How one word is helping me feel lighter

As some of you know, I am excited to be entering the new year using purpose-driven themes – something I kind of stumbled onto through experimentation. 
Only after I designed the little poster below did I realize that there were 13 themes. The first twelve would make the perfect framework for the activities and exercises in my new January 2021 program – leaving one for me to play with this month.

So, I began in December by making “Lighter” the theme of the month and just noticing what happened as a result. 

Unlike the program starting in January, I didn’t have a master plan for this theme. I just got up every morning and looked at my poster (on my phone screen) and then, throughout my day, I would pause and say the word “Lighter” to myself. 

For instance, I’d be in the kitchen puttering around and I’d pause and say “lighter” – and then it would occur to me: maybe it’s time to finally replace that oven light. I know – it’s such a small silly thing (and maybe we should’ve gotten to it a long time ago) – but it was always stuck at the bottom of a long list of house projects.

However, that day, with the theme of “lighter” on my mind, it somehow floated to the top of the list. And voila, within 24 hours, I could see my pies rising in my oven again.

The first sign that something really cool was happening, though, was the day I was staring moodily at our dark 70’s built-in bookshelves. 

When we first moved into the house 16 years ago, it seemed like a charming thing to have a “library” in one’s family room – something you might see in a mystery film, or maybe a school for wizards.

However, somewhere along the way, the dark imposing reality of our particular shelves began to weigh me down. 

Often, the sight of them across the room would trigger thoughts of Zillow and feelings of self-pity. Why did other people seem to have homes with walls of lovely glass windows in white frames? Why did we have to get stuck with two walls of ugly dark shelves which feel way too time consuming to paint?

But that day, as I was staring at them with my usual hostility, I said the word “lighter” to myself – and an image began to form in my mind. 

What if we didn’t have to sand, prime, and paint every single shelf and cabinet? What if we pasted light wallpaper on just the BACKS of the shelves? That might lighten up the room substantially. When I shared the idea with my husband, he had an even better idea: we could paint the backs of the shelves the same color as the wall, creating the illusion of backless bookcases.

It was like one of those synergy moments when you unlock creativity and work together toward the same goal. 

The project has just begun, but I must say I feel really good about it already.

As the month rolled on, we kept saying the word “lighter” to ourselves (yes, it caught on and my husband started doing it too) – to more delightful results, including:

  • Lightening my emotional load by tackling 2 projects I have been procrastinating (since summer!)
  • Getting lighter on my feet by using my standing desk more during zoom calls
  • Lightening up our evenings by getting some jigsaw puzzles to do as a family
  • Lightening up our bedroom by decluttering one corner
  • Lightening up another shelf by getting rid of 10 years of Sports Illustrated magazines!

Not too shabby, considering that we are less than 2 weeks into the month.


Though it’s hard to know for sure, there is some research to suggest why using one purpose-driven word throughout the month may be helping us think outside the box and get our wheels unstuck.

AFFIRMATIONS. First, the one word, repeated 3-5 times per day, may act as a kind of affirmation. Affirmations have been shown to help us problem-solve more effectively under stress and guide us towards certain actions that make way for change. 

VALUES. In addition, the words on my poster capture purpose-driven values I want to harvest in my life. Values have a different effect than traditional resolutions, which focus on strategies (e.g., start jogging, declutter the house) or metrics (e.g., move for x minutes per day; work on my project for x minutes).

Instead, values capture deep universal human needs and provide us with a way to create “goals with intention”, allowing us to move toward our purpose.

Even affirmations involving values are more powerful, activating key regions of our brain that are associated with activity and rewards.

Regardless of how or why it worked in our case (no pun intended), I invite you to come up with a value-driven word or phrase and experiment with it this month. 

I hope you enjoy the experiment and let me know how it goes if you have a moment by emailing me: elaine @

[Caveat: Many of us are feeling heavy right now because we have experienced significant losses and setbacks in our lives. This post is not meant to imply that a purpose-driven word or affirmation can take the place of a healthy grieving process, therapy, or other kinds of critical support. Instead, such small steps can complement or enhance other work we are doing to let our light shine in the world.]

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