Why you should try Melinda Gates’ ‘word of the year’ strategy instead of setting big, lofty goals

Melinda French Gates
Melinda French Gates.

  • Big, lofty goals can be demotivating – try focusing on how you want to feel in the moment instead.
  • Melinda Gates does this by choosing a ‘word of the year’ instead of making New Year’s resolutions.
  • Gates says focusing her attention on the moment creates more powerful change than a long-term goal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Those who dream big dreams are often advised to set big goals. But there are a few big problems with big goals. First, they can be demotivating. People stumble and give up hope, or feel their destination is too far away to even attempt to reach.

Second, big goals can actually turn into distracting daydreams, science shows. Rather than do the hard work that’s required to reach their aims, people imagine their fabulous future and actually end up less hungry to make it happen in reality.

Finally, big goals often take a long time to achieve. By the time we reach our destination, we’ve changed so much that we no longer even want whatever it is we’ve been working so hard for.

So what works better than big, fixed, long-term goals? Melinda Gates and others, including some of the world’s happiest people, offer the same suggestions, and you’re going to love how simple they are.

Read more: Coaches, founders, and executives share how they’re setting goals this year

Why you need a ‘word of the day’

Writing on Fast Company recently, Michelle Wax, the founder of the American Happiness Project, explained the lessons she learned from interviewing 500 exceptionally happy people. Among her takeaways was the immense value of a “words to live by list.”

“Often, people think once you achieve a life goal, you’ll achieve long-term happiness, but that wasn’t the case for the majority of people I spoke with. For them, happiness was a muscle they needed to continuously exercise and reevaluate,” Wax wrote.

Rather than rely just on big, distant goals, the super joyful focused on how they wanted to feel and behave in the moment. “List a handful of words that embody the emotions and experiences you want to be feeling,” Wax instructed. “Once you have your list, you can start to shift your activities, thoughts, and content to align with those words.”

Process beats vision.

As soon as I read this advice, it struck me that I’d heard it before, and not just from some extremely cheerful friend. Melinda French Gates, the billionaire philanthropist and soon-to-be ex-wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, once made a very similar point though in a different context.

As Gates explained a few years ago on LinkedIn, she’s not a big fan of the subset of goals known as New Year’s resolutions. Instead, she sets herself a “word of the year.” Previous choices include grace, spacious, and gentle. Each “encapsulates my aspirations for the twelve months ahead,” she wrote.

Like the exceptionally happy folks Wax spoke to, Gates believes focusing her attention on the feelings she wants to experience moment to moment is a more powerful way to change her behavior than a long-term goal. Gates, for instance, recalled her touchstone word grace “during difficult conversations, long days at the office, busy trips with our foundation. … When I was upset or distressed, I whispered it to myself: ‘Grace.'”

While it can be hard to translate distant goals into daily behavior, a word of the day (or year) or personal mantra of some kind is always there to help you make sure your conduct lines up with your values and aspirations. And as “Atomic Habits” author James Clear points out, when it comes to achieving great things, a focus on the daily process will get you further than a focus on the end goal itself.

Or to put that more concretely, setting yourself the goal of writing a book can be stressful, vague, or overwhelming. Repeating the mantra “write” to yourself each day is more likely to keep you pumping out pages. Eventually you just may have a book.

So if your big goals don’t seem to be getting you far, consider taking the advice of Gates, Clear, and a bunch of happy folks and swap them for touchstone words instead.

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All the times Bill Gates reportedly engaged in questionable conduct before he and Melinda Gates announced their divorce

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Bill Gates on November 6, 2019, in New York City.

  • Bill Gates has engaged in inappropriate conduct at work on multiple occasions, according to news reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
  • Several accusations have surfaced since Gates and Melinda French Gates announced their divorce on May 3.
  • Gates’ also had a deeper relationship with Jeffrey Epstein than previously known which, according to the news reports, was a point of contention between him and French Gates.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Bill Gates’ public image as a nerdy do-gooder has crumbled amid recent allegations of misconduct

Bill Gates testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on market power in the software industry on March 3, 1998.
Bill Gates.

In 1998, Bill Gates, then the wealthiest person in America, appeared before Congress to testify about whether Microsoft, then the wealthiest company in America, about accusations it was abusing its market power. Industry observers believed Gates was overly arrogant during his testimony, and the government eventually reined in Microsoft’s power in a landmark antitrust lawsuit.

Since then, Gates has tried to shed his reputation as a cocky tech mogul, instead crafting a public image of a nerdy do-gooder, largely through his philanthropy.

But since Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, announced their plans to divorce, reports about his conduct toward female coworkers and his relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have chipped away at that image.

These allegations have come from a variety of sources and mention incidents dating back years before the divorce announcement, suggesting Gates’ private reputation has long diverged from the image he’s portrayed publicly.

Here are all the times Gates has been accused of questionable behavior.

1987: Bill Gates started dating Melinda French Gates while he was her boss at Microsoft.

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The soon-to-be ex-couple during a TED conference in 2014.

While he wasn’t her direct boss, Gates ran Microsoft when French Gates joined as a product manager in 1987 straight out of college, and he asked her out in a company parking lot, she said at a 2016 conference.

2000: Gates had an intimate relationship with a Microsoft employee while married to French Gates.

Bill Gates in 2000.
Gates in 2000.

In 2019, a female Microsoft employee told the company Gates initiated a sexual relationship with her in 2000 that lasted for years, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Microsoft’s board investigated the incident and wanted Gates to resign from the board, according to The Journal. Gates stepped down in March 2020 before the board completed its investigation.

A spokeswoman for Gates told The Journal his decision to step down “was in no way related to this matter. In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier.”

2006: Gates asked a female Microsoft employee out to dinner.

Bill Gates speaks at Microsoft's E3 Press Conference in Hollywood, California, in 2006.
Gates at Microsoft’s E3 press conference in Hollywood, California, in 2006.

The New York Times reported Gates asked a female Microsoft employee to dinner after attending a presentation she gave.

“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Gates wrote, according to The Times.

2007-08: Gates asked a Gates Foundation employee to dinner.

Gates, as chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,attends a global health conference put on by the United Nations on September 25, 2008 in New York.
Gates on September 25, 2008, in New York.

The New York Times reported that at a cocktail party on a work trip, Gates asked a woman who worked for him to dinner.

“I want to see you. Will you have dinner with me?” Gates said in a hushed voice, according to The Times.

Some employees told The Times they were disappointed in Gates but didn’t believe his behavior was predatory.

2011: Gates continued to spend time with Jeffrey Epstein years after his sex-crime conviction.

bill gates jeffrey epstein

The New York Times reported Gates met with Epstein at least three times beginning in 2011, despite French Gates’ objections. The meetings occurred three years after Epstein was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor.

“Your characterization of his meetings with Epstein and others about philanthropy is inaccurate, including who participated,” Bridgitt Arnold, a spokesperson for Gates, told The Times.

2017: At least two Gates Foundation employees kept in touch with Epstein.

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Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 8, 2004.

The New York Times reported at least two senior officials with the Gates Foundation remained in contact with Epstein until late 2017, years after accusations against Epstein had piled up.

2018: Gates botched an investigation into a sexual-harassment allegation against his longtime wealth manager.

Michael Larson wearing a hot pink polo and a jacket
Michael Larson attends the Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference on July 10, 2014, in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The New York Times reported French Gates wasn’t happy with how Gates handled a sexual-harassment allegation against his longtime wealth manager, Michael Larson, and pushed for an independent investigation after Gates tried to settle the case confidentially.

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Bill Gates is reportedly hiding out in his mansion at a billionaires’ golf club in California that costs $250,000 to join

Bill Gates attends Global Champions Tour of Monaco at Port de Hercule on June 30, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.
Bill Gates attends Global Champions Tour of Monaco at Port de Hercule on June 30, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.

  • Bill Gates has been at an exclusive California golf course since his divorce news broke, a source told Page Six.
  • The source said Gates has been at his $12.5 million mansion at The Vintage Club for three months.
  • Gates was seen at the club with his daughter, Jennifer Gates, and her partner, the source said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Bill Gates has been at a luxury country club in California where he owns a mansion since the news of his divorce with Melinda Gates broke, a source told Page Six on Tuesday.

The couple, who have been married for 27 years and have three children, announced on May 3 that they were going to split up.

The 65-year-old billionaire has been laying low in his multi million-dollar house at The Vintage Club in Indian Wells for a few months, according to the source.

“Bill clearly saw this divorce coming for a long time because he’s been there for around three months,” the source told Page Six, part of the New York Post.

The Microsoft founder was spotted at the luxury golf and country club with his 25-year-old daughter Jennifer Gates and her partner, Nayel Nassar, an Egyptian millionaire and show jumper, according to the source.

“It is the perfect place for Bill to hide out from anyone who wants to question him about his divorce or his alleged ties to Epstein,” the source said.

Gates bought a huge six-bed mansion at The Vintage Club for $12.5 million in 1990, according to a Forbes report.

On its website, the club describes itself as “one of the United States’ most prestigious and ultra-exclusive private country club communities.”

The club, which costs $250,000 to join, is a members-only country club where high-profile people such as businessmen Charles Koch, Philip Anshultz, and Dennis Washington go to enjoy luxury properties and play golf. The club has two championship golf courses, a spa, restaurants, and tennis courts.

The Vintage Club’s current real-estate listings range from $755,000 for a Hacienda-style cottage to upwards of $17 million for a custom home.

The couple’s divorce has taken the world by surprise, but Melinda Gates was reportedly speaking to divorce lawyers in 2019. She described the marriage as “irretrievably broken” in divorce filings.

A source told The New York Times on Sunday that Melinda’s body language when she appeared in public alongside Bill suggested their relationship had been on the rocks for a while. Reports also suggested that the pair wanted to wait until their youngest daughter, Phoebe, turned 18 before they divorced.

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Bill and Melinda Gates bought a $43 million beach house in California last year- see inside

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Bill Gates beach house.

  • Bill and Melinda Gates bought a beachfront home near San Diego, California.
  • They reportedly paid $43 million for the six-bedroom, 5,800 square foot house.
  • The mansion is part of a massive real estate portfolio that could be divided in the couple’s divorce.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Bill and Melinda Gates bought an oceanfront property near San Diego last year.

Gates, who rose to prominence as co-founder of Microsoft, bought the Del Mar, California home for $43 million, the Wall Street Journal first reported. It was reportedly one of the largest ever sales in the area.

The Del Mar property was last on the market for $48 million before it was purchased by the Gates in late March 2020. It was previously owned by Madeleine Pickens, the ex-wife of Texas billionaire and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens.

The Gates’ real estate portfolio is estimated to be worth over $200 million. Now with the news that Gates and his wife of 27 years, Melinda, are ending their marriage, the properties could be divided up.

The couple owns other luxury properties, including a southern California ranch purchased for $18 million in 2014, and a mansion in Medina, Washington, estimated to be worth $127 million. They have a separation contract that likely dictates how property will be split.

Take a look inside the San Diego property.

The house was built by architect Ken Ronchetti in 1999.

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Bill Gates beach house.

Source: Realtor.com

It is considered a landmark in Del Mar.

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Bill Gates beach house.

Source: The Guiltinan Group

Wood ceilings throughout give the beach house an island feel.

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Bill Gates beach house.

The main living space has large windows that open up onto the porch.

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Bill Gates beach house.

Outside, the property has 120 feet of oceanfront.

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Bill Gates beach house.

The owners can swim in the ocean, or enjoy the view from the porch.

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Bill Gates beach house.

Outdoor furniture and a fire pit make the most of the space.

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Bill Gates beach house.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a large pool…

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Bill Gates beach house.

…and a ten-person jacuzzi.

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Bill Gates beach house.

The jacuzzi and fire pit have everything for a perfect beachy respite.

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Bill Gates beach house.

Back inside, the house has six bedrooms…

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Bill Gates beach house.

…some with stunning ocean views.

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Bill Gates beach house.

The house is 5,800 square feet, including 3.5 bathrooms.

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Bill Gates beach house.

Limestone floors continue throughout the house.

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Bill Gates beach house.

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