My 3 Words for 2020

Published on December 31st, 2019
2020 fireworks

My experience with New Year's Resolutions has always been lackluster at best. The reason? Without any constraints, I'd typically create several dozen goals, which would result in feelings of overwhelm. Worse, it was hard to keep each goal front and center within my mental RAM, particularly when life got busy. When I reviewed my goals at the end of the year, I would typically discover that I forgot at least half of the goals I set out to achieve. Needless to say, this was a discouraging way to end and start each year.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon the 3-words process by Chris Brogan. What I love about this process is the clarity and focus that results from the constraint. Instead of a lengthy sentence describing the goal, you have a single word. Instead of 20+ targets, you have 3 memorable themes.

The result? While 10+ goals were tricky to memorize and think about on a routine basis, I found myself thinking about the 3 words several times a day. This meant I was constantly course-correcting my actions and behaviors to align with these intentions.

This process isn't perfect. Some will argue that without a clear and compelling "why" statement, a goal will not have enough juice to stay inspired and motivated enough to keep pursuing it. There is some truth to that. This is why it's crucial to define and document the broader meaning behind each word. This is why I've joined Chris in the annual tradition of publishing this article. The added bonus is it reinforces the gains from the process and holds me accountable to a public commitment.

2019 Results

My 3 words for 2019 were as follows:

  • Recovery
  • Relationships
  • Pro

Overall, I would give myself a B/B-. Why so low? This may not be overly fair, but I've always made it a point to strive for excellence and hold a high standard for myself to hit. I may not always hit my marks, but it stretches me to become better nonetheless.

On the recovery side, I definitely made self-care a priority this year. Fortunately, I regained my ability to bicycle again after Dr. Ballantine identified the source of my back and foot pan. I mostly kept my commitments to things like chiropractic care. I also kept up with Al-Anon and ACIM (A Course In Miracles), both of which have helped me regain my footing on the emotional, mental, and spiritual level. Am I done? No, it's a journey. However, I do think I made a lot of progress here.

With relationships, it's been positive yet mixed. In past years, challenges at work and in personal life made it hard to make and sustain friendships outside of these circles. This year was markedly different. I expanded my circle of friends and have had many great experiences as a result. My only regret is that I didn't apply as much extra effort within my inner circle of friends and family. I can and will do better in 2020, but that is the one place I feel I fell short.

And finally, the act of going pro (as defined by Steven Pressfield). The year started iffy, but I feel like I made consistent progress and ended strong. A big part of this was due to the reclamation of my self-esteem and self-worth. Despite earlier successes in my career, 2017 and 2018 dealt some big punches that made me start to question my skills and capabilities. Being a mentor with Techstars completely dissolved this fear, as I was thrown into a role that felt like second nature. It helped me calibrate my fears against reality, and the result was that I was a new man. No, I'm still not perfect. I still swear too much, and I still sweat small details from time to time. It happens. Yet overall, I feel like I'm no longer shrinking myself to meet my fears. Instead, I'm pushing myself to own my positive virtues and accepting my shortcomings so that I may become a better leader.

So all and all, I made a solid effort but fell short of hitting a home run. Alas, I'm hopeful that I'll build off this momentum in 2020 with the following 3 words.


Last spring, I attended an improv retreat put on by some friends that I meant at WDS 2018. I went in with no expectations and came out a recharged, transformed person. Laughter really is the best medicine, but that was only one of the key ingredients. There were a lot of activities that required us to explore vulnerability within ourselves and among others.

One of the moments that stood out to me the most was when we all selected our camp nicknames. We had just gone through an exercise where we brought an item of sentimental value and were invited to share with others the meaning behind it. It was at this time that I remembered how several college friends used to refer to me as the eternal optimist. They would say how I was always filled with such optimism and hope. I thought, "how about Hope?" While that's typically a woman's name, so what? What would it feel like to live in a state of hope? And since I had a Ph.D. and used to do life coaching, what if I also embraced the concept of being Doc Hope?

Four days of immersion in this identity was amazing. So much so that I had a twinge of sadness to return back to reality. Don't get me wrong, I do love my name. But I would like to be Rick while embracing all the feelings I had as Hope. Hence, this is my first word for 2020. I want to live in a state of hope, even when life tries to pull me into "reality."


In 2019, it was clear that I spent way too much of in the emotional states of anger and resentment. Perhaps I had unreasonable expectations or needs that were not being met (which is typically what the emotion of anger can represent). The worst part is this violated a belief that I used to hold firmly. Notably, that while I can't control life's external circumstances, I can choose my response. Alas, the mere fact that I had these emotions bubble up so strongly and frequently was a key indicator that something was amiss.

In the last quarter of 2019, I went back to my daily spiritual practice of A Course in Miracles (ACIM). One of the recurring themes is how much of our suffering is caused by our inability to forgive as well as see the reality of the situation. Our ego can create all sorts of illusions and fantasies of how other people, places, and things were wronging us. I know that I was finding myself in this victim mentality far too often.

So what's the reverse? Tranquility. The ability to hold to one's inner peace regardless of the external circumstances. The ability to be as calm as the eye of the hurricane while the winds of life whip around you with tremendous speed and force. That is why I picked tranquil.


This word came to me like a bolt during Go Pro 2019. For the past three years, I let my temporary loss in self-confidence hold me back from committing to and taking action. Now, this doesn't mean I will hold onto a specific belief in the face of evidence to the contrary. I prefer to approach this like Marc Andresson's quip of "strong opinions, weakly held." Too me, it's a great balance of being able to be bold yet stay open to changing course based on feedback. However, I've lived on one end of the pendulum swing for far too long. It's time to explore the other side for a year (and maybe from now on).

And You?

Given your goals for 2020 (the year or the decade), what 3 words will make up your mantra?

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.