Boy looking through telescope. Searching Focus word!

What’s Your Focus Word?

For years now, I enjoy a Word-for-the-Year.  This year it is “Community.”

This focus word is more like a road to travel than a destination.  Think of Robert Frost’s diverging road in the yellow wood.  Frost chose the road less travelled; his focus word could have been “adventure” or “beyond comfort zone” or “curiosity.”  Someone with an inclination towards “security,” “comfort,” or “one step at a time” may have followed the path well-trod.

 You and I face a TON of decisions daily.  Research reveals the debilitating impact of decision-overload.  By the time 5 o‘clock rolls around, our brains are spent from making choices as varied as which of the five cereals to eat for breakfast to allocating resources to major business projects.

A focus word streamlines decisions.  It’s a lens through which we view the world.

Through the perspective of my focus word, community, it does not matter which cereal I eat so long as I breakfast with my kids.  In my business, I’m seeking partnerships.

Don’t you too wish to look back over the day or week or year and assert with assurance that we lived One. Great. Time.

How will we measure “great”?  Through the focus word!

The Focus Word vs. Chaos

People ask me, “But, isn’t this limiting?  One word for the entire year?!”

Science affirms that our natural tendency is towards chaos. 

An unkept gardens grows into a mini-jungle.  Without an agenda and a leader, a meeting can oh-so-quickly degenerate into a griping session or a game of office politics.  No house-rules about eating invite snacking and fewer sit-down family meals.

It takes effort to keep chaos at bay.  Intentionality.   

You and I know that our energy is finite.  Effort is good.  Exhaustion isn’t helpful.  The focus word helps set boundaries that are simultaneously clear and gentle.

The Focus Word & Barrier or Center-Orientation

A mentor speaks of two ways to define groups.  This can be applied to behaviors as well.

  • According to the barriers. 
    On one side people or actions are “in” and others are “out.” 
Star-belly Sneetches are “In”. Plain bellies are “out.”
Center is the focus
  • According to the center.
    Those whose life is most aligned with the center enjoy the greatest sense of belonging and stability.  The core is the key.

A focus word provides a center-orientation to your day, week, and year.

Examples of Focus Words

The focus words frees us from guilt at having missed our goal or “crossed the boundary.”  Tomorrow we are presented with yet another opportunity to move closer to the center.

Here are some examples


Slow” was one of my previous words.  Changes abounded in personal and professional life and I felt confused and sometimes trapped.  Many circumstances lay outside of my control.  No matter how hard I pressed life’s accelerator, the situation did not move faster.

Slow meant

  • Give people space.  My concern lay foremost on my mind…not on everyone’s.  Respect their priorities too.
  • Grow in the waiting.  Consider this period of my life as a gift to me to prepare for an upcoming action-packed rhythm.  What can I learn about myself and others?  Where do I need to heal/grow/give/be silent?
  • Be vs. Do.  Love myself. Period. And allow others to be vs. trying to change them.  Sooo much easier said than done!

The “Slow” focus word impacted my daily routine (I integrated more time for thinking) and my attitude towards others (I would catch myself judging people and remember to listen and observe before jumping to conclusions). 

When waiting grew frustrating, I would take long walks to review my life’s journey.  Five years ago, I could not have imagined my current life!


I worked with a woman who chose “Decisions” as her focus word. 

The word seemed obvious as she faced upcoming transitions.  She grew even more through the more subtle, daily decisions she learned to recognize and take

  • Her attitude in face of uncertainty
  • Her actions when others behaved inappropriately (according to her)
  • Her time management and priorities
  • The food she ate and her exercise practices


One woman chose to apply this Bible verse to her life, focusing one of these fruit per year:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5: 22-23

She was mature in years and experience and was going through the cycle again!  Her focus word impacted her behavior so powerfully that friends recognized when it was the year for joy or tolerance (forbearance) or gentleness.


A focus word has impact.  We grow both for ourselves and those with whom we work and live.  

I hope that at the end of this year, friends, colleagues, and family will feel enjoyment  at being together. ?

Choosing a Focus Word

How do we choose a focus word?  From the heart and soul, not the head.

Psychologists assert that our beliefs, not our intellectualization, impact our behaviors.  A focus word that sticks addresses our emotions and our vulnerabilities.  It goes beyond the rational.  We can be blind to those underlying assumptions and mindsets.

Here are two ways I have found helpful to remove our barriers and identify a focus word.


I was taught to ask in prayer.  The focus word is a spiritual exercise.  Do you believe in a higher being?  Ask for a focus word. 

Alternatively, petition trusted friends. “If you would give me one word for the year, what would it be?”

When they answer, notice your physical reaction.  Does it hit you in the gut?  Are you comforted in your mind?  Do you feel embraced?

With that awareness, sit with the word for a week.  The initial reaction, whether positive or not, is not always the last word.  Some of us need a wake-up call.  Others crave encouragement. 

To sit with the word, I put it on my calendar as an all-day event that lasts a week.  I see it everyday and let it ruminate.

You can ask me.  Send me a note.  It would be a delight to work together to identify a focus word for the year…it’s a way to build community with you! 

Do the Pizza Plan

Another useful technique is the Pizza Plan.  This four-step process brings to focus important facets of your life (pieces of pizza) and your satisfaction in each (crust and goodies).  This funny-looking pizza gives insight into the challenges opportunities (!) for the upcoming year.

I created a free four video series for you.  Discover it here.

Get more clarity sooner.  Write me. I will walk you through the process and be a mirror for you.  It sure helps to gain fresh perspective!

What is YOUR Focus Word?

Share your word in the comments below.  It’s great to hear from you…that’s community too.

Teen waiting

Showing up is not enough.  Get Grit.

What happens when things don’t go as planned?

A. You send messages to superman/woman to save you

B. You figure what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Success in Failure

A recent episode with high school students brought this question to the fore.

My first reaction was to be mad, to blame and find fault.

Then, I stepped back and realized this mistake presented a learning opportunity for me and for these aspiring adults who will soon be our colleagues.

Where is this pearl hidden behind a very apparent failure?!

The Mess Up

Our local high school organized its first public speaking competition and 27 students signed up.  Parents, myself included, volunteered to coach the youth.

I arrived prepared for my group coaching class on Friday… none of the students showed up!

No one knocked … or tried opening the door … or sought another way inside … or even tried to contact me by email to inquire.

Later, students told me they had been waiting outside in the hallway in front of a closed door.  Waiting.

Had they walked 10 more meters, they would have found the classroom’s SECOND DOOR wide open with me inside.

Teen girls hanging out

Open shop sign

A random group of seniors (not involved in the competition) were hanging out in front of the closed door.   Did the younger students assume these older kids knew better and so they simply waited?

When we finally connected over email some forty minutes later, some of the students sent apologies and requested the opportunity for a replacement session.

The Dis-service of “Being Nice”

“Please, can we have a ‘Do-over.’” 

It sounded like my children’s explanations of their video games.  “I died, Mom, but it’s OK.  I have three more lives.”

For a moment I almost acquiesced to the students’ request.  After all, I could have poked my head out into the hallway and inquired of the students whether there were new arrivals and were they looking for the coaching.

But these are high school students!  They’re almost adults.  Coddling them neither respects me nor them.

With regards to myself, I had showed up prepared and on time.

In pondering how to respect the youth, I refocused on the over-reaching goal

  • To spark their commitment to defend a position with fervor
  • To ignite the desire to explore the topic from a variety of angles,
  • To encourage persistence and keep their flame burning to ward off discouragement

A “do-over” sounds nice…but might it really be mean? 

It’s stealing a valuable learning opportunity from the youth.  Or force feeding kids who are not hungry.

Can giving a second chance (being nice) really be mean? Yes, when it keeps one from getting stronger. Click to Tweet

Being Firm with Kindness

Instead I wrote them all the following note:

Dear All,

I am sorry about the mix up yesterday and understand the frustration of some of you when you feel you were at the right place and we did not connect.

This may not feel like the kind of coaching you were expecting … keep reading.

Some of you suggested that I reschedule.  I won’t…because this is also life and possibly the best coaching for us all in 

  • how to handle the unexpected and
  • how to show our determination to succeed

Here are some ideas for the future

Send an email – Try to connect

Send an email if you have questions or cannot reach us…we might be wondering the same thing!  And I learned that I could have sent you all an email prior to our meeting with my phone number so that you would have been able to call.

Overcommunication is better than missing out.

Knock (bang) on the door

I led a seminar to teach teens life skills and one of our guest speakers had her entire speech about knocking and pushing on doors she thought were closed.

Showing up is good…and not enough. 

Getting the job, getting the _____ (whatever you want) requires more.  Show your commitment to opening up the door.  GO FOR IT!!!

Avoid excuses

We all have a part of responsibility.  I could have gone out into the hallway and checked out the situation instead of staying in the room.  You could have knocked on the door, emailed or….


I realize this might not read like the note you expected.  It might even sound like “sermoning.”  Please know that this note is the coaching!

What the jury wants to hear in your speech is your PASSION, your CONVICTION, in all facets of your talk

  • in your logic
  • in your choice of words
  • in your tone of voice
  • in your posture

So we messed up with getting together on Feb 2.  Some of our best lessons we learn through mistakes.  This is a small one.  No big deal.  It becomes a big deal when there is no learning.

So, guys, go out there and show the jury your belief in yourself, your determination to do well, and your readiness to learn and bounce back.

BON COURAGE.  Wishing you each VERY WELL.

Sincerely, Denise

Motivating our Loved Ones

My own son also entered this public speaking contest (he’s in a different coaching group).  I wonder how to help him get grit too.

Often the most impactful way to motivate my own teen is to share experiences of every day life.  We discussed this episode around the dinner table.

He changed the topic of his discourse to speak on first impressions!


Photos from Unsplash.  Cartoon from Fotolia.