Living by One Word: Wisdom from Dementia

The holiday season is winding down.  Christmas music will start fading away.  The lights and decorations will soon be taken down.  People will put away the festive treats and start to consider a diet for the new year.  As this season of light and hope and hustle and bustle comes to a close, people start turning their attention to what lies ahead.  This is the season of New Year’s resolutions and gym memberships and self-reflecting.  

We all know the statistics for keeping New Year’s resolutions don’t offer much success.  Most people enter the month of January with big goals and new ideas and yet wear out within a month or two.  I had a conversation the other day with a woman whose brother recently died of Alzheimer’s disease, and she shed light on a new idea for how to enter into a new year.  

One day her and her brother, while he was in his more lucid days, were chatting about the holidays.  They were talking about how much they love this time of year, and yet how exhausting it can be.  She asked him if he had any goals for the New Year, anything new he wanted to try or any habits he wanted to get rid of.  

He reflected for a few moments before saying, “You know, I’ve spent my whole life coming up with New Year’s resolutions, or deciding what habits I want to make or break.  I enter the month of January full of gusto and determination.  But I tire out fast.  Or I just plain forget.  So I think that this year, I want to center my year around just one word.  One word that shapes who I want to be this year, or what I want to focus my attention on.  I think, with the Alzheimer’s gaining ground, I want this to be the year of joy.  I just want to find joy in the little moments, in the moments I can remember and reminisce, and in the moments I can’t, but I can still enjoy a good song or a good laugh.”

This shifted everything for her.  One word.  The thought of orienting her year around one word was a paradigm shift from the stress and burden of keeping a laundry list of resolutions.  The point is to pick a word for your year that reflects either something you want to focus on or something you want to try.  Maybe the word is “transformation” because you know this is going to be a year where you are re-orienting yourself and your life.  Or maybe the word is “patience” because maybe life isn’t where you wish it was right now, but you know this is a season and now is the time to be patient with where you are.  Or maybe, like her brother with Alzheimer’s disease, the word is “joy” or “happiness” because you’ve abandoned that for too long in the name of career success or doing everything right.  

To keep your word in mind, write it down and stick it to the refrigerator or on your steering wheel or laptop.  Maybe gift yourself a Christmas present and get it printed in pretty font on a canvas and put it on your wall, where you can see that beautiful word every day.  Now is the time to give yourself the gift of focus, of focusing on one thing you want your life to look like in 2018.  A man struggling with memory loss is able to decide to focus on joy one year.  What is it that you want to focus on this coming year? What word do you want your life to display?