Goal Setting – a TCM Guide

It’s a new year, and we all know how this usually plays out. December is filled with indulgence and good cheer, followed by guilt and the manifestation of New Year’s Resolutions. We vow to get moving again and no longer contribute to the indentation forming on the couch. We vow to eat better and stop gorging on shortbread. Gyms are filled to capacity, and fresh wholesome meals are on the table.

Then January 14th hits (sometimes it already happens around the 7th), our will power crumbles, and forward momentum stalls. Our New Year’s Resolutions fall to the wayside and we say to ourselves: “Better luck next year”. Does all that sound familiar? You’re in good company, we’ve all been there.

There is a simple reason this happens – and it has nothing to do with our goals. The problem is, that it’s the wrong time of year for new and ambitious goals. We set ourselves up for failure by going against the natural rhythms of the year.

Energetically, winter is a time of storage, rest, and introspection. It is the most yin time of the year. You never see a tree trying to change things up and grow its leaves in January, rather than April, right? The tree knows naturally that if it does this, the leaves will fail and drop off. Instead it draws its resources inward, takes inventory of the nutrients it accumulated in the spring/summer, and it waits until spring to manifest new growth. We need to do the same if we hope to have true success with long-term goals.

In this blog post, I want to encourage you to change the way you think about setting your goals, and let the energetics of each season guide you to success. It’s not a resolution, it’s a goal-setting revolution! Let’s have a look at a few examples and how this can work for you.

Winter – Water Element

In Chapter 2 of the Su Wen it is said that, “in winter all is hidden, this is the season of retirement into the depth, because it’s cold outside. It is necessary at this moment not to disturb or disperse the yang energy”. To stay healthy, one must stay within the natural rhythms of the season. During the winter, go to bed early (like the sun does) and slow activity to a minimum, to conserve and protect qi (your vital force). By conserving qi in the winter, you will have a sufficient supply for the growth and movement necessary for the energy of Spring.

It’s a time of rest and inward reflection. How about reading a book or start journaling? Don’t let anyone bring you down because your goals are “not ambitious enough”. You decide what lands on your list of goals, you decide on the size and scope of your goals. What matters is that the goal is yours and that it has a purpose that’s true to yours. And if it works with the rhythm of the seasons? Even better.

Spring – Wood Element

With the arrival of Spring after the cold, hibernating nature of Winter, comes the expansion of new yang energy. It is a time of birth and growth. The seed that was once buried in the cold ground is starting to receive the warmth necessary to sprout and transform. It is a great time to get moving and enjoy the longer days.

“The Wood Element creates the power that manifests in the qi of spring. It is the same qi that pushes the seedling upwards. It is the qi to give us a vision of our potential, to initiate growth and change and the determination to achieve that development”. (Hicks et al, page 58)

It’s a time of planning and new growth. Start a new exercise routine, learn about healthy eating and gardening, and plan trips for spring and summer. And, very importantly, make sure the goals are really yours. Ask yourself – are you doing this for yourself, or because you want to make someone else happy? Are you feeling pressure to push yourself a bit more than you want to? Take a close look at your goals and action plan, and make sure your health and wellness goals are what works best for you and your life.

Summer – Fire Element

When summer arrives it’s time to soak up the heat of the sun, which helps crops come to fruition. This is a time to enjoy being outside bathing in the sun with friends and family, whether that be on a beach, having a picnic at the park, or exploring the local hiking trails. The Fire Element is responsible for the quality of our relationships, and it brings joy into our lives. Summer is a great time to nurture the bonds we have with friends, family, and loved ones alike.

It’s a time of bounty in nature and personal relationships. Go for hikes with friends, enjoy all the local fresh fruit and vegetables – eating healthy will come naturally.

Autumn – Metal Element

Autumn is the season when the peak yang energy of summer begins to transition back toward yin energy. Crops have been harvested for storage during the winter, the leaves start to dry up and fall and plants are letting go of what no longer serves them.

“After the thrusting up of spring, the growth of summer and the harvest of late-summer, autumn is a time of letting go, when the qi is drawing in. At this time of year the nights draw in and the temperature becomes cooler. Stillness often accompanies the dropping leaves and seeds. Grief resonates with this phase, as there is death, a letting go and a preparation for a new life.” (Hicks et al, page 134)

It’s a time of letting go of what no longer serves us and preparing storage for the coming winter. Clean out your closet of old clothes and donate the ones still in good condition. And don’t heed the pressure of having to achieve what you’ve set out to do in a certain time. Ask yourself which timeframe works best for you. Are you someone who needs to see results quickly to stay motivated? Are you more comfortable planning every detail and moving forward slowly? A combination of both, depending on the goal? It’s all fair game – follow your intuitions and the season.

We can either fight the nature of the seasons or embrace it. By setting goals in harmony with the natural ebb and flows of the year, you will find more success than if you try and go against the grain.

I hope this blog post will help you see goal-setting in a different light, and I’m always happy to help you find and achieve your personal health and wellness goals. Connect with me via my contact page, I look forward to hearing from you!

References: Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture. Angela Hicks, John Hicks, Peter Mole, Peter Eckman. Second Edition. 2011.