At the beginning of last year, I decided to choose three words that I wanted to define and guide my life for the coming 12 months.
After a turbulent previous couple of years, I knew it going to continue to be a time of significant change. Settling on a single word felt too general and too limiting, and having a list of highly detailed goals was not, I felt at that time, the best way forward.
So I chose three words, wrote them down – one each on a blank postcard in large bold letters – and stood the postcards up by my window ledge so they were in full view as often as possible.
Whenever I came into the room, and whenever I looked up from working at my desk, there they were, a reminder, and a guide, of how I wanted my life to evolve.
As time went by, I’d so absorbed them into my way of being and doing, I didn’t need them to be written down anymore.
In a similar way to when you move to a new address for example – after a while it’s just home. You know how to get there without directions, and you can quote the address off the top of your head without it being written down.
Coming into a new year, I’m going to do exactly the same, and choose three new words that I want to define and guide the next four seasons. Because it works. Incredibly well.
Unfortunately, most of us, most of the time, do this the opposite way around. Back to front and inside out.
Instead of choosing words and goals that will influence how we want to our lives to continue to unfold, and then seeing our behaviour and actions guided by those words and goals, we only see the words afterwards. And they’re not words that fill us with triumph and elation.
Instead of saying, for example, that you’d like more space for your creativity to breathe and grow, then holding this aloft to make positive decisions as to how you spend your time day to day, it happens the other way around.
The choices seem to get made for you as you have no guiding principle or measure to fall back on.
Then you wake up one day, look back on the last few weeks and months, and wonder where the time disappeared to, and why you’ve spent no time creating.
And so, you arrive at your defining word for that period through the actions and demands of others, and the most accurate description becomes not the “space” you crave, but maybe something like “overwhelm” or “demands” or “powerlessness”.
The words have to come first, so they are in place to guide you when the choices arrive.
And, thick and fast, they will arrive.
Imagine going into a clothes store with no idea what you want, and being influenced by the assistants and other customers. You’ll more than likely end up purchasing something you didn’t need or want, and that doesn’t fit or suit you anyway.
Alternatively, if you’d have gone in with some guidelines – like you wanted one pair of jeans, no more than a certain price, and in a certain cut – and then let these factors guide your shopping experience, you’d come out with something that did suit your needs. You certainly wouldn’t end up with a pile of clothes you never wanted and feel resentful and cheated afterwards.
The same is true in your life.
Choose a few words or guidelines, and fall back to consult them before every significant choice, and your life will be very different to how it would be if you just fumbled through in half darkness, letting everyone and everything else dictate your choices and your life.
You might be wondering at this point about how to choose the right words?
The first thing to say is there is not perfect choice, no absolute right or wrong. You won’t necessarily be able to instantly come up with three words either.
The words you choose don’t have to be set in stone, and the reason I chose three is that it gives a little more flexibility, and you can change one or two as you go, if you find they’re not right for you.
The best kinds of words to choose are ones that are broad enough to be able to use in many situations and areas in your life, and specific enough to mean something important to you.
You need them to be able to guide your decisions and actions with a certain strength, meaningfulness and gravitas. They need to be rooted in important values that you have, and aspire to have.
You might even want to call them guiding principles. It’s just they’re principles defined by a set of three single words rather than a long list of complicated instructions.
For example, here are my three words from the last year, and a little explanation of what they mean to me.
Courage – being brave in life, keep gently pushing myself and what I can do, taking a deep breath and believing, then acting based on that, rather than being too afraid to to anything meaningful or interesting.
Momentum – building on actions with further actions along the same path, following through rather than doing one thing that works, then abandoning it. My daily practice based around yoga has been at the core of this habit.
Less – only having that which I need, shedding the excess that gets in the way, complicates life and holds me back. The less you have, the more space you have to enjoy and appreciate it, and the more important it becomes.
Each of these three words have a strong meaning and connection behind them that motivate me, and make them important.
The three combined become even more powerful, as for every choice I came across, I could ask myself:
Am I being courageous?
How is this building on momentum in the right direction?
How can I do this in as engaged a way as possible, without getting too complicated?
From those three little words, a great deal of good can come, and did come.
What kind of words are coming to mind for you, that might guide how you’d like your creative life to evolve over the next year? Jot them down.
When you begin with your three chosen words, it worked for me to have them written down and on display, so I’d often be reminded of them. You might even want to take a few moments at the start and the end of the day to just read and contemplate the words, to keep you on track.
After a short time, it becomes second nature though.
Your three words just guide you in a more discrete and subliminal way, and you develop an instinct for choices and actions that support the way you wish your life to evolve.
I’d encourage you to try this for yourself over the coming year.
If you want to, you can set more detailed goals too, if that works for you.
But having this underlying idea of just three guiding words keeps things simple and very powerful.
Then, with every significant decision you make, and indeed with every action you make, just ask yourself in that moment – How is this decision and action in alignment with my three guiding words?
If it isn’t, you might want to reconsider an alternative choice and action.
Because after all, neither of us want to see you go through another year where you look back and wonder why almost everything you did seemed dictated by everyone else but you and you drifted ever further from what really matters.
Another year where if there were any guiding words that defined your life, they seemed to be ones like disappointment, discontent and unfulfilled.
Take back control of your life. Have the three words in place before each decision, and each action, so they can influence you in the right way.
What will your three guiding words be?
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