage. 
  • Does your one word inspire action in order to attain it?  Even if your one word is “calm,” it still requires some form of action to let go of the stress and worries that threaten your state of calmness. 
  • Finally (but definitely most importantly), does your one word speak directly to YOU?  You’ll know the word by the visceral reaction that you get when you say it or think it. 

Your one word can be anything:  an ideal, a value, an attitude, a state of mind or body, or even an adverb that describes how you will act.  While it can also be a short phrase, I’ve found that drilling down (literally peeling back the layers) to just one simple word is the most powerful motivation – which means that you’re more likely to stay the course in order to achieve it. 

I urge you to try this approach to move forward out of 2020 and into a better space in 2021.  Keep it simple.  Reference it daily.  And let me know how this technique is working for you. 

Happy new year! 

© 2021 G. A. Puleo.  Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on transforming the world of work by eradicating burnout.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

2 thoughts on “One Word vs. a List of Resolutions

  1. Thank you Dr. Geri. Your suggestion of a one-word mantra is on spot!!! We get so bogged down with all we want to accomplish and as a result, we seem to give up and fail. However, a one-word mantra keeps it simple. It your word and YOU OWN IT!!!

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