Setting Intentions With A Family Motto

A lot of people use the holiday season for setting intentions for the coming year. It’s an amazing time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. It feels like the whole world shuts down for the week between Christmas and New Year. During the holidays I’m surrounded by my family and friends. No work is really expected to get done and there is time to think and dream and plan.

This past week, Antonia and I poured ourselves a cup of coffee and had a long rambling conversation filled with dreams and hopes and goals for the coming year.

Conversation really gets my brain going. My personality type leads with the Exploration process (I use information collected in the outside world to make intuitive connections in my mind). A conversation really activates this process for me.

As we were talking about the coming year I got this great idea… choose a mantra for ourselves and our family that will be a conceptual beacon for us to embody for the coming year. Here’s how we created a family mantra for this year. I’ve heard some people refer to a family slogan or family mantra and in this article, I’ll be using the term family mantra. A mantra can also be applied personally or to your business, community, etc.

A family mantra keeps everyone focused and cohesive

Just like having a beacon of light shining from an air traffic control tower helps planes find their path to the runway, a yearly family mantra can be a beacon for your family. It helps guide you as you are setting intentions and clarifies the direction for the whole family.

As you are setting intentions – a good family mantra will stir up an emotional response

The goal is to create emotion. Action follows emotion.

Every cause, brand, politician, and war general uses a mantra to galvanize their supporters, consumers, voters, and troops.

  • “Ballots For Both” – Women’s Suffrage (USA 1915)
  • “Obey Your Thirst” – Sprite Soft Drink Ad Campaign
  • “A Time For Greatness” – John F. Kennedy US Presidential Campaign Slogan (1960)
  • “Operation Enduring Freedom” – US Slogan For War In Afghanistan

Feel your emotions as you read each of these mantras above. Some have the power to make you angry – others have the power to motivate you to action. All of them have an emotional resonance.

A family mantra also creates a team mentality

One of my favorite shows is Game of Thrones. If you’ve read George R.R. Martin’s books or seen the show you know the family mottos. In the show, each family has a motto that describes what they are all about. I love the family mottos from two of the key families in the show… “a Lannister always pays his debts” and “Winter is coming.” The characters refer to their mottos often and you can see that it binds them together as families.

Building upon the idea of a family motto and shortening the timeline you create a family mantra for the year. Just like the mottos in Game of Thrones, a family mantra can create a sense of cohesion in your family. Something to “rally the troops.”

A family mantra gives a sense of intention for the coming year

Intention is a powerful force. When you create an intention, your body and mind go to work for you to help fulfill it. Setting intentions as a family is a powerful process. When leading your family you can help to craft what you will be doing in the coming year with intentions. A family mantra can help you do this.

The basic “ingredients” for setting intentions with a family mantra

Remember, a family mantra is slightly different from a family motto. A family motto has a longer timeline. It is something that your family stands for over a lifetime. A mantra is a short-term guide that helps guide your family for a shorter term. If a family motto is for a lifetime, then a family mantra is usually for one year.

The building blocks of a family mantra are simple. Create a theme or mantra that can hold all your goals (Conceptual Focus) for one year. (You can also create a mantra for you personally – for your business – or anywhere else in your life).

A mantra should set the tone for the year – and also be flexible

A good family mantra can apply to all members of your family. Remember it’s not a specific goal – it’s an idea – a concept.

Your mantra should be flexible enough to include all the members of your family. For example, our family mantra for 2014 is “the year of abundant self-reliance.” Antonia and I are focused on a set of financial goals, my two young sons are focused on learning how to do things like ride bikes and pack suitcases by themselves. Our 18-month-old daughter will be learning to do things for herself – like using the potty. Each family member is working on becoming more independent. Our mantra sets the tone for the year.

A family mantra should cast a vision of intention for the year

I love the idea of having my family live with purpose and intention. We are focused on bettering ourselves and the lives of people around us. A good family mantra can help focus us on setting intentions.

A family mantra should be emotionally motivating

Remember that we humans are, at the core, emotional beings. We love to do things when our hearts are in it. But we have to care. A family mantra should help each family member care. It can be very inspiring and emotionally motivating to have a mantra to rally behind.

Formatting your family mantra

There are no rules here. Write your mantra any way you want. We decided to create our mantra starting with “The year of … ”

As an example, some of my personal mantras for the past few years have been:

  • 2010 – “The year of discovery”
  • 2011 – “The year of battle”
  • 2012 – “The year of healing”
  • 2013 – “The year of new values”

How to create a family mantra

Putting together the family mantra is pretty straightforward. Give yourselves some focused time for brainstorming and thinking.

Take the lead

I would recommend that parents spend some time at first getting a handle on the types of mantras that feel right for your family. As parents, you are the leaders of your family. Make sure that you are in agreement before taking your ideas to the kids.

If you are single mom or dad and need someone to bounce off ideas – talk over some ideas with a trusted friend or relative.

Talk about where you are as a family

Antonia and I remind our students that you can’t get to where you want to go without knowing where you are right now. We often talk about the “you are here dot.” It’s much easier to know where you want to go as a family if you know where you are staring.

To do this, list out several challenges that each family member is facing. Your son might be struggling with grades. Maybe your daughter is getting bullied in school. Money might be a concern for you and your spouse. List all the challenges you face as a family. These can help you as you decide on a family mantra for this year.

Decide where you want to go this year

Once you know where you are as a family – it’s time to decide where you want to go. Do you need to find a new career to bring in more money? Does your daughter need to switch schools to get away from bullies – or learn lessons to help her build self-esteem and cope with her situation?

As you write down your goals along with the current status – you’ll start to notice themes and connections emerge.

Begin by charting out the mantras of the past five years

A great exercise for you to jumpstart your mind is to write a few past mantras from your life. Creating a mantra of intention seems odd the first time you do it. So your mind needs some practice by looking at your past.

Start by listing out the last five years and next to each year sum it up with the mantra for that year. Don’t worry if some of the themes and mantras are negative. This is okay. For example, you might have gone through a divorce in one year. It would perfectly normal to write “the year of sadness” or the “year of division.” Write down the REAL theme for the year – not what you think it SHOULD have been.

This is a great exercise to do by yourself and then with your spouse/life partner. When Antonia and I did this exercise we realized that our personal journeys and mantras were very similar over the past five years. You will be amazed at the insights you will see by giving each year a mantra. It really shows where you’ve been and how the years have evolved. Think about how much power you will have as you begin to create your future on purpose.

Write it down and post it up

Once you write down your mantras from the past five years – post them up where you can see them. We like to use giant sticky notes or whiteboards in our house. This is also a good time to throw up some ideas of what your future family mantra could be. As you walk past these mantra ideas each day you can add to them.

Ask Questions

Here are two questions we used to set our family mantra for the coming year:

  • “What problem(s) do we want to solve this year personally? …as a couple? …as a family?”
  • “What challenge do we want to set for ourselves this year?”

I’ve also found that a family mantra is usually the answer to a question you were subconsciously asking. For example, my personal mantras for the past four years have an underlying question for each of them:

  • 2010 – “The year of discovery”
  • QUESTION: “How do I break free from my current situation?”
  • 2011 – “The year of battle”
  • QUESTION: “What am I really made of?”
  • 2012 – “The year of healing”
  • QUESTION: “How can I heal from the hurt I feel?”
  • 2013 – “The year of new values”
  • QUESTION: “What do I REALLY want to focus my energy toward?’

Involve the whole family

Now’s the time to pour some hot cocoa and call the whole family together. Talk about each person’s challenges and goals for the coming year. You have already taken the lead and have several mantras tentatively picked. Go over each one and get some feedback from everyone. It’s important that everyone has a voice in this creative process.

NOTE: Don’t be surprised if your kids are less than enthusiastic about this whole process. When my kids balk at these types of things I just think about Mr. Miyagi forcing the Karate Kid to “wax on, wax off” over and over again. Daniel hated doing what seemed pointless. And when he was faced with real opposition he had the skill built to take care of himself. Be a good parent and don’t let the whines of your children stop you from taking the lead. Because Mr. Miyagi would be proud of you… and your children will someday be grateful that you were an actual PARENT.

It’s never too late to start

By the way – SCREW the whole “new year resolution” thing and get started now – no matter what time of year it is. It’s important to take action. Life rewards people of action.

Imagine your family living with purpose and intention this year

If this seems like too much work, think of how much purpose and intention you and your family will feel this year with a mantra. At the very least – it’s a reason to get the family together for a few hours to talk about coming challenges and review where you have been together. It’s a great family group project. Even if you never use the mantra and the whole family forgets about it a week later – you’ve created a positive experience in the moment.


Setting goals as a family and leaving a legacy

I don’t know if it’s my age or season of life, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the legacy I want to leave in this world. Over the past few months, I’ve been asking myself “what legacy is my family going to leave on this world?” I want my great-great-great grandchildren to have an impact on the planet years after I’m dead. If this is something that resonates with you, ask yourself, “What intention can I set in motion now to make a family legacy the emergent?”

The Chinese have an ancient proverb attributed to Confucius.

“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.”

Show your family leadership and intention

As your children get older they will need to navigate this shifting and complex world and culture. The skills needed for the next 50-100 years are imagination, creativity, leadership, and intention. You can lead the way and set an example now while you have great influence. Take the lead and give your children the gift of intention this year.

Start with yourself

Take ten minutes right now and list your personal mantras for the past five years. Take out a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left side write down the last five years. In the right column write down what your mantra for each year.

Feel free to post your list in the comments below. I’d love to see what you came up with.

At the very least let me know your thoughts about this family mantra idea. I’d love to co-create more ideas together on how we can all set intentions for our families, communities, businesses and the world.

Take your family and child-rearing to the next level by understanding how the personalities of your children fit into the overall picture. You should consider getting our Personalities In Children & Family program. It’s a great resource for parents who want to raise children with intention.

Want to learn more?

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We want to hear from you. Leave your comments below…


  • Joselyn
    • Joselyn
    • April 30, 2022 at 10:20 am

    This was a really helpful article for me and I thank you for selflessly helping us to live and parent with purpose.

  • Joel Mark Witt
    • Joel Mark Witt
    • January 7, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you Barbara for the feedback.

  • Barbara Rosson
    • Barbara Rosson
    • January 6, 2015 at 2:19 am

    This is brilliant! A custom mantra like this feels like a goal that never ends, never has to change because it’s rooted in something deeper, that’s why it takes you time and effort to find it. But once you do…
    It’s always kind of irritated me that you have to keep changing goals.
    I like qualities that endure.
    May we all have the wisdom to step up and do this.

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