Five Words for Your Life and Leadership

by Alli Polin on December 31, 2013

Words Set our Tone, Attitude and Intention for the Year

I love watching my children color.  They do it with so much focus and pure creativity (in other words, while they’re in process, they leave judgement at the door).  Rarely do I hear them freak out that their creation didn’t turn out just as planned; instead of crying over a bad choice, they simply turn it into something new that works.

Recently, they were playing with overlays and noticing how an overlay of a new color can completely change the picture.  When colors combine, there is a shift in the way you see the picture without fundamentally changing what’s present.

  • Put yellow over a predominantly blue picture… you have green.
  • Put pink over the same blue picture… purple.
  • Put green on top of the blue… gorgeous aqua emerges.

Shared experiences are not always the same experience. Why?

Think about two friends that both go to see the same movie.  One walks out and says, “That was awesome!” while the other walks out and says, “That sucked.”  Really?  They both watched the same thing?  What was the difference?  It comes down to expectations and attitude.  They had different overlays.

One way to mind the expectations gap is with your attitude. Regardless of your circumstances, your attitude is always a choice that is fully in your control.  Moreover, I propose that your attitude is deeply tied to your intention. OK, lots of coach-speak there.  What does that really mean?  You decide what you most want, your aim (intention) and you also get to pick your mindset (attitude).  Together, they are like overlays that filter your experience in positive, or negative ways.

Words, like colors, attitudes, and intentions, are overlays to your experiences. 

Words are truly powerful and when we use them as our filter, or overlay, they can help us to experience the world in meaningful ways and guide us from our smallest choices to our biggest leaps.

In 2013 I decided to kick off the year with a mantra to guide my actions and choices.  My mantra for 2103 was to make it the year of the stretch.  I was excited about what it would look like to go to the edge and take risks that I shied away from in the past.  What I discovered was that the stretch was not only found in the big leaps but in the small steps, the adjustments, and in discovering a new more centered way of being.

Risk is relative.  Not every leap is outward, leaps happen within. (Click to Tweet)

In an effort to simplify, I decided I’m going minimalist – one word to set the tone for the new year.  However, I invited my kids and husband to pick their words for the year too. Their choices both surprised and inspired me. In practice, I’m going to do some heavy borrowing of their words and make them my own.

Five Words, One Powerful Year

One word can be a touch-point that connects us to who we most want to be. (Click to Tweet)

1. Play – This is my word for the year.  I wonder, how can I transform work and stress with the perspective of play?

2. Challenge – My daughter did not hesitate when she picked this word.  She asked, “How can I challenge myself in new ways? How can I keep getting better?”

3. Love – My son sang out his answer with glee.  He shared that leading with love means he’ll think about others and not only what he wants.  A perfect practice for servant leaders everywhere.

4  Create – My husband, tired of fighting against the confines of the status quo, realized that this is his personal doorway to make the leap.  When you create, you no longer wait for permission or for things to change… you change.

5. Yours… So, what’s your word?  What will your overlay be for your choices and experiences this year?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Chery Gegelman December 31, 2013 at 7:06 am

Alli – Thank you for another fun and thought-provoking post! I love your creativity from coloring to including your family in creating a one word touch-point for the year and sharing it with all of us!


Alli Polin January 1, 2014 at 6:31 am


My leadership voice stems from my everyday life experiences. Amazing what’s there for us to see when we’re willing to look!

Thank you for your contribution to my blog and to my life in 2013. Look forward to oh-so-much more!


Carl December 31, 2013 at 7:30 am

Alli, I will echo Chery’s comment – thank you for bringing such grounded, reality-based thoughts to light with your posts.

May 2014 be a transformational year for you and your family

Best regards,


Alli Polin January 1, 2014 at 6:33 am


Thank you for your engagement and connection! Look forward to much more with you in 2014!

Happy New Year to you!!


Karen Jolly December 31, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I LOVE this concept for 2014! What a beautiful family you have Alli – you guys couldn’t have picked better words for the upcoming year.

My word is LEAP… I want this to be a year of taking action, and lots of it! I know when I take the time to tune in, tap in to my inner being, I get lots of inspired action and this is the year for leaping when it comes to me.

Thank you, Alli, this post really helped me to quickly put to words what I have been feeling for myself as 2014 inches closer by the minute! 🙂

I am so grateful for our connection and the value you have brought to my life! Happy New Year!! And please thank your whole family for inspiring me today. xo


Alli Polin January 1, 2014 at 6:21 am


LEAP! It’s definitely something I can get behind. When I think I’m not ready, it’s meant for someone else, I can’t…. it truly does take a leap.

With all sincerity, I’ve so appreciated you. You have a gift for sharing your experiences in such a powerful way… from runs to watching someone walk across the room at the mall, I’m touched by your words and your friendship across the miles.

I can’t wait to hear what leaps are ahead for you!

Here’s to more learning, sharing, and connection in 2014!



Simon January 1, 2014 at 3:58 am

My word for 2014 is “Start”


Alli Polin January 1, 2014 at 6:09 am

Simon –

That truly is where it all begins. It’s a word that separates hopes, dreams and a new reality. Many thanks for adding “start” – I’m so happy to see you here!

Many thanks!


Hoda Maalouf (@MaaHoda) January 1, 2014 at 5:52 am

Dear Alli!

This is a beautiful & thought provoking post!
The one word that I will pick is “self care”, as it is time to do it before it is too late!
Wish you All the Best for 2014!



Alli Polin January 1, 2014 at 6:08 am


Self care is one I should adopt too.

I appreciate you so much and learn an incredible amount from you. Look forward to seeing how self care unfolds for you in 2014!


Lolly Daskal January 1, 2014 at 10:58 am

BEAUTIFUL post! As beautiful as YOU!

My word is


I am grateful for all that I am and for all that I dream to yet become.

for our friendship.

for live.

for love.



Alli Polin January 2, 2014 at 11:26 am

Infinite gratitude for you! When I truly embrace gratitude…. that’s when my heart sings.

Hope to be back in NYC this year! If I am, you know you’re crazy high on my list.

Thank you, Lolly!


Cynthia Bazin January 2, 2014 at 4:50 am

Alli, what an amazing post! I love how powerful it is to really focus on one word for the year. LOVE that. I didn’t have to think very long to know what my word is…. It is ‘Focus’. This year, instead of putting my energy into lots of different things in my business, I am going to put full ‘focus’ on what I really LOVE to do…. And I look forward to making this a fantastic year. Thank you Alli for all that you do. I look forward to getting to know you much more this year. Happy New Year!


Alli Polin January 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

First of all, I too am looking forward to getting to know you more in 2014 too!

Focus is the perfect word for you. I always feel your passion and positivity. I truly believe that big things are on the way for you! Love watching you go after what matters – inspires me and so many others to do the same.


Joy Guthrie January 2, 2014 at 7:48 am

Beautiful post, Alli! Love the challenge & the inspiration behind them. I love blending colors in unique ways too. It can make a “cartoon image” look more life-like or create just the right shading when you do.


Alli Polin January 2, 2014 at 11:31 am

My kids always amaze me. I may get frustrated with their spelling or how hard it is to get them to do their homework but when they show me who they are, and what they know about the world – I’m amazed. Funny, both of my children had OK report cards this year… except for art where they both got A’s.

You are a role model for your ability to tell stories through color and drawing and also for the power of a single word.

Thank you for your connection, Joy!


Amber-Lee Dibble January 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I love the “overlays” interpretation. It does make perfect sense (to this photographers eye!) as the “expectations” we go into the next moment with.
What really touches me is the words the kiddos offered. Is there absolutely anything more wonderful than those two fresh minds and souls going into this brand new year with Challenge and Love as guideposts? Happiness is a funny thing, Alli ~ I was just recently reminded of this fact. With hearts wide open, and of course FULL of Gratitude, happiness not only pours in as a flood, but it is incredibly contagious!


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:25 am

Thanks, Amber-Lee!

So funny how you mention a heart full of gratitude. In many ways, without that, none of these other words will really come to life. Without gratitude, we become sour and turn towards the darkness far too often.

My kids never cease to amaze me. Sometimes I still think of them as my babies but they show me time and time again the depth of insight that a child can have and is willing to share. Us adults? We need to ask, listen and learn 🙂

Tremendous gratitude for YOU!!

~ Alli


Jon Mertz January 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm

The overlay concept is a great one, Alli. Our words or themes of the year do overlay each other, creating a colorful path forward. This year, I did the three word approach and my words are: Tempo, Refresh, Healthy. These are my themes for leading, living, and trying to mix up some better ways in the year ahead.

Thanks for showing another great way to engage our lives! Jon


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:20 am


I appreciate that your themes for leading and living are intertwined – much as our lives are not lived in silos. All three are words that I could easily adopt as well. Feels great to start the year with Tempo, Refresh and Healthy as an overlay to the year ahead.

Best to you in 2014! I appreciate you, Jon!


Karin Hurt January 3, 2014 at 7:48 am

Terrific post. My word is “possibility.” I’m committed to staying open to new adventures and possibilites.


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:18 am

Karin –

Possibility. I’m smiling to myself as I think about the new adventures ahead and the possibilities that will become reality. Love it.


James Mapes January 4, 2014 at 10:03 am

Loved this article. If you enjoy writing a guest blog, let me know.


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:17 am

Many thanks for your comment, James! Your feedback means a lot to me!


Terri Klass January 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Wonderful post Alli and a great choice of your 5 words!

My word is “unafraid” because I am committed to taking more risks and allowing my fears to stay behind.

Happy 2014 and here’s to our continuing friendship and growing with each other!


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:17 am


Unafraid. What a powerful word. Fear slams so many doors in our face that we are oh-so-ready to cross.

Happy 2014 to YOU!! I value your insights, experience and most of all, your friendship.


Mike Brown January 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I like this statement “When you create, you no longer wait for permission or for things to change”

Sometimes we forget how much control we have over our own destiny…Sometimes it’s just our own fear – that is holding us back… When we commit to create – the number of doors that open are endless…

…and do we really want the alternative…As Trinity said “You’ve been down there, Neo. You already know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:15 am


We DO control our own destiny and you’re right – it’s too often forgotten. Blaming, excuses, whatever seem to get in the way of our personal power and accountability.

Love the quote from Trinity!! (so does my husband. It’s really spot on)

All the best to you in 2014!


Lalita Raman January 14, 2014 at 8:16 am

You bring leadership in your daily day and life in every activity and I admire you for that Alli.

Great post

My best wishes to you always


Alli Polin January 21, 2014 at 2:12 am


I admire you for many reasons and look forward to learning from you as we both walk through 2014.




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