My mum started telling me to "trust the timing" and "let go of control" pretty early on. Blessed with a Type A, lil’ competitive freak daughter whose love of goals, lists and checks has never known any bounds, she must have had a feeling that we’d be in for a fun ride. What she could not have predicted is how the past two years would unfold – because let me tell you, trying to get through a disruptive global pandemic as someone who needs to plan out as much of their life as they can? I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
I love setting goals and crossing items off my to-do list because I crave the mental gymnastics of a good brain funk to measurable result cycle. I’m a creature of habit and I work for myself, which means I need to establish and mostly stick to a few routines to give structure to my daily life. All my progress went out the window when COVID started wreaking havoc on the world – not only because uncertainty and chaos are generally not the best circumstances for productivity but most of all because my mental health took a serious toll.
With peace of mind nowhere to be found and endless lists making me more anxious than not, I started looking for new solutions. And like the astrology-loving daughter of a witchy mother I am, I turned to the moon.
Bestselling author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, advises that following systems, not setting goals, is the best way to commit to progress and not get stuck in our mental boxes. As someone who’s prone to feeling stuck in any walk of life, I’ve found that tracking and following lunar cycles helps me to stress less and live a more intentional life. It all sounds a bit ridiculous and New Agey but humans have long believed that the moon can affect fertility, menstruation and birth rate. Dr Michal Zimecki of the Polish Academy of Sciences studied the effects of lunar cycles on animal behaviour and physiology and concluded that in fish, they can affect reproduction; in insects and rats, hormonal changes; and in birds, melatonin and corticosterone levels.
Following the moon’s clock is also the one thing that’s dissipated the brain fog I’ve been dealing with since March 2020 so consider me a happy hippie convert.
It works something like this: each of the moon’s phases is known to bring forth a different type of energy, which in turn might be more or less suited to different activities. The new moon signals the start of a new cycle and is the perfect time to reflect on the past month, then plan for the following one. The cycle ends on the next full moon, a charged moment full of revelations and big changes: we might see a project come to an end, a big result achieved, and the results of all our hard work reveal themselves in a new light.
As the moon waxes – the time of transition between new moon and full moon – we feel motivated to go for our heart’s desires and take the first steps towards our objectives. This is also when obstacles and challenges start to arise, and the need to keep our intentions in mind is greater. The transition from a full moon back to a new moon (the end of a cycle, just before the start of a new one) sees the moon wane: around this time we might feel called to release the baggage of the past month, any grudges and disappointments, and feel grateful for our progress. I’ve been trying to use this moment to tie up any loose ends and work on forgiveness for myself and others so that I can turn a fresh page come the next cycle.
I’ve been finding lunar planning particularly well suited for creative and longer projects – namely, those I easily get stuck on as they require ample flexibility as well as the ability to see the bigger picture and not get discouraged. Sometimes that’s exactly what I love about my job but more often than not in the past two years I have found myself despairing at how out of my control everything feels. Aligning my goals with moon cycles allows me to slow down and go with the flow just that tiny bit more. And get the most out of each moon phase!
I also love how, with this new practice, my perspective on goal-setting has fundamentally changed. Where I used to see each month as a race against time and a challenge to myself to see how many checks and ticks I could add up, I now find it easier to think of projects as cycles with a life of their own – complete with rhythms and needs that I can try to align myself with, not fight against. What used to be purely a game of numbers and outputs to me (a traditionally masculine read) has now been informed by what we think of as feminine energy, with the moon itself as the ultimate symbol of femininity: a seed planted to coincide with a new moon has time to blossom before the next one and is ready to be harvested by the full moon.
It’s a gentle approach which lends itself perfectly to the delicate balance that my mental health has been hanging in throughout the pandemic. Mental health generally benefits from ease and finds stress detrimental so the more I agonised over my goals and wishes, the more anxious I got and the less I got done. My new approach puts the bigger picture into focus and lets me sweat the small stuff less than I usually would.
And while it wasn’t my immediate priority (honestly, the world has lost its axis and we’re all just trying our best; productivity is not at the top of my list), I’ve been quite happy to realise that not only has my work not taken a hit but I’ve actually got more done with lunar cycles than I used to with to-do lists and blank-slate monthly goals. I think it’s because I’ve been working smarter, listening to what my body needs at different times and giving myself more time to rest and recuperate instead of pushing myself to the limit day after day. Ironically enough, and contrary to the hustle culture so prevalent on social media (stop telling me to build an empire and make six figures! I’m just trying to live my life in peace!), slowing down allowed me to do better work.
I’m sure traditional systems work just fine for some, if not most, people. But if you’re anything like me, then postponing the same goals month after month because you have too much on your plate and can’t get anything done makes you feel more anxious than productive. Maybe quarterly targets automatically make you, too, think of taxes – literally the least motivating thing I can imagine. Perhaps, then, you’d benefit from a shift in mindset. If going with the flow is too daunting a prospect, just…go with the moon.