Goal-Setting Like an Artist: Part 1 – Reflections and Resolutions

If you want to go all the way, please find Part 2 and Part 3 of this series on goal-setting for creatives and mystics.


I make New Year’s resolutions.

I also make new-moon resolutions, next-birthday resolutions and random-Thursday-morning resolutions, but at New Years I work especially hard to do it well.

Goal-setting might seem a bit stark and bleak for magical peoples. All our mystical meandering, though, has to be balanced with occasionally walking in a straight line, otherwise we’ll never get anywhere. I’ve found the trick is to walk in this straight line, but with lots of other, interesting-looking straight lines next to us. The other trick is to never entertain guilt about changing lanes when the one we’re on turns into a dead-end.

Solid, stoic kinds of things can be very useful, even when we are not solid stoic kinds of people. Yes, ‘business’ can be uncomfortable for creative, flowing humans, but lots of business-talk has a good point, somewhere, behind all the acronyms. It can sound like a foreign language, but we can intuitively hear that the soul has been left out of it, and we miss the squishy, fertile parts, because we want to grow things.

The aim of these essays is to translate some goal-setting advice from Businesshuman-speak and to put the muddy soul back into it so we can use it. My hope is that this will offer creators, artists, mystics and activists of all stripes a structure to build their dreams in, but also give them enough room to do the exploration and learning that’s so crucial to our process.



You’ll set better goals if you do a stock-check beforehand. Think of it as a research expedition.

For this we’ll start with a reflection exercise, to find out what we’re working with. We’re going to do a thorough inventory, and list our shields, tools and medicines.


Shields are all the stuff that supports, protects and nourishes you. Maybe a loving partner or family, spare time or energy, a stable home, a dedicated space to work in, good health, a community to share with, a particularly good-looking pet, whatever is helping you do what you do. Your shields are everything that holds you up when you need it. They tend to be physical and material, so you shouldn’t have to dig too hard to list them.

This is not, though, where you write down how you have a fun job, but no friends, or you have a loving family, but hate the work you do. This comes up for everyone – I write ‘loving partner’ and immediately ‘but no parental support’ comes into my head. That’s okay, but don’t write down that second bit, hm? We’re trying to be gentle with ourselves. We feel loneliest in a room full of people because it draws our attention to what we’re missing, but remember we can only work with what we’ve got! Focusing on what we don’t got isn’t useful right now, but later, if you want to, you can set goals to attain things you don’t yet have. 


This is all the stuff you have working for you; your skills, abilities and expertise.
The more specific you can be, the more useful you’ll find this. Don’t write just ‘drawing’, but ‘an eye for colour’ or ‘the patience for high detail.’ Be unambiguous, and unaplogetic, with your abilities! Hone in on what you are specifically skilled at. Perhaps you’re also a good knitter, or you can bench press 300lbs, or you make a mean carrot cake.

Also include your less tangible tools; are you empathetic, passionate, thoughtful, bilingual? Are you great at changing your mind, open-minded and flexible to new ideas? Can you make friends with anyone, read really fast, or talk to animals? These things are all useful in the right situation, so they belong on our ‘tools’ list.

If you think some of this is useless, remember ‘the right situation.’ If I write ‘animals like me’ on my list, it might be useless if I want to invest in cryptocurrency. But, if I dream of travelling the world, I could look into pet-sitting. If I want some casual cash, I could look into dog walking. If I want to write books, I could mine my plethora of experiences with animals for ideas. You get the idea.

Knowing what you’ve got gives you better power to use it.

And all this weirdness makes up a totally unique skill set.


Finally we collect the things that make us more resilient as we work, our coping strategies.  Generally, medicines are used in specific situations to cure specific emotional issues, and sometimes we won’t be fully conscious we’re using them.

Maybe you dance to heal apathy, listen to music to revitalise your imagination, cuddle to quell loneliness, watch TV to combat over-stress, talk to friends to find your way out of neuroses, or watch Janet Jackson videos to remember how boss you are.

A list like this should be exciting and to some extent actionable. You might have to search a bit for them, but it’ll make you more aware of how you deal and heal. We’re hoping to become aware of them so we can actively use them to help us stay balanced as we challenge ourselves to grow. Your medicine list will also encourage more ambitious goal-setting, because you can see how resourceful you are, and how much you can deal with.

Don’t feel like you have to have things like ‘long walks in wild-woods to combat modern living,’ (although if you do: fab). You’re not less of a wonderful and magical human-type if your list doesn’t include stuff like this. Goal-setting and resolution-making, especially if it’s for ‘personal development’,  has a tendency to rabid puritanical inner-voices. Yoga, meditation and kale juice are amazing, but be vigilant of ‘ought to’s and ‘should do’s cropping up.

‘Ought to’ makes us feel ashamed of ourselves, and eventually this’ll hurt your motivation for the task anyway. Rather, face that ‘ought’, and say “this is not a priority for me right now.” Then let it go, and move onto things that are.

It’s also tempting to edit out things you self-soothe with that you’re not so proud of. My list includes ‘alcohol to get over scary social situations’, ‘alcohol to forget stress’ and a side-order of ‘alcohol when bored.’ I’m either going to decide this is something I want to deal with, (in which case we’ll go through the actual setting of goals in Part 3), or I’ll let it go and try not to do myself too much damage while I carry on not dealing with it. Obviously only one of those will stop me drinking to handle stress. I need to consciously make dealing with it a priority, or all I’m doing is setting myself up for failure, because things don’t happen via wishful thinking, they happen via carefully considered action.

If you’ve got a way of coping with things that you’d rather not be using, this is an opportunity to notice that. You don’t need to set down an action plan just now. All you have to do is notice that you’ve got a certain way of dealing with certain things, and notice that you’re happy or not-so-happy with that fact.

We deal with what’s most important to us, and don’t sweat the rest.

(And we go through planning to achieve goals in Part 3!)


Once you’ve got your impressive lists of shields, tools and medicines you can stop. Have a cup of tea, or a nap. I’m a big napper. Have a treat, whatever that looks like to you, and if you like drop me an email or comment. How did making these lists make you feel? Did any of your shields, tools or medicines surprise you, and was that in a good or bad way?

Now we have a picture of what we have to help us achieve, the goals we set are more likely to be both realistic and challenging. We don’t know what 2018 has in store, but we can be aware of what we have at our disposal for facing it.

And if you’ve still got mental energy to burn, I share how to choose the right dreams to follow in Part 2, and how to turn these into flexible systems of focus areas and paths in Part 3.

Happy Hogmany and New Years, sweet ones 🙂


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