Starting a day with two words can set the tone and establish focus

Although I am susceptible to self-help adjacent Instagram drivel, I came up with this particular idea without help from the internet: about a month ago, feeling overwhelmed by many pulls on my attention, I decided to start my day every day with two words.

Which words?

It depends on the morning. The deal I’ve struck with myself is that first thing, before I fully open my eyes or get out of bed, I think about the upcoming day, what I have in store, and how I would like to experience it.

Obviously I don’t have control over what happens, but I have a solid say in how I approach external circumstances on any given day. I choose two words to define my focus no matter what happens.

Then I get out of bed, brush my teeth, make coffee, etc.

Some of my selections have included:

Fun and presence.


Grace and levity.

Focus and joy.

Trust and chill.

Curiosity and purpose.

And, on the rare day that I want one word to do it all: “Boss b---h.”

My only criteria is that the words have to be meaningful to me and within my power to enact. “Today will go perfectly” is 1) more than two words, and 2) not a helpful mantra to bring into a day which is going to go whichever fire-hose flailing way it chooses, as days so often do.

All I can do is buckle up and choose my focus.

One of the things that’s so interesting about this practice is how my two words shift how I relate to my own body.

Shocker: I’ll usually start my day with exercise. I’ll go for a walk, run, bike, or the gym. On walking days, if I head out the door with a podcast I’ll sense the “focus” kick in by way of paying deeper attention to what the narrator is saying, while allowing myself to focus on my natural surroundings. I’ll really see the trees, sky, and birds. I’ll really feel the air.

On a run, I can create curiosity about why my body or brain is reacting a certain way, rather than my default “drive myself through or ignore” the sensations. Curiosity helps me zoom out on my physical self and make dispassionate decisions about what to do: Do I want to push myself more? Change the effort? Walk? Quit? Observing myself in addition to having my front row, immersive experience (thanks, brain) is kind of a meta self-parenting move where I get to call the shots, instead of making impulse choices based purely on gut-level reaction.

And, of course, grace lets me fail and pick myself back up. I’m notorious for running into things. I bruised my leg by inappropriately hefting around a dumbbell at the gym. I didn’t feel up for the run I planned, so I bagged it early. If grace is my word, those things fall in line with my commitment to myself and I accept them much more readily and move on.

I’m a firm believer that there’s no one right way for anyone to approach life. It’s why the aforementioned self-help corner of social media feels aggravating to me — even using some of the language I’m using here feels trite and stale, given that terms like “noticing” and “mindfulness” are overused to the point of being meaningless.

But I’m also a firm believer that I and we as individuals find what works for each of us. Then, as long as it’s not harming anyone else, shamelessly own it.

For me, this “two words” practice has helped slow me down and hone my attention on any given day. And, bigger picture, the words have bled over from day to day, even when one isn’t my particular selection. I can feel trust in the calm way my body is breathing, and the steady way I approach conversations. I feel more open to and aware of the natural world around me, in all of its swirling, changing shapes as we move into late spring in Alaska.

I find it all a little bit funny, a lot beautiful, and constantly surprising — in pain and awe alike. I’m grateful to constantly learn and improve how to be myself within my own life.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.