Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. ~Buddha
Each year, the Oxford English Dictionary chooses a Word of the Year. For the first time ever, they felt unable to choose a single word, describing 2020 as “a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word.” They instead chose a list of words, including unmute, mail-in, lockdown, doomscrolling, and BLM.
Thrive Global founder Arianna Huffington fired back, writing that, “There is a single word that sums up 2020 and does encapsulate, in a deeper sense, the shared experience of billions of people this year. That word is resilience…Resilience is the quality that was summoned in us by all the challenges of 2020. And it’s also the quality that’s going to carry us forward into 2021.”
Despite my life-long love of dictionaries, I agree with Ms, Huffington and feel let down by Oxford. Words carry tremendous power. Words, spoken or thought, produce actual physical vibrations. When we think or repeat words over and over, it directly impacts our lives.
Science supports the efficacy of choosing a word of the year. Words that show up repeatedly work in tandem with the reticular activating system in our brain (RAS). The RAS is the filter between the unconscious and conscious mind. It filters sensory input from our subconscious and decides what’s important enough to bring to our conscious awareness. The RAS cannot distinguish between what is “really” happening in the world and what is “synthetically” happening in our mind. It sees all of our thoughts as truth. It’s going to believe anything you tell it. Would you rather tell your brain to focus on resilience or doomscrolling?
What I’m saying is this: We see what we’re looking for. We choose our attitude. That’s why I choose one little word (OLW) every year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. OLW primes the brain to search for the positive, whereas resolutions too often are framed in the negative (I won’t smoke, I won’t eat ice cream at night, I won’t drink on weekdays). Resolutions assume there is something inherently wrong with us that needs fixing. OLW expands our consciousness to look for the blessings that already exist.
My OLW for 2020 was anchor. As in, I set the intention to feel anchored in my body and breath, an attempt to stay more present in my life. But the universe has a great sense of humor, doesn’t she? I got anchored in more ways than one. I was anchored to my home, my trips cancelled and studio doors shuttered. My world got smaller and quieter, full of opportunities to practice feeling anchored. I saw nautical references everywhere I looked this year. That’s my RAS on the job.
Past years’ words have included abundance, awake, connection, flow, rise, and wonder. All great intentions, and each brought forth opportunities and experiences that supported those wishes.
How to find your OLW? Get quiet and still. For the next few minutes, simply listen to the sound of your breath as it comes and goes. Now ask yourself the following questions:
- What are you craving more of in the future? Consider the areas of creativity, career, health, and relationships.
- What is currently holding you back from feeling joyful and content? Is there a word that feels like the opposite of that? For instance, if fear has kept you from chasing your desires, perhaps your word is courage.
You’re basically priming your brain to be open to suggestions. Because the secret is this: you don’t choose your OLW. It chooses you.
Once it has made itself known, we need to keep our OLW top of mind so that our RAS knows it’s important enough to scan the environment for. Repeat it when we meditate. Doodle it in our journal. Write it on our mirror with an eyebrow pencil. Write down three ways you can honor your OLW for this month, and then repeat every month this year.
My OLW for 2021 is journey. It can refer to one’s path in life as well as a specific adventure. The etymology comes from the vulgar Latin diurnum, meaning a single day. The Old French word journée arises from the root word dyeu, meaning “to shine” (since the sun shines for a single day at a time). I am eagerly anticipating both an inner journey and some external trips (I’m coming for you Atlantic Ocean!) in 2021. What’s your OLW?