Consider ‘3 Words’ Instead of a Resolution this year…

It’s likely you’ve already heard or read a lot about goal setting and resolutions in the last couple of weeks. They are the go to topic for the end of the year and for good reason… almost everyone will give some thought to how they would like things to be different next year. And a New Year’s Resolution or a goal can be an easy way to think about the change that you’d like to see.

The problem is that resolutions famously don’t work very well – at least for most people.

James Clear, in his great book Atomic Habits, does an excellent job of explaining the issue. He shares the idea of layers of behavior change – Outcomes are the end results that we want, Processes are the ‘how’ that we use to get those outcomes and Identity is the way that we see ourselves.

Most of us tend to focus on outcomes when we want to change – i.e. “I want to lose 30 pounds. I want to stop smoking. I want to be stronger, make more money, spend more time with my family.” 

Although these are all worthwhile outcomes and maybe even something that you really want, it turns out you’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re trying to make change from the outside in, which can be very difficult to maintain. 

Imagine two people resisting the offer of a cigarette – the first one says ‘No thanks, I’m trying to quit.’ This is an outcome based approach – but they still identify as a smoker.

The second person says ‘No thanks, I’m not a smoker.’  Inherently they don’t see themselves as someone who smokes.  Which of these two are more likely to hold onto their decision to not smoke?

This is where Resolutions fall apart…

Resolutions are almost always outcome focused and generally rely on willpower or dedication. Which leads to 2 likely issues. The first one is that it’s easy to have a bad day and give up on your resolution. (“Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue…“). Studies (and life experience), have repeatedly shown that willpower is a finite resource and not something you can count on.

The second problem is that you might succeed in hitting your goal (I want to lose 10 pounds by spring) – which sounds great, but unless you’ve actually changed your beliefs (identity) you’ll probably fall back into old habits and end up back where you started.

And that’s why the idea of focusing on your identity is so important. Rather than a goal to lose weight, what if you focused on being a healthy person? And did the kinds of things that healthy people do? Not only is that likely to lead to weight loss, but if you truly start to identify as the kind of person who doesn’t eat a dozen twinkies most afternoons, then it’s unlikely that would fall back into that behavioral pattern.

3 Words versus a Resolution?

One idea that you might consider trying is the idea of adopting 3 words for the year instead of New Year’s Resolutions. I first heard about this idea about 10 years ago from author and marketing expert Chris Brogan, who’s been using this approach (and writing about it) since 2006.

The idea is simple enough – come up with 3 words that resonate with you and inspire you towards the kind of year (or future) you want to have. As an example, here’s a link to the 3 words that Chris Brogan came up with for himself in 2021. He ended up with the words ‘Showrunner’, ‘Monk’, and ‘Options’ – all of which had a specific meaning and connotation for his life. He also shares the words that he’s used for every year since 2006.

What I like about this approach is that it gives you a much better chance to capture your intrinsic motivation with an inspiring word (or set of 3 words). This can help you focus on the identity that you want to create, which leads to actual long term behavior change (as James Clear talks about above…).

It also becomes a great way to focus and will help you prioritize how you spend your time. Another one of my favorite books is Essentialism by Greg McKeown. And one of the big ideas in Essentialism is that most of us struggle because we’re trying to do too much… (If you don’t prioritize your life someone else will…). By adopting 3 Words as your focus for the year, you can use them to filter out opportunities or distractions that just don’t fit with what’s most important to you.

My 3 Words?

I’m still working on this idea so these are still subject to change, but I thought I would try this approach and see how it worked for me in 2022. My 3 words for 2022 are as follows:

Renew – the last few years I’ve had a challenge with one of my hips (arthritis) and it’s gotten to the point of seriously impacting who I want to be, so this year I want to focus on renewing my health and capabilities – even if that means having to get surgery… which I really don’t want to do.

Discover – I’m personally in a transition period, with our kids (mostly) moving on to the next stage of their lives. A big theme for me this year is to figure out what’s next? What could my next chapter look like?

Connect – I’ve spent the last 20 years (or so) raising a family and building a business / career. And those have been great things that I wouldn’t want to change. However that focus has come at the cost of personal connections and that is something I’d like to start changing. I’m not sure what that looks like or how I’ll go about it – but that’s why it’s good start with an intention.

Renew, Discover, Connect – I don’t know if those will hold up as my final 3 choices, but I’m happy with them as a solid starting point. And, it’s been a worthwhile exercise to just think through the process so far.

What about you? What are your 3 words for the year? I’d love to hear your thoughts (leave me a comment or send me an email… or call… or maybe let’s get together for coffee and connect…!) 😉

Have a great 2022!

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

1 thought on “Consider ‘3 Words’ Instead of a Resolution this year…”

  1. Julie Bartels Smith says:

    Love the 3 words idea and have been using it for a while. My first ones were “Lead With Love.” This year it’s just two: peace and boundaries. Thanks for inspiring me, Shawn.

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