At the start of 2021, I decided my word of the year would be ‘Start’. Even though for me, starting is one of the hardest things in life.
In previous years, I often completely forgot that I had a ‘Word of the Year’ to engage with. This can happen for most of us when we set a goal: We feel excited about the goal, we’re focused on it for a week or so, and then ‘normal’ takes over and we forget about that lofty or juicy thing we were going to do. It’s natural – because our brains are energy saving devices, and change takes a huge amount of effort.
So at the start of 2021, as part of my plan to keep me engaged and focused on my word, I entered a monthly recurring reminder in my calendar to:
- Write “START” on a piece of paper in a different colour every time
- Pin it in a new place on my office vision board (else it starts to look like the furniture)
- Write an article about my progress in the middle and at the end of the year
Well, this article was supposed to be the 6-month article – and oh heavens, I’m writing it at the end of Month 9! That might tell you a little story…
As I reflect on a few things, I’m hoping my thoughts might give you some insight into your own ‘Word’ or goals that you have trouble with.
Why did I pick a word that I have a hate-hate relationship with?
I had this question from a dear friend and colleague, who is also an EFT coach and mentor. She knows I work with CliftonStrengths and my word falls right at the very bottom of my Strengths. I mean true bottom. #34 out of a total of 34.
That means – it’s a weak area or ‘non-pattern’ for me. I have a battle to start most things, and I hear myself so often saying in my head ‘I’ll do it a bit later’. No matter what the idea or thought was – I was going to do it later.
You see… even though this is ‘normal’ for me, I was so sick and tired of it.
I was embarrassed that I had to apologize at the start of every email for taking a long time to respond. I was sick of postponing most things and then forgetting about them. And remembering much later that I really DID want to do that thing… but only later. And it seemed like ‘later’ so often became ‘never’.
I thought that choosing this word would really help me to just start things instead of feeling exasperated with myself so often. I have no trouble finishing once I’ve started.
The results of my Word of the Year so far
I need to bring in a bit of Strengths background here.
The talents that fall in our bottom 5-8 of the full list of 34, are known as our non-patterns. That means – it’s not the way our brain naturally works. They are weaker areas for us. We don’t grow in them as easily, it’s not fun and it can be draining to use them. In fact – it takes a huge amount of effort, and we can feel incredibly resistant to those talents at the bottom.
And that’s exactly what’s happened for me.
I see the ‘START’ paper on my vision board. And I instantly look away because there’s an ‘ugh’ in my stomach. I see the monthly reminders to change where I pin the piece of paper with ‘START’ written in a different colour… and I postpone the reminder for another time.
Just like I do with most things… postpone, because I find it so hard to get into action. And of course – here I am, writing my article about the progress 3 months later than intended.
I can use the reasoning that I did have a fall down 10 stairs in April, which impacted on every single goal I had. All my energy was focused on healing, recovering and getting well enough to see clients, for at least 2 months of the year. So – of course I would kick a few things down the line and that’s completely okay. And still… my normal pattern (of postponing and doing things ‘later’ is still very much alive.
What I’m learning about my Word of the Year
Strengths philosophy is rooted in science. Hard to dispute scientific evidence – and especially now that I’ve experienced it first-hand.
It’s so, so much easier and more fun to grow and improve in our natural areas of potential (the top 10-12 strengths), rather than in our bottom drainers.
Strengths wisdom teaches us to stop trying to fix our weaknesses. To rather improve in our natural areas of talent, and to manage around the weaker areas – by using our strengths, or other resources like things (systems, apps) or people.
I absolutely realised the wisdom of this during these first 9 months of the year. And I wondered often whether to just drop this whole idea by month 4 when I realised this was hard. Yet, I didn’t.
Why didn’t I change direction?
This is where it gets interesting!
Our talents don’t work in isolation. It’s more like a ‘mixed spice’ bottle, with all of them mixed in together. The strong ones, as well as the weak ones – to provide our unique mix.
I have the talent of ‘Responsibility’ at #12. I took emotional ownership of this ‘goal’ – to conquer and work with and improve my ‘Start’ capacity. Responsibility does not stop unless it delivers.
On top of that, I have Achiever at #10. Achiever loves working hard and finishing. Ticking boxes. I can’t give up on this goal till I’ve given it my all! I want to run the race to the end, and finish what I started.
And what’s more – with Belief at #11, I had a kind of conviction that this goal (being better at starting things) would improve my life, and the lives of those around me. My clients, my loved ones, the people I care about – who always wait so long for me to respond to messages or emails.
All of the above 3 (Achiever, Belief, Responsibility) are executing talents. They want to see results and realities to feel satisfied. These 3 were like a dog with a bone with ‘Start’. Too funny. The dog with the bone that it didn’t really want.
Manage around Weakness
Strengths wisdom also teaches us to manage around our weaknesses. I’m learning that through painful, personal experience.
I’m never going to turn into a fantastic starter. The brain patterns are very, very, very much ingrained. I spent soooooooo much effort this year to attempt to change that. And I realised…. it’s not fun for me at all to try to improve this.
One day, I sat using my favourite tool (EFT Tapping) to deal with some of the emotional resistance about it. The resistance to the word itself, to the feelings when I ‘have’ to start or feel hurried along, and the resistance I subsequently feel when I DON’T start.
The insight that came: Well, the truth is I can’t possibly start everything that pops into my brain. It’s simply not realistic. I would go crazy if I had to start everything I think of. No-one can live like that.
My natural energy is in supporting others (I have many, many relational talents). If I started everything I thought of that could help others, I would put myself at the bottom of my priority list again, like I did for so many years. I’ve worked hard to get out from under all those beliefs and putting myself last… and I’m not about to go back there.
The real Need Underneath my Word
What I really needed was not to get better at ‘Starting more things’ – but to become more discerning about what to start.
I have a hundred things I ‘want’ to do. But I don’t nearly have enough time or energy to start all of them – never mind finish. My natural talents want to finish things – so it would be completely unsatisfactory to start many things and never finish them.
Also: I cannot possibly finish what I don’t start. Therefore I can use my strong ‘finishing’ talents (those 3 above) to get me into action by asking myself: “What about finishing this task will energize me?”
This profound question helps me to start even the most difficult thing because I cannot possibly feel that joy of completion if I don’t take the first step.
Was this exercise useful or a waste of time?
Every time I do a tapping session, I have more insights and aha’s. So I commit to another to gather more juice from this journey, and my maybe-by-now-love-hate-relationship with START.
My process this year might not have led to an improvement in ‘starting’ things. But it certainly has brought more awareness of the real area that needs improvement (making better choices about what to start). Also: NOT starting everything is actually a saving grace for me.
Working with this word has not been a waste, though it’s been somewhat full of effort. And, I know many good things come from a deep struggle with a concept. My Intellection and Learner taletns certainly have had lots to consider!
I can now with absolute clarity share with clients the folly of trying to fix our weaknesses. It’s far easier, more enjoyable, fulfilling, and joyful to work with our strengths, and manage around our weaknesses.
Also – it felt darn great to finally be able to dismiss the reminder in my outlook calendar. Thirteen weeks late. Done. Tick. My Achiever, Responsibility, and Belief can rest now. It was delicious to finish the blog post!
Looking ahead, maybe my word for 2022 will be something like ‘Discernment’…<grin>