Word of the Year, 2018

Every year1 instead of making resolutions I choose a word of the year. The word of the year is a guiding principle, something to focus on to make my world better.

Last year’s word was “Attention.” It was a huge success: by paying attention to attention I was able to eliminate many unrewarding demands on my attention—to stop paying attention to things that didn’t give me a return on that payment. Attention is limited, and by paying less attention to those things that offered no reward, I was able to pay more attention to those things that offered rewards.

I mostly stopped watching TV (once I was paying attention to attention, it caused my brain stress to be in situations in which my attention was being deliberately manipulated and arbitraged), bailed on Twitter, read more books, turned off pointless annoyances, read less news, blocked emails from a couple of crazies on the local criminal-defense list, and served my clients and my family better.

I also spread the Attention Gospel, to the benefit of those who listened. The idea that attention is something that we pay, so that we should look at what we are getting in return for it, was a revelation to some. And this itself was rewarding to me.

I have chosen a word for 2018. I am not going to announce it until 2019. I am not going to spread its gospel.

Why not? For the same reason that you should not announce your New Year’s resolutions: You are more likely to accomplish your goals when you do not announce them.

Attention was an intrinsically satisfying Word of the Year. Every shift in attention from the manipulated to the organic, from the unrewarding to the rewarding, made my life noticeably better.

2018’s Word of the Year I do not expect to be as intrinsically satisfying. Its benefits I anticipate to be longer-term, and as great for those around me as for myself.

Remind me in 300 days or so.


  1. Starting in 2017. 

6 Comments

  1. You wrote: “You are more likely to accomplish your goals when you do not announce them.” I find this counter-intuitive, except perhaps for energetic, disciplined self-starters, such as you clearly are. Well, actually, your maxim probably applies also to criminals, con artists, salespeople, and elected officials (please pardon any redundancies there). Advice opposite to yours is often given to would-be novelists who anticipate writer’s block or procrastination problems: be sure to announce your goals to several people, the idea being, I suppose, that shame and embarrassment might motivate the writer when internal motivation is inadequate. No one wants her smug sister-in-law to ask across the hushed Thanksgiving table, “How’s that novel coming?” when the novel isn’t coming. I’m unclear about why not announcing an admirable goal helps one achieve that goal, but I completely understand and endorse your notion of attention.

      1. Ok: https://www.fastcompany.com/3047432/why-sharing-your-progress-makes-you-more-likely-to-accomplish-your-goals

        (Yes, I saw the sarcasm)

        All the links on keep-goals-secret seem to be ambiguous or point back to “identity goals”. Roughly, saying “I want to be more X” makes you feel more X, so you work less at being X. Everything on harass-yon-passers-by-with-goals talks about specific, quantifiable accomplishments like weight-loss. That sounds more like the right answer is that how you phrase your goals drives whether voicing them will help.

        Though, now I wonder if you could use that to influence jury behaviors. “Do you want to be seen as tough on crime?”

      2. Good thinking, Josh, but I think we can do better, skunkworkswise:

        “You are all tough on crime. We know that. You vote for judges and politicians who are tough on crime. Nobody doubts it. Congratulations. You have nothing to prove.”

  2. I am one of those people that saw your choice of the word ‘attention’ as a revelation. Though I was not completely successful in my own attempts to focus my attention better, it was remarkable when I realized how much attention I was giving to unworthy things. So thank you, for putting that idea out there for me.

    I’m curious as to your choice of word this year, but I suppose I will have to wait to find out. And in the meantime, find my own word of the year.

  3. Yes, you provided a link to an interesting article. And yes, it is probably true that “people often construe behavioral intentions in more general terms, thus allowing substitution of means for attainment.” A goal to “lose 20 pounds by July 1” might devolve into “eat less junk food.” Nevertheless, I was not able to learn from the article a theory of why *not* announcing a goal makes that tempting slacker behavior less likely than *announcing* the goal. To go back to my example, an aspiring novelist might lessen her goal from “completing a novel this year” to “working on a novel,” but the prospect of that Thanksgiving dinner humiliation still seems to me to be a powerful motivator towards completing the intention.

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