Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Choosing Your Word for the New Year With Matt Derrenbacher
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 397 of Live Happy Now. It’s the very last episode of 2022, and that means it’s a great time to talk about setting our intention for the New Year. I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m sitting down with Matt Derrenbacher, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati and a chaplain candidate for the US Air Force. Matt is here today to talk about how we can set an intention, not a resolution, for our New Year and how choosing one word to guide us through the year can serve as a touch point in the months to come. Let’s have a listen.
[00:00:42] PF: Matt, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:45] MD: Hey, thanks for having me.
[00:00:46] PF: It is a pleasure. You know, I had an idea that I wanted to do something about choosing a word of the year because that’s a practice I’ve had for several years now, and it’s been very effective. So I turned to your wife, who is a frequent flyer on Live Happy Now, and she’s our resident pet expert, Brittany Derrenbacher, and she said, unbeknownst to me, that this is something that you are very familiar with. I didn’t know that choosing a word of the year, setting that intention, that that’s actually a practice within the Jewish faith.
[00:01:18] MD: Yeah, absolutely. Just a little bit of context, so there’s also a Jewish New Year. There’s a few Jewish New Years, but the big one is Rosh Hashanah, which is the start of the year. So Judaism is based on a lunar calendar, which means our dates kind of move around in the secular calendar because that one’s based on the sun. So we just have the High Holy Days end of September, early October this year. So during that process, when we have the New Year, and then Yom Kippur, which is like the Day of Atonement, there’s one word that is really central to the experience of the New Year, and that is the Hebrew word to teshuvah. It’s generally translated as repentance. But that’s a terrible translation, a terrible translation.
[00:02:07] PF: Just for the record.
[00:02:09] MD: Because it comes from the word shuv, which is to return. So the word that I’ve chosen for the past few years, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and through the whole period of Yom Kippur, and the High Holy Day period, is that to shuva, to return. It’s really nice and sort of freeing to choose a word, rather than like set resolutions or all of these grand things because it’s simple, right? So return, what can I do to return to myself, to return to what I want to be, to set new goals, return to my inner child, to all of these pathways of possibility? Because it’s a word, we can keep returning. Yeah. We can return back to it.
[00:03:00] PF: What is the purpose of choosing a word that you want to guide you through the New Year?
[00:03:06] MD: So the purpose of choosing a word, rather than setting, I don’t know, some grand sort of resolution is that a word can sort of serve as a mantra in a way, right? So we can continue to go back to this word, and it can look backwards. So when we return to ourselves, we’re evaluating what has happened, we’re returning, and then we’re looking ahead to what we hope for the next few hours, few days, weeks, months, years, whatever it is. But it’s freeing. It doesn’t put us into a little box. It’s an opportunity, rather than a constriction.
[00:03:49] PF: Then unlike a resolution, you can’t break it. Like you can’t really fail at it the way you can with a resolution, and the failure rate on resolutions are like higher than new businesses. It’s just like, man, what is it? Like six weeks into it that something like 80% or some astronomical number, these resolutions have already failed. It seems like with resolutions, once we’ve missed the boat, people tend to be like, “Oh, okay. I’ll just give up and try again next year,” whereas having a word that you keep coming back to is completely different. Is that correct?
[00:04:22] MD: Yeah, absolutely. Just a little more background, the Jewish understanding of time is very cyclical. Our lunar calendar is cyclical. We begin with the year, and then we re-begin with the beginning of the next year. We read the entire Torah, our sacred text, all the way through every single year, and we return back to the beginning. So the beginning of the cycle of Torah and the cycle of the New Year is this opportunity to engage in this act of creation because we as human beings have influence in our world. So we are actively creating the world that we’re in and the world we want.
So by choosing a word, we’re able to continue to actively participate in that cycle, rather than sort of, well, I missed this resolution. So I’ll get it next year. It gives us something to keep evaluating and reevaluating and jumping back in. That’s important too because we may set some goal or intention for ourselves, and we may realize partway through, this isn’t actually what I wanted, or this isn’t actually how I want to interact with my world. So let me just recalibrate a little bit and just take another path.
[00:05:37] PF: How does that help us stay motivated or reach a goal in a way? I kind of see it as if you have goals that you want to reach, and I’m not going to set a resolution because that’s crazy. I can still set a goal, and then I use this word kind of as that motivation too. That is a practice or the mindset that I’m going to use to achieve what I want to achieve that year.
[00:06:04] MD: Yeah, absolutely. Because a word serves more as an invitation. Let’s break it down a little. So if we think of a resolution, like here’s a resolution that people across the world set every year, right? Like this year, I need to lose weight, and I need to be healthy. Okay, great. Now, instead of approaching it that way by just having a word as an invitation, we can sort of reframe that, right?
So we can ask ourselves, instead of commanding ourselves, “I need to do this. I need to do this,” and putting that stress, that anxiety, and creating this sort of overwhelming weight that we’re sort of carrying, until we just can’t carry it anymore, and we chuck it off, and we say, “Hey. All right, that’s it. I’m not doing that resolution this year.”
It’s an invitation, so we can say like, “Oh, imagine if this year, instead of all of the time I sat and binge-watched Netflix, imagine if I just broke that up a little bit and did maybe like 30 minutes of exercise and then two hours of Netflix?” It’s an invitation, right? So you’re still interacting with that goal that you want to reach, but you’re not sort of putting it in this little box that makes it seem almost overwhelming and impossible.
[00:07:27] PF: I like it. I like seeing it that way, and it can help us reset throughout the year when we get off track. The very first time I did this practice of choosing a word, I was in Cincinnati, and I went to a church with a friend. They handed out these little white stones and a Sharpie, and they said, “You’re going to choose your word and write on that stone.” So then the idea was like you can keep that stone in front of you, and it becomes a literal touchstone to what you want to accomplish or what you want your mindset to be.
[00:07:58] MD: Yeah, absolutely. I love that because it takes this word and this intention, and it makes it a process of being instead of doing.
[00:08:08] PF: Right, right. One thing that really surprised me was I didn’t leave with a word on my stone that day. It’s amazing when you sit down to do this. Now, let’s see the – Okay, the other people in the church had a little advantage because they knew it was coming. I was a first time flyer at this service, and so I had no idea. They knew. I think they had been putting some thought into it.
For myself, I really had to take it and think about, I mean, for a long time. So let’s talk about that. How do you get down? When you want to choose your word that’s going to guide you for a new year, what’s kind of the process that someone can go through to think about what they want for that year?
[00:08:48] MD: Yeah. That’s a phenomenal question. I think that one of the best things we can do is just be intentional and honest with ourselves. So really thinking about and evaluating who we were as a person in the past year and how we feel about that, the things that we wish we could have done differently. Celebrate the things that we did do, that we’re proud of, and then hold on to all of that, and sort of use that as the lens in which we view the New Year.
[00:09:19] PF: That’s really effective.
[00:09:20] MD: Yeah, yeah.
[00:09:22] PF: Because for myself, I know I will brainstorm. I still remember that very first stone, I wrote mindful. I decided like I’m going to be more mindful this year.
[00:09:31] MD: Nice.
[00:09:31] PF: And I’ve done different things since then in like a year of gratitude. What I’ve tried to do is every time I select a word, then I decide to put a practice around it. So not just saying I’m going to be more mindful, but it’s like, okay, what am I going to do to put that into action? Because I think that’s important too that you have that mindset, but then you also need to know what your action plan is that goes behind it.
[00:09:57] MD: Absolutely, this idea of being mindful and stopping and listening. Once we sort of get that feeling, the beginning of that direction, then we can start the doing of creating ritual, of creating different ways to interact with the intention that we’ve set in a meaningful way that’s renewing to us and helps us achieve some of those goals that we set based on the lens of this word that we’ve chosen.
[00:10:25] PF: That’s excellent. What’s great about this too is there’s like no right or wrong answer. I mean, you shouldn’t use a word like annihilation or anything like that. But you can really – It’s like what word works for you and where you’re at. I think something that surprised me is how easily those words – I already had my word for 2023 like in October, and it just struck me. I mean, it’s not something I was going out like brainstorming what am I going to do. But it just dawned on me at one point like this is what I need to look for in 2023. This is what it needs to be about. So it does start becoming a habit where you incorporate that into your life, and you start figuring out ways to use it.
In terms of reminding us what our word is, like I said that first year, I had it written on a white stone. I did that for a couple years after that, and then I’ve found other ways that I can symbolize it. Like when I did gratitude, there’s a lot of things that say gratitude out there. It’s not hard to find it. So you can incorporate other visuals to remind you. What are some of the things that you could suggest to people so that it is, especially when they first start doing it, the first month or so, where it’s like, “Oh, I got to remember to be mindful. I want to remember to incorporate this into my thinking today.” What are some ways that they can remind themselves?
[00:11:46] MD: Yeah, absolutely. So in this way, the Jewish calendar is sort of an advantage because we have like the Jewish New Year in September, October. I mean, it moves around, depending on what cycle of the moon we’re in in the year. But then we have a couple of months, and then we have the secular New Year. So there’s a couple-of-month period where we can sort of we set an intention, start living out that intention, and then reevaluate, right? Because –
[00:12:14] PF: But you get like a trial run is what you’re saying.
[00:12:16] MD: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
[00:12:18] PF: Like I need to see if this word really works for me.
[00:12:23] MD: Yeah. But, no, I think that’s perfect. So maybe in choosing a word, we also think about it as like a trial run because I know commitment can be scary for a lot of people, especially when it involves like personal self-growth and change and introspection. Looking at ourselves is one of the hardest things to do.
So thinking of it like a trial run, okay, so my word is return or my word is listen, and I’m going to try to be more mindful and intentional about listening for the next month. How do I check that? Well, as I set my intention, I go to my calendar one month from today, just put in a little alert. How have I been listening? Then set the alert. Let it go. Because if we forget, if we sort of let it go, the alert pops up. We take that moment to recalibrate and say, “Hmm, I haven’t really been listening. Why?”
Then we can start over again, and maybe we need to choose a different word. But the idea is intentional growth within ourselves. So latching on to a new word or sort of reevaluating or thinking about why the word didn’t work for us. Or if we get into a really nice groove, like we’ve doing a really good job of just stopping and listening and meditating. This is really working for me, cool. Then we’re reenergized for the rest of the year or to our next checkpoint.
[00:13:48] PF: I like that. I really, really like that. I love using technology as a tool to facilitate that because there’s other things we can do. Some people might make a vision board out of it. Some people might journal. There’s several things that we can do to kind of supplement it along the way and help build that up as an experience.
[00:14:10] MD: Absolutely. So my word for this year, even though I sort of latched on to the idea of teshuvah, of returning to myself, I realized that the main thing that I wanted to focus on this year was listening. By setting that intention and then choosing that as the theme for my service, which was in December, there’s a couple of months to really think about that and just exploring all of the incredible change and transformation that can come from just listening.
[00:14:39] PF: That’s powerful because we don’t listen in. I mean, we have so much coming at us that it’s hard to listen. It’s hard to get still and explore a quiet place where we can listen. So that’s very cool. What a great word. So how does it change our lives? Like what have you seen in your own life when you’re able to focus on a word and give intention to a word, give intention to a year, and let that guide you throughout?
[00:15:04] MD: I think the best thing about being able to choose a word and to just live very mindfully and intentionally is discovering all of the really small things that you’d miss otherwise. So in like this year, my word is listen. I’m going to go back to it. But really sitting and being intentional about not only how I’m feeling but how I feel sitting in this chair right now, sort of the light white noise of the fan that’s going on right now. Our voices back and forth, the conversation and sort of the linguistic music that we’re creating together, like a lot of these things we kind of just take for granted. Just taking one second to think about, all of the things that we take for granted going on around us can open up the entire world for us to just the sheer beauty of everything.
[00:16:04] PF: That’s fantastic. I love that. I love that. What a great way to just kind of sit and become more introspective, as we start the New Year. Thank you for sitting down, having this discussion. This was very insightful.
[00:16:18] MD: Thanks. Thanks for having me. This is great.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:16:25] PF: That was Matt Derrenbacher, talking about setting intentions for the New Year. Speaking of that, I’m bringing in Casey Johnson, our Live Happy E-Commerce Marketing Manager. Casey, thanks for coming to the show.
[00:16:36] CJ: Thanks for having me. It’s always good to be back.
[00:16:39] PF: It’s always fun to have you on, and I want to talk to you because we have this New Year coming up. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but I wanted to find out. Are you a resolutions gal or not?
[00:16:50] CJ: I am, although I like to call them intention. So for me, intentions are like a constellation of purpose and values. So like resolutions and goals tend to be more focused on future outcomes, and intentions are more about how we want to show up in our lives in the present moment. So by shifting this mindset, it helps me channel my energy into what matters most.
[00:17:16] PF: I like that. I like that a lot. That’s a great approach to it because I’ve never been a resolutions person. I have been doing this, picking a word for the last at least five years. Maybe a little bit longer than that. That’s what Matt and I talked about this week was choosing that word of the year. It’s something you and I had kind of talked about a little bit, and I wondered what your thoughts were on that, if you were doing that or if you’re like, “Paula, you’re crazy,” or what are you thinking about that?
[00:17:44] CJ: Well, to be honest, I haven’t really done this before, but I am interested to try it out in the New Year. For me, by like choosing a word, it’s kind of like a gentle reminder or like a mini affirmation.
[00:17:55] PF: This will be great. We should check in at the end of the year, as we’re looking toward 2024, and see how we did with it.
[00:18:01] CJ: Yeah, let’s do it.
[00:18:02] PF: So what else? Like we have New Year starting before we wrap it up. What’s going on in the Live Happy Store for the New Year?
[00:18:09] CJ: Yeah. Right now, the Live Happy Store, we have the cutest journals, in my opinion. My favorite at the moment is the Stay Grateful Journal. Fun fact, research shows that by writing down your intentions or goals, it makes you 42% more likely to achieve them.
[00:18:25] PF: That’s very specific, Casey.
[00:18:26] CJ: Very specific, 42%.
[00:18:30] PF: I like that. That’s very cool. We just send them to store.livehappy.com?
[00:18:34] CJ: Yeah. Head over to store.livehappy.com to shop our happy journals and stationery.
[00:18:39] PF: Awesome. That’s fantastic, Casey. Thank you for sitting down with me, and that is wall we have time for this week. So if you’d like to learn more about Matt or follow him on social media, visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast link. Then don’t forget, while you’re there, to go to store.livehappy.com and check out the journals Casey was just talking about.
Then we will meet you back here again next year for an all-new episode. So until then, this is Paula Felps and Casey Johnson, remind you to make everyday a happy one.