The Art and Science of Timing for Goal Setting and Planning

I have been thinking a lot about planning and goal setting lately. You’re probably thinking, yeah, you and everyone else, as it is THAT time of the year. My inbox has exploded with year-end best-of lists and helpful workbooks for planning the year ahead (hell, I even have my own new year planning and goals post and template –  Setting Goals (Dreams with Deadlines) if you’re wanting that).

Because it is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you don’t set plans and goals then you are doomed to failure.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

― Benjamin Franklin

But, I am just emerging from a depth year, which has made me question, well, pretty much everything. And this annual ritual of goal setting and planning is no exception. I have realised that once I set goals, and dutifully write them in my planner, I no longer want to do them. They feel heavy and arduous, more to-dos for the list. And judging from the response to my Depth Year Reflections video, a lot of you feel the same.

Perhaps for creative people, or at least some creative people, this goal-setting/ planning received wisdom just does not work?

I loved what the Aussie author Jen Storer said about it in her recent blog post about being pulled both ways, being Navy and/ or Pirate, Plotter and/ or Pantser. It is EXACTLY like that! I want the structure, the framework, the safe container, of goals. But I do not want the binding, trudging, boredom of have-to-dos sucking the life out of my shimmering dreams.

After all, it is not the goal setting and planning that helps us achieve the things we want. It is, you know, actually doing the work. So, if the goal setting process is making that less likely, then that could be a pretty strong case against doing it. Or, at least, an invitation to be open to other options.

Reflecting on it more I realised there are parallels with (you guessed it) stereotypical “masculine” and “feminine” ways of approaching things. The prevailing goal-setting wisdom is a “masculine”/ blade approach, clearly appealing to our logic and practical selves. Our “feminine”/ chalice side does not get much of a look in, beyond maybe a tarot spread to help inform our plans. It reminds me of how I felt as a new mother, almost a decade ago now, feeling totally overwhelmed because I knew I needed to create to feel alive, but not being able to see a way to do that. I was stuck in the (“masculine”) thinking of needing an entire afternoon, and a tidy space, before I could start. Luckily I found Lucy H Pearce‘s book, The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood and her woman/mother-friendly approach showed me how I could take those itsy-bitsy pockets of time which I did have, that could so easily be frittered away, and make magic.

And that brings us onto timing…

As witches and magical thinkers we know that timing is important.

The sky above our head and the earth beneath our feet changes with the seasons, and those changes also happen within us. There are good times to do things, and there are not-so-good times (when it is better to do different things).

nature photography of river near trees

Photo by Michiel Alleman on Pexels.com

All this end-of-year planning frenzy suggests that the Gregorian calendar year ending and new one beginning, must be THE BEST TIME to set new goals and plans for what we hope and dream into being next year. Between solstice and January 1st (or between Christmas and New Year for some) must be the right time to do it. But why?

In the Northern Hemisphere it makes sense on one level. It is winter, a time when the energy draws inward. A time to dry out our seeds before choosing which to sow in the coming spring. And many people feel like drawing inwards, raking over the coals of the year, and getting warm and cosy with ideas of the new.

Does the same hold true in the southern hemisphere? Where calendar year end means mid-summer planning? If you’re in the southern hemisphere please let me know your thoughts.

On a practical level year-end also works, as there are holidays in many countries at this time, which gives us a pause in our usual activity, creating a space for the kind of reflection that makes for good planning. An opportunity that is unavailable at other times.

But, what I have noticed from making my moon posts and a couple of years of Museletters, is that there are MANY points in the year that can hold this “new year” energy. And these offer other “ideal” times for goal setting and planning: 0 degrees Aries/ northern hemisphere vernal equinox is one, our solar return/ birthday is another, the cross quarters, damn, every new moon.

And this has led me to the realisation that there is not just one ideal time. Even the same date/ time each year will feel and be subtly different according to the differences in weather (internal and external) at that time. After all, the natural world does not adhere to our man-made calendars, and, with our climate changing, the “usual dates” when seasons change and birds migrate etc. fluctuate even more than in recent memory.

afterglow avian backlit birds

Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

I find that exciting! Rather than setting my goals once and then getting my head down and getting on with them, regardless of other factors coming into play, and ignoring my own resistance, it opens the possibility of a more flexible approach.

And what would this more natural-world-attuned, space-weather-specific, plotterpantser/ chaliceblade balanced approach look like?

Honestly, I don’t know. Sorry. But I do have some ideas that I am going to try…

I am going in with a “might-do” list, instead of a “to-do” list

This is an idea I have stolen from Alexis J Cunningfolk at Worts and Cunning Apothecary.  Instead of fixed goals I am going to spill out a bunch of exciting possibilities for things I might do, and then leave them there (in my journal) so I can pick and choose from them, or not, as the year progresses.

I have my Word of the Year

My word of the year practice has served me well over the past several years. It has never felt the same way to me as goals do. It is open, has parts I do not know yet, it leads me to places I would not have expected.  So I am sticking with it for 2020.

I am taking a space-weather-specific approach

Our current skies are dominated by a stellium in Capricorn. Saturn is (still) in his home sign and this has made me wonder if a more Saturn in Capricorn approach to goal-setting may be appropriate this year. And I think that would look like planning not for the shiny new you you want to be in 2020, but a way out of existing pain points (usually the opposite of how the goal-gurus tell us to plan).

For me this looks like:

I am ashamed that I…
  • Don’t speak the language of my ancestors
  • Don’t know the names of all the constellations above my head
  • Don’t know the names and characters of all the plants I see on my patch of land
  • Don’t know the composition of the rock beneath my feet
  • Don’t know the history of my place
  • Don’t know the stories and songs of my place
In a nutshell, I want to be fluent in the language of my land, not just the spoken language, but the kind you need to communicate with the trees, rocks and stars.
I will also be drawing from people I respect for input on the likely themes of 2020. I enjoy Austin Coppock’s Year Ahead Predictions, and I have purchased my lunar return chart from Elsa.

I will have regular check-ins

I kind of do this already, but this year I will more consciously be using my moonthly check-ins to take stock and see how things are going, course correct if necessary, and add in anything new to the mix that I fancy.
woman in white cap sleeved shirt blowing dust

Photo by Jakob on Pexels.com

Obviously, I don’t know how this will pan out, that is part of the fun.
And if you would rather do things in a more structured/ predictable results way, then that is totally cool – you do you, as the kids say.

I just thought I would share in the hope it may be useful.

Happy (gregorian calendar) New Year!