How to create a vision board that actually helps you get what you want out of life

The INSIDER Summary:

• Crafting a “vision board” is a way of visualising goals for yourself.
• One way to create an effective board is by finding images that invoke action.
• Don’t forget to include yourself on the board, and visualise the process of achieving goals.

Vision board, dream board, achievement map, life collage. Whatever you want to call it — these projects are more than just a physical manifestation of a Pinterest board. For some, they can be life-altering.

The concept of a visual approach to achieving goals has entered mainstream culture with the help of Oprah, prime time comedies, and hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos.

To get a handle on what a vision board is, and how a newbie should approach the idea, Tech Insider spoke with Joyce Schwarz, a serial entrepreneur who is the best-selling author of the book “The Vision Board,” published by Harper Collins in 2009. Schwarz is also a consultant on emerging media, and works to train Certified Vision Board Coaches around the world.

Vision Board example from Joyce SchwarzJoyce Schwarz/The Vision BoardA sample vision board from Schwarz’s book

According to Schwarz, boards are “a visual map you create to design your best possible future.”

Her site dedicated to explaining vision boards goes on to explain that “vision boards come in all shapes and designs and can be made from all substances ranging from paper to canvas to actual wall-size creations to mobile versions for iPod and iPhone.”

But most people who make vision boards go with the classic collage. “Do the first vision board by hand,” Schwarz recommends. “You know — the cutting and pasting with scissors, tearing pictures from magazines by hand.”

What goes onto the board?

Don draper meditation mad men

Visualising is not unlike meditation, just with more focus on imagery in conjunction with self-reflection.

First, you need a vision! (Duh.)

Sit down with the intention of creating the board, and begin by clearing your mind. “The vision board gives you this time of going totally blue sky, totally beyond what you would think is possible,” Schwarz explained.

Here are the key steps, simplified:

  • Acquire several different kinds of magazines — you’ll need 3 to 5, and make sure not to buy publications you normally read. Go outside your comfort zone.
  • Leaf through them, only looking at the pictures — this isn’t the time for reading. Go through each magazine once, and then go back and cut out photos you were drawn to. Anything goes!
  • Lay out the pictures, and look at them from different angles — spend some time with them. Rearrange their order, walk around the table looking at them.
  • Write down potential actions based on the images — these could be life opportunities or destinations. Think about the qualities of life shown in the photos you chose, or actions and travel destinations you want to make happen.

You need to think about what you want to achieve, how you want your life (or career or business, whatever the subject of your board is) to look in three months or one year. You choose the focus and timeframe, and go from there.

“[Vision boards are] a way to get from A to Z, but you’re starting from Z and working back so that you have a clear picture of what you’re building,” Schwarz said. She used the analogy of a GPS in the car. You can program a GPS, enter in the destination and map out a route, but you’ll still need to drive the car.

“This is not a wish list where you put a picture of a Coach purse,” Schwarz emphasised. Instead the idea is to use images that remind you about what you want to achieve. “The visual reminders are really crucial,” she said. “Images evoke feelings, feelings are the reasons we change our lives, the reasons we change behaviour.”

Here’s my vision board!

Vision Board 2016 Kim'sKim Renfro/Tech InsiderMy 2016 vision board (done the wrong way).

I made a vision board in 2016, before I talked to Schwarz. Warning: My kitschy example falls into the category of how NOT to make vision boards.

My mum’s birthday is New Year’s Eve, the auspicious time to look ahead into the next year and decide what you’d like to accomplish (hence “resolutions”). Each year, during her birthday party, we set up a craft table with tons of old magazines, stickers, markers, and glue sticks. I’ve made one each time, but never with the full self-awareness one should have when approaching this type of project.

One thing I forgot to add to the board? Me. Schwarz says you need to be the center of your board, really immersing yourself in the vision. It’s all about what YOU want, after all.

That brings us to the actual science behind these boards, and what some people get wrong. Aside from forgetting to include yourself, As Schwarz pointed out, vision boards are not a wish list. If you put a trip to Mexico on it (like I did), a plane ticket won’t fall out of the sky and into your lap.

Psychologists have explored this fallacy in studies with students who wanted to do well on exams, where it was clear that visualising a result was less effective than visualising the process of achieving the result. For example, the students who spent time imagining studying and learning the material performed better than students who simply visualized seeing an “A” on their tests.

Woman studyingFlickr / Francisco OsorioFocusing on the process versus results can be key.

So for my board’s inclusion of a trip to Mexico, it would have been more prudent for me to include imagery of saving up money, or practicing my rusty-Spanish vocab.

Dr. Jeremy Dean explained more in a blog post for PsyBlog. “One of the reasons just visualising an outcome doesn’t work is the planning fallacy,” he writes. “This is our completely normal assumption that everything will be much easier than it really will be.”

But you can avoid this error when making a vision board by first bringing a self-awareness to the project. Take the time to reflect on where you are in life right now, and how you feel, and project those feelings into the future along with new ideas about actions you’d like to achieve. Don’t just decide to spend an afternoon crafting a wish list.

As Schwarz puts it: “Your life and career and business is up for grabs, and it’s up to you to co-create it with the universe.”

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