A short expression of a guiding principle; a sentence, phrase, or word expressing the spirit or purpose of a person
Choosing a motto to define your year has become a common life planning technique. A succinct word or phrase provides a theme for our year and gives us something to orient toward when planning how to spend our time and energy.
A motto can be used to inspire, to explore, to reflect on or to help us focus.
In this post, I’ll explore some of the variations of this technique, and how you can apply it to live more intentionally in the weeks and months to come.
What Makes a Good Motto?
Choosing a motto for your year is a type of intention setting, which subtly shapes how you approach everything you do throughout the year. But how do you choose? And does it have to be a single word, or can it be a phrase or a quote?
The aim is to choose something simple, that is easy to remember, and that captures the spirit of where you want to direct your time and energy. It’s not a replacement for more detailed planning, if you’re aiming toward specific goals. But its simplicity can make it powerful, since it’s easier to recall a single word or phrase in times of indecision or distraction than to remember an entire 10-point plan.
Thus, it should be memorable, and it should have a meaning that guides you throughout your year. In my experience, phrases provide more direction and focus, while words and quotes provide more inspiration and room for exploration.
Regardless of what you choose, you’ll need to provide your own context for what it means to you. No single word, phrase or quote can provide its meaning all on its own. When choosing your motto for the year, you should think about the broader intention you are setting. Then throughout the year, you can explore how this intention changes within the context of that motto.
I have found it useful when choosing a motto, to also write a few bullet points or a brief paragraph describing what it currently means to me (knowing this might change throughout the year).
Finally, put the motto somewhere where you can easily see it, so it becomes a constant reminder in your life.
Several writers have written posts containing lists of example words to explore. Check out some of these:
- Word of the Year Ideas for Your Bullet Journal
- Why You Need Personal Word of The Year & How To Choose It
- Word of the Year Ideas – One Little Word
Since it can be helpful to see how others define their mottos, here’s a few of the words and phrases I’ve used in the past:
I want to continue the movement of my body through dance and my location through travel. For dance, I want to practice more, teach more, attend workshops and do a performance. For travel, I want to continue to explore new ways to travel.
While healthy, I want to improve my health further—to give myself more energy and strength to achieve my desires. I want to lose weight, exercise more, expand my diet and address unresolved health issues.
I want to stop mitigating my weaknesses in sales and management and putting energy into low value activities like accounting, legal and support. I want to focus on my strengths: creating new paradigms, asking the right questions, figuring out what matters, developing insightful strategies & building great products.
I want to give value to others more. I envision doing this by writing more articles on my blog that can help people, and by re-connecting with people in my network to offer insights and connections.
I want to reduce distractions and the time I spend on low-value activities. I want to increase my focus when I’m in foundational activities, minimize multi-tasking and maximize the value of those activities.
I’ve spent 12 years running my current business and am ready for something new. I want to focus on wrapping up old projects and preparing the stage for the next decade of my life. To do this, I want to avoid any new activities or projects.
Make More Mistakes
Mistakes are how we learn, how we grow and how we become proficient. In business, in relationships, in dance and everything else I do, I want to push myself farther. I already make mistakes all the time. But I want to make more of them. I want to become comfortable with failure, to be able to embrace it, rather than merely tolerate it. To actively seek it out.
You may also want to explore these quotes to live by.
Using Mottos Elsewhere
While choosing a motto for the year can be useful, you can use the motto technique in a variety of ways.
Choose a motto for each aspect of your life, instead of for your entire life.
In the past, I’ve had separate mottos for each major part of my life: work, career, community, personal, foundation. You might choose a different motto for the spiritual or family aspect of your life that is different than your work or community life.
Choose a motto for different time periods.
Don’t restrict yourself to only choosing a motto for the year. You can choose a motto for a month, a week or even a day. One useful time management technique is to choose a theme for each week of the month, such as Growth or Cleanup, so you can stay focused on activities that support that theme.
Some people map out mottos for each month of the year. One year I choose separate mottos for the first half of the year and the second half of the year (they were Scene Change and Restart Passions).
My Word of the Year
For 2020, I’ve chosen the word Eudaimonia, which is a Greek word meaning well-being or flourishing. The word has different shades of meanings that have changed over the years, some of which I’ll be exploring this year.
At this point in time, I am exploring the word as a way of creating a life of balance, where I am providing good to the world in some objective sense, that leverages some of my innate abilities and focuses on taking action. I’m going to be exploring the “virtues” of self-control, wisdom, honesty, moderation, simplicity and resolve.
At some point during the year, I aim to read some of the ancient Greek philosophers that explored the concept of eudaimonia, such as Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno.
Picking a motto for the year can be used for inspiration, exploration, reflection or focus. Choose a word, phrase or quote that has meaning to you, that you would like to reflect in your actions and thoughts over the next year.
And don’t restrict yourself to a single motto for the entire year: feel free to choose different mottos for different time periods or aspects of your life.
Some additional resources for you:
With all that said, what motto will you choose for 2020?
P.S.: While looking for a photo for this post, I discovered that if you type the word “word” into free online photo tools, it becomes a tool for exploring different mottos. Check it out on Pexels or Max Pixel.