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

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

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

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!

Wheel of the Year Card Spread

For the last few years now I have offered “Wheel of the Year” readings. I have decided not to do them this year (sorry) mainly because of time constraints. I am committed to quite a few projects at the moment and I am shifting from doing frequent tarot readings to focusing more on teaching tarot – which is a change I am really enjoying.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb


So, in the spirit of lifetime feeding, here is the spread I use to do these readings, so that you can do your own.

Wheel of the Year Spread

I hope you find it useful.

Happy New Year!

Choosing a word for the year – and what to do with it once you have it

Since 2012 I have preferred to choose a word for the year rather than making resolutions. 

It is a powerful practice that is becoming more and more widespread, as people try it and experience how wonderful and effective it is for focused intention, attention, and growth. 

How to Choose/ Find Your Word of the Year

There is no one right way to do this. You can find your word through meditation, visualisation or journeying (you can specifically ask for your word to be given to you during meditation, perhaps written on a piece of paper that is passed to you, or in the sky with the stars spelling out your word). You can free-write in your journal and see which words come – this can be surprisingly effective. When I was new to it I used tarot cards plus Amy Palko‘s Word of the Year Goddess Reading to guide my choice of word. In recent years I use my own Wheel of the Year Reading to inform and inspire my word choice.  I have also used Christine Kane’s Word of the Year Discovery Tool in the past, and that was interesting (and a little less woo) too.

However you do it, ideally you will end up with a small pool of words that resonate for you. It can be useful at this stage to mind-map each of the words, noting any correspondences, associations, memories, or thoughts they bring up for you. Then look up the dictionary definitions for each word. This often generates more meanings (and additional possible words) in a really interesting and useful way. Some people like to add pictures and colour references at this stage too.

And then, and I find this the most important part, try and put them away from your conscious mind for a while. Eventually one of the words – or perhaps a completely different word (but the right word) – will bubble up and make itself known to you. You will recognise it as your Word of the Year. Sometimes this happens spontaneously, without doing all those previous steps. Either way. You will know it is your Word.

What makes a good Word of the Year?

A good word of the year is a focus for your attention and enables you to grow and blossom as you move through the year. That is to say that a good word of the year is one that works for the person who matches that word. It will stretch you, challenge you, nourish you, enchant you.

Personally, I am drawn to words that can have multiple layers of meaning – ideally both a verb and a noun. For example, my word for 2017 was PRESENT. That can mean many things e.g. a gift (given or received); this moment; standing up and sharing wisdom – and that’s just for openers. It has been a wonderful and powerful word to work with for me.


Sometimes your word will not resonate immediately, but, given a bit of time to settle in, these words can be (extremely!) powerful. For example, a few years ago my word was HUNT.  It scared me a bit at first as it sounds so aggressive but looking back on the events of the year it was spot on!  It was a year when I uncovered more about myself and what I am here to do in this world than any other before and it wasn’t discovery in a passive, relaxed way.  No!  I was actively uncovering, searching everywhere, particularly my shadows, for the answers. (And it also fitted very well with my Goddess guide for that year, Artemis).

Another word that did not immediately jump out at me, but was so, so, good was my word for 2016: BUILD.  Build?! How boring I thought.  And initially when it popped into my journal I resisted it.  Build?  Yes, it’s practical but it didn’t sound very creative, or fun. But then I started thinking about things which are built: homes which protect and nourish us – our sanctuaries; meeting places where we come and share and trade ideas with others; temples where we worship our deities (or the divine in ourselves, like in gyms); libraries and universities – see where I’m going with this? And somehow build was less boring and more inspiring. And my build year was, fittingly, a year of slow work. One brick on top of the other. But my word kept me nourished and trusting. After all, that is how even the most innovative buildings are made. You can’t raise a roof without some kind of supports.

What Do You Do with Your Word of The Year?

This is where the magic lies.

You do all the same things as you did with your shortlist of words: Mind Map (mood board if you are so called); journal it; meditate on it; look up all available definitions of it. See where the spirals lead off. Continue to do this as the year progresses and see how your connection with and understanding of the word ebbs and flows.

Take it deeper by thinking about how this word is reflected in your life at the moment. How would you want it to be reflected? How do you feel about the word? What associations does it have for you? Which people, living or dead, embody this word for you? What does it mean for you to be/ have this Word in your life? What does your life look like though the lens of this Word?

Some people like to have their word in a prominent place, like on a piece of jewellery or art work. Molly Remer and Sherry from Dragonfly Inspirations have worked together to create beautiful custom Word of the Year Goddesses, who wear your/her Word hand-stamped on her belt. (I am definitely getting one of these this year!)

Custom Story Word of the Year Goddess

It is your word. Use it, and it will be a great source of power and wisdom.

A Goddess for the Year

A lovely companion practice to Choosing a Word for the Year, is discovering your Goddess connection for the year. Indeed, for some people, identifying their goddess companion comes first and inspires their choice of words.

This is not a practice which speaks to everyone but for those who it does resonate with it can be extremely powerful and healing.

You can find your goddess connection in exactly the same way as you found your word. Or you can use a specific Goddess Oracle deck.

Do let me know your words and your experiences with them. I love this practice so much, and find new layers are uncovered with every new word.