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My Three Words for 2023

Michael Reynolds | January 11, 2023

[Prefer to listen? You can find a podcast version of this article here: E167: My Three Words for 2023]

As we enter a new year, it’s common for some of us to reflect and set goals for the coming year. This can take the form of resolutions, to-do lists, and other goal-setting activities.

While setting goals can work well for some, it’s not always effective for everyone.

The pass/fail nature of goal setting, in which a person either succeeds in achieving a goal or fails, can be ineffective for some people because it can create unnecessary pressure and lead to a negative mindset.

If a person feels that they have failed to achieve a goal, they may become discouraged and lose motivation to continue working towards it. This can be especially true if they have set unrealistic or overly ambitious goals, or if they have experienced unexpected setbacks or challenges along the way.

Furthermore, the pass/fail approach can be limiting because it does not allow for the possibility of growth or learning.

Because of this, I’ve chosen to adopt an alternative approach to setting intentions for the new year.

For quite a while now (since at least 2015) I’ve implemented the “Three Words” exercise created by Chris Brogan.

Rather than setting goals, the three words exercise involves defining three words that align with your intentions, energy, and focus for that year.

Chris explains it in this way:

The My Three Words idea is simple. Choose 3 words (not 1, not 4) that will help guide your choices and actions day to day. Think of them as lighthouses. “Should I say yes to this project?” “Well, does this align with my three words?”

You can read more about the process here.

I’ve found that this method is much more effective for me than setting goals. It removes the pass/fail factor and instead treats personal development as a journey and promotes continuous improvement regardless of specific outcomes or milestones.

In short, it’s been a powerful way to set myself up for success in the coming year and I have noticed that this exercise has really helped me make progress in my personal and professional life.

Before I share my words for 2023, I will reflect on my words for 2022. In 2022, I chose “deep, level, and fortify” as my words.

Deep: I chose this word because I wanted to focus on going deeper into my learning in technical areas of my work. I pursued two new certifications and spent a lot of time developing more specialized expertise in areas like socially responsible investing, financial therapy, and estate planning.

Level: this word was meant to be somewhat of an alternative to balance. My intention was to be more level in how I approached life and work and be more thoughtful in the decisions I made.

Fortify: this was a way to set intention toward strengthening the business initiatives I have in motion. “Fortify” as in add strength, build, grow, and optimize.

I have been fairly pleased with how 2022 turned out in relation to my three words. Some years, I feel like it was a slam dunk. In other years, not so much. While not the best year ever, 2022 felt pretty solid.

So what about 2023? For this coming year, I’ve chosen the following three words: boundaries, poise, and abundance.

I chose boundaries because I have the desire to establish better professional boundaries specifically related to my expertise. I have a habit of often devaluing my work and expertise which leads me to give away my advice and work for free too often.

This year, I am acknowledging that I have deep expertise in money and business. I’m acknowledging that this expertise has value and that I should be compensated accordingly.

I will still do pro bono work and selectively offer assistance to those who need it. But I will set my fees at a level that is fair to myself and properly values the work I do.

I cheated a little bit with poise because it is directly related to my first word and somewhat of a continuation. Poise is my proxy for “brand” or “presentation” and focuses on how I present myself.

As I set boundaries related to my fees and expertise, my poise and personal brand should reflect this. I have the desire to not only set boundaries but to communicate those boundaries with kindness and confidence.

Finally, abundance is a way of getting back to my roots, so to speak. I am a naturally optimistic person and I seek to approach life with a spirit of abundance. I won’t say that I’ve gotten away from that outlook, but I have been a bit too closed off lately for my taste.

I want to make 2023 a year in which I travel more, seek to provide help and support to others more and get more serious about expanding my business. There are also some hobbies I want to pick up and I’d like to approach all this with a spirit of abundance and optimism. In short, I want to experience life more fully, especially with my family.

So these are my three words for 2023: boundaries, poise, and abundance.

I love this exercise because it avoids the head trash that can result from the pass/fail nature of goal-setting. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for setting goals. But for me, setting three words is much more effective when defining a theme for an entire year.

I love this method of approaching the new year and highly recommend learning more about it. You can get the full explanation and instructions in Chris Brogan’s latest article on the three words exercise.

If you decide to define three words of your own, I would love to hear about it! Feel free to reach out and tell me the story behind your 2023 words. I’m here to support you in any way that I can.