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How One Little Word + 3 Habits Changed the Way I Start a New Year

This post: Why I choose one little word every year, instead of making a million New Year’s resolutions.

A few weeks ago, I was up reading early one morning when I discovered a slip of paper tucked inside a book I hadn’t opened in a while.

The paper was a list from January 2019 + I’d written three goals for that year. (For years, I’ve just picked three goals for the new year.)

As I read through the short list I’d scribbled years earlier, I realized one thing:

  • I no longer had to think about doing those things. They had become habits and rhythms in my life.

I can’t tell you how satisfied I felt, realizing that my New Year’s “resolutions” hadn’t been shelved + forgotten. Years later, the habits had stuck.

The reason this made me so happy? Staying on track hasn’t always been my reality.

My Rocky Relationship with New Year Resolutions

I love the start of anything new – especially a new year.

As an incurable idealist, however, I have a long track record of “break ups” with my New Year’s resolutions. Not because I quit caring or lack motivation to try. (I’m a fiercely motivated woman.)

But somehow, after a few weeks of all-or-nothing effort, my lofty goals always seemed to digress into deep frustration. And I never could figure out why.

How “One Little Word” Changed My Life (One Year at a Time)

Everyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a word-loving girl. So when I stumbled upon the “One Little Word” idea (nearly a decade ago), it took me about two seconds to convert.

You can read all about “One Little Word” and the creative designer, Ali Edwards – right here. Discovering Ali’s challenge was a gamer changer for me! I could finally zero in on one thing, which immediately felt less overwhelming + more focused.

I’m a very idea-oriented person, so most of my “one little words” are conceptual. A few words I’ve chosen over the years – “quiet” (2015); “consistent” (2020); and “peace (2022).

My friend, Nipa, chooses more action oriented words. You can read her inspiring ideas here: The Easiest New Years Resolution.

Each year, I pick "one little word" to focus on.
This year’s word.

Per Ali’s brilliant challenge, every January I choose a single word (instead of a dozen lofty goals) to focus on for an entire year. This habit centered my detail-loathing, task-oriented, big-picture-seeking heart.

But over the years, I still needed some help breaking down my “one word” idea into practical steps.

The Power of Little Habits

If “One Little Word” changed my life, three little habits took my growth to the next level.

I can’t remember when or how, but somewhere along the way I ran into the idea of cultivating habits instead of just setting goals. The idea is to focus on a single habit formation, which then leads to a larger goal eventually being reached or achieved.

For example:

Instead of setting myself a vague goal – like “whiten my teeth with no foreseeable plan of action in place, I would set a single habit goal – “daily oil pulling.” Among other health benefits, oil pulling can naturally whiten your teeth. I’ve been oil pulling most mornings for several years now, and the habit has improved my oral health.

Other habit-versus-goal examples:

  • Menu plan on Saturday nights, vs. Start cooking healthier
  • Morning run, 3x a week, vs. Get in shape
  • Read for five minutes a day, vs. Read more this year
  • Quit working after dinner, vs. Spend more time with the kids

Most years, I set just three habits for myself. I find that less is truly more!

These can be brand new habits (like the oil pulling habit). Or something building on an existing habit (like training for a 5K).

Before setting “habit” goals, I think about what areas of life that need some focus:

  • finances
  • spending time with my husband
  • my relationship with my kids
  • homeschooling
  • work + writing
  • health or self-care

After I’ve spent some time reflecting + prioritizing, I write out very few + very specific habit goals beneath specific categories. I don’t make new goals for every area of life every year.

The forty-something New Years I’ve experienced thus far have taught me a lesson: I can’t do it all well.

Honestly, I don’t like this truth – but I’ve learned to respect it. And adjust my expectations accordingly. So I make little goals – usually in the form of about three new habits a year – and I focus on my “one little word.”

If this all sounds much too simplistic + too minimalistic to make a difference, let me assure you – this approach has made a world of difference in my productivity over the years.

Consistency is what powers new habits.
Consistency powers new habits. (Get my free download here.)

Because of this prioritized + focused approach, in the last decade I’ve been able to

  • homeschool my five kids + stay active in our local community
  • maintain an avid reading lifestyle
  • work alongside my husband in our church
  • consistently workout + reach healthy weight goals
  • improve my overall health
  • keep up daily beauty + self care routines
  • work from home part time
  • take time to write + pursue personal passions

And lest you be tempted to think I’ve figured out how to “do it all,” let me assure you that I don’t.

But I do spend most of my life focusing my time + energy on things + people that I value. And that’s exactly what a New Years resolution is really all about, right? Helping us do a little better at sticking with what really matters.

Realizing What Works

Finding that list on a morning in late-November opened my eyes anew to the incredible power of consistency in small things. I think I realized – perhaps more clearly than I ever had – that making the same, small decisions over and over moves me toward larger goals + end results. This is the power of consistency in creating a life we love.

Want some practical help? Download my mini, guided journaling packet – it’s FREE!

Consistency is what powers new habits.

FREE Download: Click Here

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Your Turn

Have you ever heard of the One Little Word challenge? What little habits would you like to master by the end of this year?

Drop a comment + let me know.

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  1. I love this post! And I love your “One Little Word Boutique!” Such a neat idea!

    1. Thank you, Sheila! As a highly visual person, I need lots of reminders in front of me! 😉 I’m so glad you liked the “boutique.”

  2. I love this post! And I love your “One Little Word Boutique!” Such a neat idea!

    I don’t think I have ever picked a word for myself, but this year, “Intentional” came to mind. I like your idea of a few small habits to start. Sometimes I get overwhelmed in long lists, and keeping it simple is more achievable/ realistic. Thanks for the post and pointers! <3

  3. When your post popped up on my Pinterest feed, I was so excited to read your take on “one word” and so flattered that you included me in your post!

    I hadn’t heard of Ali, and hadn’t thought about having my word printed on something I would see everyday (I probably should put it on a coffee mug!)

    Often, my word just pops into my head but this year, I’m still trying to decide between a few words, so I’m going to take a more deliberate approach to figuring it out like you do.

    Xo Nipa