Personal Stories

A Yearly Mantra for Writing, Travel & Life in 2021

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Well thank goodness that year is over, right? I mean, I’m not saying it was all bad. I know many of us had small and large joys and celebrations and successes (Mr. V and I got married in July!). But we also had a really crappy year for humankind, and have so much work left to do.

Normally I’m excited to celebrate the New Year and set goals and such. This year, it seems even more important. So many people didn’t make it to this new year, or lost someone they love last year. Being here at the start of a new year is a gift, and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to look forward yet again.

Each year, Mr. V and I spend part of New Year’s Day out on the coast, setting goals and intentions for our year ahead. This is one of many “new year’s traditions” I have, another of which is setting a yearly “mantra” in this post.

Every year, I publish a new post on January 1st of the new year to share the mantra I’ve chosen and what I think it means. Read on to learn about these mantras from the past six! years – and which word I’ve chosen as my yearly mantra for 2021. I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have a word you’ve chose too.

The History of Yearly Mantras

For the past five years, I’ve joined my friend Malia from Shoyu Sugar in choosing a ‘word of the year’ or yearly mantra to guide my efforts and intentions. It’s hard to believe it’s now been six years of choosing a word to focus my intentions for the year!

Here are my past mantras:

  • In 2016, my word was ‘minimize
  • For 2017, I chose the word ‘muse
  • In 2018, the word I picked was ‘balance
  • For 2019, my word was ‘reach
  • Last year, in 2020, I chose the word ‘time

While each year, my yearly mantra hasn’t exactly taken the form I’d expect, it’s been an interesting hallmark of the year. For example, in 2017, I thought muse would guide my creative efforts and endeavors; in reality, I learned to surrender to my creative curiosity and accept more structured projects (like my job) when they presented themselves to me. Sometimes, I was in control of the muse, and sometimes she exerted more control me.

2020 was obviously a completely different year than we all expected too – I’ll dive more into it below about how I predicted ‘time’ would be part of my life and how it differed.

I like to set my word even if I know my life won’t happen exactly as I predict it will on January 1st. It allows me to check in throughout the year and look back at years end to see how far I’ve come and how wonderfully meandering my life has been.

Looking Back on My Yearly Mantra: ‘Time’

Last year I made some predictions for what time might look like in a concrete way:

  • I will spend my time more conscientiously.

    Originally, I imagined spending less time on my devices and more time out in the world. I can’t exactly say that I spent less time on my devices, but I also did spend more time being active and meditating too.
  • I will remember and live by the practice that time is a fixed resource.

    While I guess I had imagined practicing stoicism more in 2020, but I was pretty vague about how this might look. To be fair, I might have done this abstractly rather than consciously, as there was a lot to let control of this year.
  • I will respect that time is everyone’s most precious resource.

    Practically, I said “I’ll be timely in communications and email, not waste people’s time with problems and issues I can solve myself.” I think I did okay with this, with the exception of email replies. I’m so bad about that, still!
  • I will take stock of my past, present, and future to ensure that my life and my time is spent the way I want it to be.

    Again, I was vague in how I thought this might look: “I want to consider what I’ve learned from my past and what I want to carry into my future.” I don’t think I was conscientious about this either, which was my goal.

In sum, I think that 2020 – while it was nothing like what any of us expected – actually gave me opportunities to practice being more aware of time and its inevitable passage. Unfortunately, the events of 2020 also made me feel like I was “stuck in the trenches” a lot and unable to see the big picture.

I’m sure many of us will look back on the year that way; it was a year to survive the trials of time, and if you had the extra energy or emotional strength to take a wider perspective, that was a bonus.

My Yearly Mantra for 2021: ‘Breathe’

Like so many things in 2020, I didn’t really have the bandwidth to spend time brainstorming ideas for my 2021 mantra until the last few weeks.

But one word stuck out right away: breathe. Now that you see it, I’m sure it makes sense, given the year we’ve had. We faced a respiratory disease that threatened our breathing and made each breath a risk; we watched George Floyd beg to breathe and sparked a racial equality movement. Choosing ‘breathe’ as my word for 2021 is as much a reflection of 2020 as a hope for the new year.

While breathe has just one meaning:

  • verb: take air into the lungs and then expel it, especially as a regular physiological process

Breathe can be used in many different ways:

  • to be alive; remain living, as in: “at least I’m still breathing.”
  • to say something with quiet intensity. For example, “‘We’re together at last,’ she breathed.”
  • to give an impression of (something). For example, “the whole room breathed an air of hygienic efficiency.”
  • to allow to rest after exertion.

Like many words I’ve chosen as a yearly mantra, ‘breathe’ is much more powerful than we give it credit for as a simple biological definition.

What I Predict ‘Breathe’ Will Mean in 2021

As part of setting a yearly mantra, I like to set a few predictions for what I think the mantra might mean in my life. Here’s how I predict ‘breathe’ will affect my year:

  • I will prioritize slowing down to breathe through meditation. Right now, I have a goal to meditate every day in 2021. (Mr. V has been meditating for over 500 days in a row!)
  • I’ll continue focusing on my physical fitness and healthcare since last year (2020) has reminded me how fragile it all is. I’ve been running almost every day since the summer; I’ll continue to focus on that and start working to take better care of my health in 2021.
  • We will continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic, but will continue to overcome it – and will take great joy when we can breathe freely together again. What more can I say about this one? I don’t think the world will magically revert back to pre-2020 life in 2021. But I think we’ll move in that direction throughout the year.

I’m almost always wrong or a bit ‘off’ about these but it’s a really helpful way to focus my thoughts and check-in throughout the year.

Want to Set Your Own Yearly Mantra for 2021?

If you want to set a 2021 mantra, it’s easy! Here are the steps I follow each year:

  1. Make a list of words or phrases you might think will represent and inspire you this year.
  2. Pin the list up or add it somewhere you’ll see it at least once a day.
  3. Give yourself 1-2 weeks to consider all of the words on your list.
  4. Choose one word that stands out to you, and give yourself 1-2 days to see if it feels “right.”
  5. Once you’ve chosen your word, share it with me in the comments. I can’t wait to hear what mantra you have chosen for the coming year!

Happy New Year, friends!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Jenn

    I think my word for 2021 will be “confidence” — not because I am not generally a confident person but when it comes to my blog I sometimes feel like I am an imposter. I know I have so much more to learn and a lot of space to grow but I need to stop feeling apprehensive when I tell people what I do. I always think, if people knew how small my traffic is or how many followers I have, they wouldn’t think I was a “real” blogger. OY! Who cares? Letting that shit go in the New Year. 🙂

  • Beata

    Hi Valerie,
    I think your mantra for 2021 is spot on. I think my should be something between appreciate and relax. On top of Covid-19, my partner and I had our own battle to fight with life threatening surgery and still ongoing long and slow recovery. We are mostly grateful, but tired as well. Will welcome some travel opportunities to relax and feel joy again. Let’s hope 2021 will not disappoint us.

  • Paulina

    I love these posts Valerie! As a fellow travel blogger, it’s so refreshing not to read “top places to XXX” (that I am guilty to write too). but these are actually the only posts I read from A to Z. 🙂 can’t wait to read more in 2021 and may it be filled with joy and health for you.

    • Valerie

      Thanks for reading, Paulina! Yeah, that’s the difference between writing for bloggers (these posts) and writing for the rest of the people (SEO for them!) 😂 I’m glad you enjoyed it, and Happy New Year to you too!!

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