How to chose your guiding word for 2020

Dear Reader, 

What a year 2019 has been! I have so many things to be thankful for and so many things that happened that I’m so proud of! 

The first thing is that I learned so much about my health, my finances, my friendships and my family relationships and I’ve strengthen them all.  That was quite an accomplishment considering that the year contained lots of obstacles. 

For me, 2019 was a great year. I couldn’t have asked for better. One of the things that made it a better year was my guiding word: foundation. 

I picked that word because I was at the beginning of things but I wasn’t starting over. I knew that in my life there were some holes in my education and I needed some basics. And thus the word foundation came to mind. 

That word not only guiding me through figuring out what practices and processes I needed to learn and put in place for my future but also brought some things to the basic level. For example, what do I want to accomplish in the next 10 years? What does being a storyteller look like for me? How does my mental health impact of my creative and professional progress? What is keeping me from the greatness that I seek? 

Picking a word for a series of words isn’t an easy process.  My friend George “Urban Jibaro” Torres turned me on to this practice. The first year, 2017, I picked trust, enjoy, and cultivate. It was an amazing year. I have since streamlined it to one word.  I talked about this process on a special episode of the Dear Reader Podcast. 

Check out the episode where I talk about how to pick your guiding word!

Here’s the tips to choosing your word for 2020. 


You may be thinking about one thing in your life that needs fixing. Maybe it’s something dealing with health or finances or relationships. Whatever it is, there is a pattern there and your word(s) need to be able to capture that pattern.  And there is ONE WORD that encapsulates it all. 

This is going to probably require some research. I suggest writing down a bunch of words and using the thesaurus and/or Google to add to the list. You want to be able to choose from a list based on your own vision for your life. 

That also means…


Getting to your word is not going to take an afternoon. It will take a bit. That’s because you will need to be more reflective than usual. This process should take a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Why? Well, it is one word(s) for an entire 365 days. 

Also, you’ll need to consider who you want to be at the end of the year. For example, if you use the word kindness, what does kindness look like in your life at the end of the year? Does kindness look like being generous? Does it look like turning the other cheek? Does it look like having empathy? Are you sure what you want is kindness and not empathy? 

Also consider what is going on in your life. What is missing? What do you want more of (other than money. We can all use that)? What do you want to leave behind? What would it truthfully take to be or do or create the thing you need in your life? Will it take courage? Will it take focus? Will it take dedication? 


Confident vs courageous

Dedication vs Focus

Healthy vs Fit

See how each of these words are shades of the same sentiment? What do you actually mean? This part, above all of these tips, is probably the most important. If you want to be confident, does that mean you have no confidence now? Is it that you only want to be more confident in certain part of your life. OR do you mean you want to be courageous? 

For this, I like to go to the Merriam Webster dictionary and find out what the word(s) mean. I’m also going into the thesaurus to find like words to understand if that is the correct word or if there is yet another word that is similar. 

Then, here’s the fun part, I define the word(s) for myself. What does that word(s) mean in the context of my life and what I want to accomplish? If I were to pick courageous, what does that mean financially or romantically? What does that word look like in my professional life? Maybe it looks like applying for the job or the promotion you didn’t think you could get or maybe it looks like finding additional training opportunities or networking opportunities. Maybe it looks like starting a new business. See how that one word can open up some directions for you? 

Bonus tip: Make sure the word is a verb 


Ask yourself: What does it look like at the end of the year when I have accomplished this word(s)? In December 2020, when you’re looking back at the year, how would the word have guided you toward this vision? 

If you’re anything like me, I always need to know how I’ll keep myself accountable or how will I measure this to ensure success? The lovely thing about this process is that you can make that decision. For example, using the example we used above with courageous in the area of the professional life sending out resumes is one way to measure if you are being courageous. Or maybe having said resume critiques and retooled is a step toward the courage to take the next step. Don’t discount the seemingly small steps toward your guiding word. Indeed, you can’t make a leap before taking baby steps first. 


Is that really the word you want? Sit with it. Question yourself about it, asking yourself why this word and why NOW? It’s okay to go back and forth for a while. Again, this isn’t a word you can get to in one afternoon so it’s okay to change your mind or retool the word. 


Here’s the fun part! This is the part that I love and that I did last year. I’m incorporating this into my word process this year. 

Create a vision board. 

Yes, do it. This is a way of manifesting. 

Listen, a vision board is a visual reminder of what you’re hoping to accomplish for the year. Having that up in a place where you see it often will help keep you on track and will give you a gentle  push when you need it. 

I personally love the old-school, cutting images from magazines and then pasting them on a poster board thing. Here’s mine from this year. 

IMG 3106
This is in my office. Every time I see it and it makes me smile.

However, I’ve seen them digitally on cellphones, desktop wall papers, and even Pinterest. How you want to manifest is completely up to you. It’s your word now, you get to interpret it and work toward it however you’d like. 

And that’s it! This is how I pick my word. In fact, I’m in the process of choosing my word and will probably share it after the first of the year.


To help you remember these tips as you go through your process, here’s a visual!

Let me know what your word is! I’d love to know it and how you hope it will work for you.

Reflecting and shining,


Published by Icess Fernandez Rojas

Icess is a writer, professor, and blogger. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program. Her work has been published in Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Notes from Humanity. Her nonfiction has appeared in Dear Hope,, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, and is also a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel.

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