12/29/2015 03:50 EST | Updated 12/29/2016 05:12 EST

This Word Game Is Better Than Any New Year's Resolution

Instead of thinking about what physical goals you want to reach (lose 20 pounds, make six figures, buy a house), you think about the why of these things. How do you think they're going to make you feel (maybe sexy, wealthy, secure)? You'll discover a whole bunch of other ways to achieve those feelings.

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White letters word Dream and sunny summer field,

I don't like New Year's resolutions. The most popular resolution every year is weight loss. Really. All the victories, dramas, crises and dreams of a year gone by get boiled down to berating yourself for a few pounds of extra fat. How can that possibly be fruitful way to launch into the new one?

But there is something about the end of the calendar year that seems to encourage a bit of reflection. Maybe it's because we take a few days off so we actually have some mental space to think about such things. Instead of making resolutions, which statistically you're almost certain not to keep anyway, here's a much better entertainment for your New Year's Eve.

What guides you? What drives your life decisions? I'm not talking about faith in God or moral standards. I'm talking about the emotions, desires and self-knowledge we use to set our priorities and give ourselves direction. If you don't know, or if you think whatever has been guiding you in the past has to change a bit (or a lot), this is a good time to investigate what you want it to be in the future.

To make it easy and fun I have some words games for you, because words give clarity to our thoughts and are a handy way of reminding ourselves of what we want in life. They act as a kind of litmus test for our decisions. As in, does this action fulfill my guiding word?

I started playing annual word games because of Danielle Laporte's Desire Map, where she focuses on determining how you want to feel. Instead of thinking about what physical goals you want to reach (lose 20 pounds, make six figures, buy a house), you think about the why of these things. In other words, how do you think they're going to make you feel (maybe sexy, wealthy, secure)?

If you start the other way around and pick four or five things you want to feel, you'll discover -- this is the best part -- that there are a whole bunch of other ways to achieve those feelings. Which liberates you from restrictive, anxiety-producing goal-setting.

A good friend of mine takes a one-word approach. And it has to be a verb because verbs imply action.

For 2016, hers is SHAPE. It's a word that has a lot of scope -- taking shape, shaping up, getting in shape, shaping whatever -- which is a pretty slippery way to wring a lot out of just one word and a verb at that. Some people go for a single word but give themselves more grammatical leeway. Why not an adjective, or a noun? I find one of anything too restrictive myself (and we'll discover why a little later on) but some people work better with tight parameters.

I personally use four words, with some Laportesque overtones to the game. Four is a completely arbitrary number (the best part about these games is you can make your own rules). If I didn't give myself a hard stop like that I'd have no focus at all, but on the other hand I can never seem to get it down to three and still feel satisfied. You can be your own word-control police.

My words for the past year have been beauty, laughter, community and financial serenity. I know that last one is two words, but those are allowed within my rules. See how nice and forgiving this game is?

Last year I changed financial "security" to "serenity" when I realized that I wanted to feel good about whatever I had, which is not at all the same as security. The goal posts of security shift around depending on how much you think you want or need, so it was no wonder I never felt I was achieving it. Amazing what a word game can reveal.

I'm still happy with my words. They guided me well for 2015, but for 2016 I'm going to up the ante on "community" and change it to "belonging."

This is quite a Big Deal. There's significantly more investment of effort and emotion involved in belonging and it will take more gumption from me than just participating in a community. But I think I'm up to it. I want to be up to it, and that's the point of the word game -- to set an idea in motion about how we intend to be in the world.

Last but not least, there's the operating principle game. What's the thing you always default to when you're making big life decisions, the one thing that is most important for you to have in your life even if you're not consciously thinking about it? Family? Security? Money? Beauty?

Your principle might have more than one word but it has to contain a single idea, because having more than one operating principle would make you incapable of ever choosing anything.

I think this is the most revealing game of all, because understanding your default position tells you exactly how you're going to behave when the chips are down or, conversely, what you're going to shoot for when the world is your oyster.

And more important still: What it's been in the past might not be what you want it to be in the future.

Mine is "freedom." Other things might fight for dominance from time to time, but freedom always delivers the knock-out punch in the final, gritty, breathless rounds. It hasn't always been easy hanging out with freedom, but it's so deep in my bones now I've learned to love its feisty ways. Which is why I can't restrict myself to just one word for the other games.

Freedom and belonging have a titch of conflict about them as a pair, the potential for friction. By playing both games I get to be aware of that and think about how I'm going to mediate if they start bickering.

What will your words be? Will you surprise yourself with the answers? I'd love to hear them, so let me know in the comments section below.


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