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The Power of a Word

Jan 23, 2020

by Ruth O’Neil 

Like a brand-new journal, January represents a fresh start or a clean slate. It’s a great time to reflect on what’s going well and what needs work–and to make changes if necessary.

One way to give your new year a jump start is to choose a word that can help define or refine your direction. This word will be the theme or motto for the coming year. It can act as your compass, leading and guiding you in the direction of personal and spiritual growth. Claiming a meaningful word as your motto can change the trajectory of your whole year.

Here are five steps to help you identify, claim and live your “Word of the Year”.

Step One: Pray

Always, always the best place to begin! Ask God for clarity and direction in choosing your word. Keep this intention as part of your prayer for a few days, or even a week, before moving on to the next step. Write down any insights or inspirations  you have during this time. You’ll be surprised at how certain words will keep popping up in your mind.

Step Two: Write

As you move through the week praying and looking out for the words that come to you, write them down. Also, think of words or phrases that inspire you, words that attract your attention, and words that challenge you. Whatever comes to your mind during this step, write them down.

Step Three: Categorize

Using the words or phrases from the last step, look for common themes and sort them accordingly. The theme with the most words wins!

Step Four: Research

Using the winning theme from the previous exercise, look up synonyms for the words to hone your theme. As you write these down, you’ll see a pattern emerge. The pattern will point you to your word.

It’s possible that you won’t need all of these steps to identify your motto. God knows the word He wants for you, the one that will inspire you, challenge you, and help you grow in the ways He desires. He may make your word clear as day during the first step of prayer, but then again, maybe not. Since these steps can be enlightening, and help you “buy into” your word, going through all five steps will be beneficial.

In some years, your word may be obvious; in other years, you may have to go through all the steps and simply make a choice based on what you think would bring the most personal and spiritual growth. The process of diving in to unlock the deeper meaning of words can be powerful, so it’s well worth going through all the steps regardless of when your word becomes apparent.

Step Five: Internalize

The final step in this process will help you internalize your word and create a motto. Using your word as the foundation, create an acronym including words that further describe how you will live out your motto. As you create your acronym, it’s helpful to remember to include both the means and the attitudes that can help you nurture your theme and incorporate it in all aspects of your life: spiritual, personal, and professional.

Here is an example of an acronym developed from the word “Positive”. Each letter of the acronym represents either a means or an attitude to help nurture and implement the word “Positive” into your life.



Silver lining






Going through these five steps will help you choose a word as your motto for the year. Claiming a word to guide your year can help you define, or refine your direction, and act as a compass when you lose your way. Taking the time to discover your word or motto for this year might be just the element of change you’ve been seeking.

About Ruth O’Neil

Ruth is a Certified Life and Strengths Strategies Master Coach and People Acuity Specialist, with additional certifications and licensing in Effective Communication, Marriage and Family, Boundaries, Spiritual Formation, Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living, Strengths Strategies for Optimal Families, and Faith-based Community Building. She has several professional memberships and participates in challenging and inspiring thought leader groups, such as People Acuity and Strengths Strategies, Soar, The International Christian Coaches Association, and Local Women Entrepreneurs Mastermind. For more information about her services, please visit Ruth O’Neil Coaching.

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