Every year I select three words that will serve as guideposts for my efforts. If you’re unfamiliar with the exercise, it’s something that Chris Brogan started in 2006.
I take time to reflect on the past year, what worked and what didn’t. I try to gain a clear picture of what I want the next year (and beyond) to look like.
Looking beyond is a critical component. I may use these words for one year, but they are integral to building a foundation for my life and future work.
Sometimes, the words come from specific goals I’ve established. Other times, I jot down words that catch my attention or explore a list of core values that inspire me.
How to choose your words
I started this practice in 2012. Back then, my three words were: “Listen. Act. Inspire.” I picked these simple words and they served me well. One of my best years ever.
I listened to others, and I learned something new. I acted on this knowledge and inspired others to learn from my experience. It was a positive personal growth cycle.
A few tips for choosing your words:
- Pick words that mean something special to you. Don’t worry about explaining them to others. They’re meant to guide you forward.
- Try to choose positive words over negative ones. Also, try to make them actionable. I recommend verbs over adjectives since they encourage you to focus on the positive action instead of the result. That’s one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from doing this exercise over the past decade.
- Make your words visible throughout the year. Keep them handy on your phone, journal, and at your office, etc. Bonus: write them out every day!
- Choose 3 words (not 4 or 5) that will serve as your guideposts for the year ahead. Three is a magic number. And less is better.
- The simpler the word, the more powerful it is. My favourite word (so far) has been “ask”. That word opened a lot of doors for me and served me well. (In 2015, I tried to be smart and chose “kaizen” as one of my three words. That wasn’t a very good year.)
Ready to see a few more examples?
My three words over the years
I hope that by sharing these words with you, I will inspire you to embark on your own personal growth journey.
Feel free to use any of these words for your own benefit. Click on the link to learn more about that specific year, or scroll down to read about my words for 2022. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous new year!
Table of contents
My three words for 2022
It took a while for me to reach these words. They’re simple, but powerful guideposts that will serve me well over the coming year. I hope.
Block sounds like an aggressive word at first, but it’s meant to help me set healthy boundaries. It teaches me to block out the noisy, less important inputs in my life in favour of more healthy ones.
I’ll be experimenting with time blocking this year as a way to find a better balance between work, school and personal life.
(On a nerdier note, WordPress is updating to block-based themes and a full-site editor this year. I can’t wait to play around with WordPress blocks!)
I used the word “start” in 2016 and that helped me develop good morning habits and routines. But I still struggle with the “finished part”, which is something I want to improve. In 2022, I will ask myself:
I need to ask myself that question more often, and then remember to celebrate! There are a lot of things that have no clear finish line: studying, for example. There are always more things to learn!
Finish serves as a reminder to begin with the end in mind. And to break down a bigger task into smaller, more manageable chunks so I can actually finish.
I get easily carried away in my mind. Having breath as my anchor can help me be more mindful and enjoy the present moment, rather than worrying about scary “what if?” scenarios that may never pan out.
The word encourages me to add breathing spaces between blocks, so I leave room for margin of error and other things to happen.
So, those are my three words: Block, Finish, and Breathe. I’ll have me some BFB this year, which apparently is also an acronym for Bike Freaking Bike. Let’s roll into 2022 with curiosity and compassion!
What are your three words for 2022?
Sharing this exercise makes it more fun. I’d love to hear your three words. Drop them in the comments!
My three words for 2021
2021 was a tough year. These words helped me through it.
Move serves me in a few ways. Most importantly, it reminds me to move my body. But it also teaches me to move forward and not dwell too much on the past.
Life is movement. Move to recharge, to explore, to think.
Spend time in thought. Have the courage to observe your thoughts and feelings at any given moment. Build up your resistance to distractions.
Welcome silence and reflection into your life. Become a better thinker.
How can I connect different ideas with each other? Connect with nature more. Connect with yourself and others on a deeper level, so you can move more freely.
I hope to be able to connect with people in a more meaningful way in 2021.
My three words for 2020
It’s that time of year again when you ask yourself:
You look back on what went well last year, and what didn’t go so well.
On the whole, 2019 turned out to be a good year for me. I published a book, started a rigorous fitness routine, and landed a new job. But this wasn’t by chance. I’m convinced my three words for 2019 played a key role in my success.
As the originator of this exercise pointed out:
Words are software for the mind. They serve as signposts for your actions.– Chris Brogan, author
Viewed this way, words are more powerful than New Year’s resolutions, simply because they let you focus on your day-to-day behaviour over simple outcomes.
Your words hold the key to your full potential. But how do you go about choosing them? How do you know they’re the “right” words? And what mistakes should you avoid?
It took a while for me to reach these words. They’re simple, but powerful reminders that will serve me well over the coming year. I hope.
Kids ask questions all the time. They know the power behind a curious mind. If they don’t ask, they’ll never know.
Questions also form the basis of modern science. As adults, we must learn to question old assumptions, beliefs, and past knowledge. There is so much we don’t know!
Bottom line: It takes courage to ask questions. To look vulnerable in front of others. To admit you don’t know something.
My first word Ask calls me to be braver. It awakens my inner child and helps me remain curious and humble.
This word serves a few purposes for me. Years of working behind a screen have revealed a need to connect with people in person and build relationships.
To build is also a reminder that the results of work I do each day may not be evident each week, month, or even year. In fact, it may be years before I enjoy what I am building today.
This is, in particular, true when it comes to building new habits. For example, my meditation habit has been years in the making; I first wrote about it in 2016. The same goes for my newly published book. That’s the result of writing regularly over a period of several years.
In short, it takes time, energy, and above all commitment to building. It teaches me patience and the ability to trust the process. What we build now and in 2020 will have an impact for years or even decades. But the hard, slow work to build it, happens every day.
I stumbled upon this great word as I was reading Matthew Walker’s critically acclaimed book Why We Sleep.
Professor Walker is a researcher who’s fighting against today’s sleep-deprived society, where we celebrate burning the candle at both ends. He has convinced me to join the sleep revolution.
But why do we spend nearly one-third of our lives asleep? It turns out that sleep boosts our immune system, relieves stress, and helps us learn, among other things. Put simply: without sleep, we die.
If you’re looking for one “magic pill” that will supercharge your health this year, look no further: get more sleep. Period. (No sleeping pills required.)
Sleep will be my signpost for resting, relaxing, and letting some things take care of themselves. I will allow myself to “sleep on it” because I know that I have a tendency to overthink things. To worry in vain.
Sleep will be my medicine this year; it will give me the energy and clarity I need to move forward. It’s going to be a busy one.
Indeed, it was after a good night’s sleep that my brain made the connection…You’re getting some “ABS” this year:
I like it when my words work together like that 😉
My three words for 2019
These took a while for me to build. I did a mini-workshop around them. More so, I need them to deliver. And we’re almost in February, so here we go… It’s never too late to start. I think.
At first, I thought of “courage”. It’s a great word, but it’s abstract. Jump is much more concrete. It’s easier to check: Have I jumped today? How was it?
To jump, you must have energy. You should first bounce to get a better overview:
- What’s the other side like?
- Where are you jumping to?
- What do you need to make the jump?
- How much does it hurt if you fall?
All these control questions will make sure you jump only when absolutely necessary — whether the leap is big or small.
Trust the process, trust yourself. Take a leap of faith: jump to the other side.
To master the art of improvisation, you can’t judge yourself too harshly. No time to overthink or overanalyse. It’s OK to make mistakes, you learn from them and grow. The show must go on.
To improvise means you come up with different options. As a general rule, you can’t say no, only “yes, and…” or “yes, but…” This skill will teach you to become a better listener because you have to hear what the other person is suggesting. As a result, you’ll be an excellent team player.
Great improvisers are resourceful and solutions-oriented. They scan the environment for useful props or they invent their own tools. But their biggest secret is that they are well-prepared for any disaster to strike. That’s what makes them truly great at improvisation.
More than anything, this word invites spontaneity and living in the moment. Enjoy it while it lasts. Be more mindful of the present.
Jumping and improvising take up energy. You’ll have to recharge your batteries. What do I need to recharge right now?
Check your energy levels and learn what/who gives you energy, and what/who takes energy away from you. Don’t be afraid to cut ties with energy thieves. Be smart and outsource draining tasks, if you’re able to do so.
You’ll want to recharge before the battery is reaching zero. Rest, exercise, meet friends, meditate, plan some downtime. Recharge so you can jump and improvise again.
My three words for 2018
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.– Leonardo da Vinci
In 2018, I intend to keep things simple. I will declutter my home, choose my possessions wisely, and be a more conscious consumer.
I have a tendency to overthink things, which often leads to self-doubt, procrastination and overwhelm. Not exactly a recipe for developing a learning lifestyle.
Instead, I want to go back to the basics, by asking myself these questions:
- Is there an easier way to do this?
- What simple habits can I start right now?
- Who or what gives me joy?
For me, simplicity boils down to cutting out the non-essentials and making room for the most important.
In my mind, it’s a simple formula: pride + humility = success.– Jerod Morris, on What is Primility?
Primility is the combination of two words: pride and humility. I’ve humbly borrowed this concept from my virtual mentor, Jerod Morris.
A proud mind stands up for the beliefs, values, and the people you hold dear.
A humble mind seeks guidance, help, and counsel from people who have more experience and knowledge in a certain area.
Together, they’re a recipe for success.
So, how will I live out this core value of mine? In short, I will need the:
- Pride to do my best work every day.
- Humility to learn from mentors and not think I have every answer.
All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.– Pablo Picasso
What happened to my inner child? I take myself too seriously sometimes, and I want to “remain an artist”. Creativity is a fascinating topic and one I wish to delve deeper into in 2018.
To me, creativity is the expression of curiosity, love, hope, and generosity. Sharing ideas, solutions, and mixing different disciplines to make something better. What can I make? That question will guide my creative efforts in 2018.
My three words for 2017
I’ve done five years of My Three Words as a way to guide my efforts and actions throughout the year.
I want to thank Chris Brogan for introducing me to this alternative to New Year’s resolutions. So far, it’s been very helpful, especially when I choose words that lean towards action and meaning.
This year, I’ve decided to combine this exercise with James Clear’s excellent list of common core values and integrity reports. Discovering my core values gives me a clear sense of direction, regardless of what happens in 2017.
I intend to finish this year with an integrity report – an honest look in the mirror to see how well I lived out my core values (i.e. my three words).
Let’s dig in.
Growth is one of my core values. Heck, I’ve even written a whole book about it. As you may know, I want growth to be fun, exciting, and adventurous.
Here are some pointers to help me live out this core value of mine.
- Am I learning new things, exploring new places, and experimenting with new ideas?
- Read 1-2 books per month.
- Try new things, especially sports-related activities and creative endeavours.
- Am I questioning my limiting beliefs and trying to overcome them?
- Get better at recognising my limiting beliefs by writing them down in my journal.
- Ask: is this belief useful? If the answer is no, I choose to let go of it.
- Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?
- Continue to build on my morning, evening and fitness routines.
- Build better work habits, so I can work smarter, not harder.
Am I treating myself the way I would my best friend?
- I have a tendency to be way too hard on myself. Would I say this to a close friend?
- Recognise any negative “self talk” that doesn’t serve any purpose. Be more kind towards myself in 2017.
- I’m starting 2017 with a meditation practice on kindness. That feels like a good start.
- Am I living authentically (that is, living a life true to myself)?
- Be more honest about how I’m feeling and what I want.
- Care more about my own opinion of me.
- Practising indifference, not getting too wrapped up with what others think of me.
- Understanding that some things are outside of my control. Focus more on what I can influence.
- Am I giving myself permission to be happy with where I am right now?
- Practice gratitude. Be grateful for what you have and where you are.
- Write in a gratitude journal.
Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
- Share what I learn in as many situations as possible.
- Write 1-2 articles on my blog per month.
- Become a more conscious consumer of content. Choose more carefully what I decide to read, watch and listen to.
- Am I someone others can count on?
- Keep my promises, large and small, as often as I can.
- If I make a mistake, correct it. Apologise.
- Am I helping to make things better for others?
- Find a charitable cause I believe in.
- Look for opportunities to volunteer.
My three words for 2016
Getting started is half the battle.
Fears, overwhelm, and procrastination is often standing in our way.
Here are a few things I want to start in 2016:
- Publishing a weekly blog post
- Researching and writing my master’s thesis
- Mandala drawing
- Meditating every evening
- Start a new exercise form (e.g. rock climbing or boxing)
In the year ahead, I’ll adopt a beginner’s mindset and focus on how to get started. What do you want to start in 2016? More importantly, what’s stopping you?
You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.– Sherlock Holmes
As an extrovert, I’ve always admired my more introverted friends. They have developed an ability to observe their own and others’ behaviour.
Observing what works (and what doesn’t) gives us valuable information about ourselves, the people we know, and the world we live in. It’s how we learn.
Most people fail to observe: to listen, to see patterns, and to gather feedback. It’s hard work, but I plan to exercise my observation muscles in 2016. How about you?
Observations encourage us to adapt.
The world is constantly changing and if we want to survive (and thrive), we’ll need to change accordingly. New circumstances will undoubtedly arise and our ability to respond to these changes will determine our level of success.
But adaptation can be painful. It means stepping outside our comfort zone and doing things in a different way. To do things differently requires us to think differently. That can be both scary and difficult. But have you considered the alternative?
Process over outcomes
These three words invite me to test a new process:
- Start a project.
- Observe what happens.
- Adapt to real-life results.
Rather than having a to-do list of goals, I want to try out this three-step process, refine it, and see what lessons I can learn from it.
These three words will guide the direction of the blog, my business, and future decisions. I’ll start, observe, adapt, and let you know about my progress 🙂
My three words for 2015
Do you care so much about other people that you forget to look after your own needs? Yup, it happens to the best of us.
This year I want to focus my efforts and attention on my well-being. I want to do more of what makes me feel good and less of what sucks my precious energy.
You may find the answer in a smart framework like ESEM (Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Meet Friends). Mindfulness helps too, even if you’re only meditating for three minutes a day.
Sometimes, it’s not something we need to do. More often, it’s something we have to stop doing. That’s why I’m making a “Stop Doing” list this year. It includes items such as:
- Excessive TV watching
- Mindless Internet browsing
- Buying fast food
What can you stop doing to invest in your well-being? As soon as we stop doing something, we get more time and energy over to invest in the activities that really matter.
Making big changes can be hard. It’s much easier to take small steps than it is to take big ones. This brings me to my second word…
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.– Lao-tzu
Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy about taking small steps. You ask yourself small and positive questions, with the aim to trick yourself and get around the lizard brain (i.e. the fight and flight response).
How many times have you wanted to change something drastically, and then, six months later, done nothing? You felt overwhelmed. You were afraid. And you just never got around to doing anything about it.
Well, Kaizen works differently. Kaizen helps to shut up that evil voice inside your head that tells you that you can’t do this. It encourages you to ask small and positive questions, like:
- What one thing do you like about yourself?
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.— Mahatma Gandhi
Lead by example. Learn by doing.
Personal leadership requires vision, principles, and values. It means you set out your own path. This demands courage and execution, the willingness to try new things and to be wrong.
How to become a better leader:
- Take responsiblity for your actions
- Ask yourself: who do I look up to? Why?
- Do the work
- Listen before you speak
- Be present and reflect on your own progress
My three words for 2014
As in dream large, the motto of my university. Dreams are the fuel for change. 2014 will be the year of change for me. I’m leaving Australia behind and I don’t want to have any regrets. This quote sums it up well:
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”– Carl Jung
It’s time for me to do both.
“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”– Pablo Picasso
I love to dream big, but I also know how important it is to execute your dreams. That’s where the word creates comes into play. I want to write a book together with my dad, and maybe write one about my mother, too. The art of creation makes me feel alive. Whether it’s on paper, on a canvas, or on a stage; I wish to create art that inspires people to live more mindfully. It’s a beautiful gift. I can’t wait to share my creations with you in 2014.
I want to leave the safe harbour behind and set sail on new exciting adventures. I have many trips planned for 2014, and I’m eager to explore the world. For better or worse, explorers help shape our world and feed our dreams.
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”– C JoyBell C.
My three words for 2013
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”.– Oscar Wilde
It’s a challenge to live mindfully every day.
Many shiny distractions fight for our attention. And they seem so important.
This is why so many of us don’t live in the moment. Instead, we’re glued to the screen, typing or searching for the next big thing.
But imagine all the things we miss out on. Trees. Birds. A stranger dancing along to the Gangnam style video on his iPod (you have to LOVE public transport sometimes).
What’s surrounding you at this very moment? Take your time to savour whatever is there for you.
In 2013, I choose to live in the present.
“The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know”.– Socrates
I may have finished university, but my education is far from over. In fact, the future belongs to the hungry learners, to people like you and me.
Lifelong learning is the ultimate test. The one who keeps learning survives the longest. Here’s a shortlist of things I want to learn in 2013:
- Speed reading
- Audacity (software program)
- Playing chess
- Sight reading and singing
- Dancing salsa
The list goes on and on. 🙂
What do YOU want to learn in 2013?
Let me know what it is, and I’ll do my best to teach you whatever skills or tools you need to move forward.
“If you can move it an inch, you can move it a mile”.– Teaching Sells student
Do is my last word for 2013. It’s a short word with a lot of power.
Doing, to me, is about experimenting. It’s about getting the courage to take action. I know that taking one small action at a time builds momentum and sets the car in motion. Once you’ve done something once, it’s easier to do it twice.
I also happen to know that doing is a difficult practice. Our mind invents very convincing excuses to prevent us from being great, and I don’t want that for you in 2013.
That’s why I choose to live, learn and do.
My three words for 2012
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.– Epicetus
This year I wanted to practice my listening skills. To feel listened to, seen and heard by another person is one of the finest gifts you can give someone.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.– Amelia Earhart
You learn a lot by listening to others. But knowing what to do and actually doing something about it are two different things. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to take action.
“You define your own life. Don’t let other people write your script.”
– Oprah Winfrey
This was my first year of doing this exercise and I was looking for inspiration from others on how to live a fun and meaningful life. But I was also coming to terms with my own identity and wanted to inspire others to find their own purpose.
It’s telling that the origin of this word can be traced back to the Latin inspirare, which means “to breathe or blow into”. I’ve come full circle this year.
Breathe new life
It’s a sign of sorts. I want to breathe new life into this blog. I want to breathe new life into my writing. And I want to inspire you to live your best life no matter the circumstances.
Thank you for sharing the journey with me over this past decade. It’s been an absolute delight. Let’s continue to choose words that inspire us to make a difference in our lives. Every year offers a new beginning.
What are your three words for 2022?
Sharing this exercise makes it more fun. I’d love to hear your three words. Drop them in the comments!