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The Secret to One Powerful Word: The Simple Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions

star decorationEach year I choose a single word or phrase as my guiding star for the next 365 days.

A tremendous power seems to unleash itself when I place my attention gently but wholeheartedly on one designation, one destination.

You’ll find creative ideas for discovering your own perfect word and tips on how to bring it to life in my previous articles on the one word alternative to New Year’s resolutions.

But here’s a secret I haven’t yet shared.  One that I just realized for myself.

My one perfect word works like magic because I choose a guiding principle that is so deeply and profoundly congruent with the most essential and important change I would like to occur in the coming year.  Often, the word seems to choose me instead of the other way around.

This requires the willingness to listen, be receptive and wait patiently. Your word may not fall out of the sky like a meteor the first time you engage with this approach.  In fact, my word usually creeps up on me and then finally congeals in a burst of clarity.  On the other hand, your word might pop up right away. You may still want to let it percolate to be sure it’s a good fit.

The emphasis is on allowing the deepest part of yourself to express the next phase of your destiny.  When a word resonates so profoundly, the lessons and transformation unfold almost seamlessly though not necessarily without bumps.

A Constellation of Compassion

My 2013 word is “nying jé” – a Tibetan word often translated as “compassion”, which actually represents a constellation of qualities including:

  • love
  • affection
  • kindness
  • compassion
  • gentleness
  • generosity of spirit
  • warm-heartedness
  • sympathy
  • endearment

The practice of compassion erodes away self-cherishing and self-grasping, which cause suffering for ourselves and others and diminish our happiness.

Self-cherishing means being overly self-centered.  When you think of yourself too much there’s no end to problems.  There’s always something to worry about, protect, anger over or fear.

Self-grasping means holding onto the notion of a permanent, existent self when, in actual fact, we are a flowing stream of awareness.  The “self” is just a label for an entity that you can never actually pinpoint.  That doesn’t mean we don’t exist.  We exist, but not in the solid, ever-lasting way that usually dominates our day-to-day experience.

Compassion is a powerful antidote for overcoming self-cherishing and self-grasping, recognizing our interdependence with all living beings, and ultimately realizing our true essence.

Along with aiming toward greater openheartedness, I’m looking at where I go when a situation gets tight:  impatience, judgment, defensiveness, criticism, and even occasional forays into anger.  I’m committing to greater vigilance, to catching those dark emotions before they boil over and harm myself and others.

“In my every action, I will watch my mind,
And the moment destructive emotions arise,
I will confront them strongly and avert them,
Since they will hurt both me and others.”
~ Verse 3 of The Eight Verses of Mind Training by Geshe Langri Thangpa

This is a tall order and it’s a bit intimidating to say this out loud.  I know I’m bound to fail sometimes.  But I also see what the world needs now is love and compassion and it begins with me.

This year my word has morphed into an entire constellation brightly lighting my way.

Will you chose one word to guide you in 2013?  What might it be?

If you would like help uncovering your deepest intentions you might enjoy reading How to Do an Intention and Reflection Process for the New Year by Maia Duerr.

Thank you so much for reading and sharing!  If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe for free updates by email.  With love,  Sandra


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  1. jean sampson

    Wonderful post, Sandra! I love that you chose such a rich word and that you really can feel everything that it means. I chose the word “love” because I can also feel everything that it means to me—–thoughtfulness, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, unselfishness, expansion, inclusion, embracing, understanding, opening. When I think of love, I FEEL that whole complex of related qualities, and that is very important for me if I make that word my word for the year. It actually looks like we have really chosen the same word with its constellation of related qualities—-just in different languages! 🙂

    • Hi Jean,

      I love all the dimensions of “love” you feel! Isn’t it amazing how a single word can have some many different facts. That makes it such a rich word to explore for the year. Yes, I think we have chosen the same word and your expansive translation will enrich my experience of my word!

  2. I’m writing my post on this topic this week, Sandra. In the past I’ve chosen three words, but this year it’s going to be one–the word has been pulling at me for a month now. I’ll link back to your wonderful post when I write it. I love your word.

    • I can’t wait to see your post, Charlotte! Sounds like a strong word if it’s been pulling you for a month. 🙂 Look out 2013!

  3. Lovely post, Sandra! I’ve been doing this guiding word for a few years now and absolutely love it! Still waiting for mine for 2013 but am excited to see what will come. For 2012 it was simplify. I just had the revelation yesterday that my foot injury was gifted to me to help me simplify even further in 2012. I have a very pared down life right now because of my limited ability and I am learning to embrace and trust it.

    • Thanks, Michele! It’s huge when our life gets pared down for us due to external. Often, the tendency is to resistance and frustration. I admire your ability to embrace and trust small and simple for now. Simplify could be my word for 2013 since it’s definitely on my agenda, but the constellation of compassion rings deeper for me at the moment. I’ll be curious to see what your 2013 word is! Thanks for telling us about your injury and how it relates with your aspiration for this past year.

  4. Wow, what a year it’s going to be for you Sandra:) We need more compassion in the world. More people need to take this on as their resolution and live their day to day lives focused on it. I haven’t found my one word yet for 2013 but your article in Tiny Buddha has inspired me to focus on at least one area of my life.

    By the way, is it fair to say that compassion essentially takes the focus away on ourselves and puts it on other people around us?

    • I’ll be curious to see what your one word is! Come back and tell us. Your already have a huge heart. 🙂

      Yes, compassion takes the focus away from ourselves and puts it on others. The Buddhist training in compassion is progressive. It begins with seeings others as the same as you, moves into exchanging yourself for others, and in the third stage one sees others as more important that yourself. I’m sure that sounds radical to many of us – especially as modern people tend to be so emotionally wounded – but it doesn’t meant that we neglect ourselves or have low self esteem.

  5. You are ahead of me! I choose a word every year, too, but not until New Year’s Eve. So my word for 2103 is still in the mists of unknowing. You have chosen well, my friend.

    • Hi Galen,

      I seem more on a birthday to birthday cycle. My word starts to emerge around my birthday and then is very clear as we move toward the New Year. How amazing you can allow your word to speak to you on that special evening.

  6. Absolutely beautiful! I love your word and the explanation. It sounds *magical*.

    For the past few years, I have practiced choosing one word. It is life changing. My 2013 word is collaboration. My intent is to “collaborate with love”; I allow the meaning to unfold and evolve, so with this word, I cannot even fathom what will manifest. To “solidify my intent”, my Facets community is debuting a collaborative project January 1st. I love the feel of collaboration, and I promise myself I will remain open to all of the new and different that is perfectly placed 🙂

  7. Love it Sandra. 🙂 I believe the world is in dire need of compassionate beings. We are at a crossroads now collectively. Do we stay on the same path (the status quo)? Or do we head into a golden age of humanity if you will of peace, cooperation and certainly compassion towards our fellow beings on this planet.

    • We’re making the choice in every moment, aren’t we? My vote is for peace, cooperation, and compassion. Thanks for your thoughts, Justin!

  8. I do enjoy this exercise in centering through using language as a mantra! My personal focus for the coming year is on letting down more of my own psychological and emotional defenses. I’m visualizing myself like Ali Baba, wielding a magic phrase that codes one of the Talmudic names of God (sem=sesame) to gain entrance to the closed cave of a mountain full of hidden treasure. My word is “open”.

  9. I’m glad you are keeping this tradition alive, Sandra. I don’t have my word yet for 2013 but I am confident that it will come to me soon. What’s been coming to mind of late is “seeds” and that may indicate the word “grow”. Only time will tell if that’s my word or if it’s another one.

    • I’ll be curious to hear the word that emerges for you. Whatever it is, I don’t doubt that you will have a transformative year. I hope it’s filled with encouraging and happy moments.

  10. I find this project to be thought-provoking and centering, an irresistible combination. My word hasn’t come to me yet, but I know it involves completion, manifesting, finishing, publishing, etc. It’s as if my inner Captain Picard is saying, “Make it so.”

    The past year has provided the raw material and information out of which I can make things, take action, refine a direction.

    Happy Solstice, Sandra 🙂

    • Meg,

      I like the sense of your word that hasn’t emerged yet. Can’t wait to see what it will be! That constellations of completion, manifesting, etc. could also fit me like a glove. Nice to have this inner Captain Picard!

  11. I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They just never fit me. But when I read somewhere about using one word as a guide, it rang true.

    Last year my word was kindness. It was awesome. It was perfect for me and where I was in my life. This year my word is see. It’s about seeing all the things I miss when I rush. It’s about being here and now. It’s about opening my heart to the world more.

    Best wishes with your word. May it bring you peace and joy.

    • I love the idea of “see”! It sounds like it will be a perfect word for you this year just like the last one. I can feel your enthusiasm. Thanks for sharing your word with us.

  12. I love the word in another language, I’ve never thought of that! Sometimes there are words that don’t quite come through in the English language, some of the meaning is lost. Happy new year, good luck with your word this year!

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