Lewis Carroll said, “any road will get you there, if you don’t know where you are going.”
While I love the happy unexpected roads and adventure in life, I’m a woman on a mission. I like to set my eyes on my desired destination and live as if I am participating in designing my life. My tools for helping me get where I want to go? Two big ones are writing my dream, goals, and big plans out in my journal – and creating vision boards.
As a doctor, I also find it important to have tools that go beyond the dietary, lifestyle, and physical health advice for when my patients are experiencing blocks in their personal lives that they want to overcome, and which may be having a significant impact on their health – whether a job challenge, relationship challenge, or the need to more deeply fulfill their own passions, talents, and callings.
There is actually a bit of scientific evidence (ok, light science) to support the effectiveness of writing down our goals. It comes from a small 2007 study done by Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University in California. She tracked student goal attainment by comparing groups of students who wrote down their goals to those who didn’t. Those who wrote down their goals had a 42% increase in goal achievement. Those who then turned their goals into actions and made themselves accountable by reporting weekly to a friend, increased their success by a whopping 78%.
I like to think of the Vision Board as goal writing turned into art. It’s also a great form of creative meditation.
Is Making a Vision Board Right For You?
If you’re looking for a way to explore what you really, really (yes, I wrote that twice for emphasis – what do you REALLY REALLY) want in life, or already have goals that you want to affirm and make more concrete, the process of creating a vision board is perfect for you. Even better, if you loved kindergarten and want a little collage-making reminiscence, or if you love an art project that doesn’t rely on massive artistic skill, roll up your sleeves and get ready to play. I love art and find collage to be especially fun because I can use photographs, words, abstract designs and patterns created by high-end magazine artists and re-purpose these into something meaningful to me.
I created my first Vision Board in my early 20’s. Nowadays I create vision boards when I want to manifest something new, need some mental/spiritual/emotional percolation time or inspiration, and want to quiet my noisy left (analytical) brain so my right (artistic, intuitive, creative) brain can do the talking. I create vision boards to play with ideas, and then keep the completed board where I can see it daily and prominently to emphasize, reinforce, or remind myself of what I’m intentionally creating in my life.
I find that major turning points in the year or in my life are great times for creating a vision board – for example, around the start of a book or project, on New Year’s Eve, or before a “big” birthday. I don’t do them often – maybe once or twice a year at most – but you can create them as often as is helpful as you go along in a project, personal change process, or life plan, to reflect phases of growth and the shifts in your vision of what you desire or hope to manifest.
But Isn’t This Woo-Woo?
I was out to dinner some months ago with my friend Kathie Swift, author of The Swift Diet, and she commented on what a huge “window of opportunity” I get to make change for the next generation with each pregnant mom with whom I work as a doctor. As soon as the words “Window Of Opportunity” came out of her mouth, my mind saw the letters WOO. I laughed out loud and said Kathie, I guess I am a bit “woo” after all; I explained the “acronym,” and we both had a chuckle over it.
The truth is that for the past decade, until about a year ago, I’ve felt that I had to present to those around me as non-woo-woo as possible. After all, I was a “Yale Trained Medical Doctor” proving that I am a scientific thinker and practitioner. No room for WOO in that! And in fact, I am, by nature, quite analytical. I’ve always been a total science geek. I’ve realized, though, that science and woo-woo – those practices and beliefs that put me in touch with my intuitive, creative, meta-knowing self – are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, some of the greatest scientific minds had great discoveries via Eureka moments – when the analytical mind was allowed to be suspended, allowing for intuitive, unexpected discovery. In the book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes entering a state of timelessness, above anxiety and pressure, where creativity and discovery can happen with seeming effortlessness. This is the state that can be achieved when creating a vision board, and it can help you to access deeper levels of your own desires and hopes than you usually allow yourself, or than you usually have time to access in your busy life.
The process of creating a vision board, when entered into as a meditative, experiential practice, brings you quickly into this state of flow, and allows for the suspension of your thinking mind and the surfacing of your more subconscious hopes, dreams, and desires. It allows you to get in touch with you – uncensored – and to take what you discover and make it manifest in a creative, pictorial mind map.
When we make our dreams concrete by turning them into achievable goals and putting these onto paper, whether in writing or through artistic expression, we are more likely to realize them.
The Vision Board Supplies You’ll Need
All you need for creating a vision board is an ample-sized stack of old magazines and catalogs, and scissors, paper, and glue. Local thrift shops are a great source of old National Geographics, and your recycling center might have a place where you can salvage magazines if you don’t have any. This year I discovered that my office colleagues were willing to off-load dozens of magazines and catalogs to me!
I usually do my vision boarding on a piece of cardboard, though lately I’ve upleveled to “presentation” boards from the office supply store. These stand on their own, and a typical large presentation board can be cut into 4-6 smaller self standing boards – so you can repeat the exercise, or invite friends to have a vision boarding party – as I was invited to one last New Year’s Eve – and it was a blast! A couple of times instead of paper I’ve done my vision “board” in a shoebox, 3-D diorama-style.
Colored tissue paper, glitter pens, and colored markers give you even more creative latitude and are super fun to play with, and I’ve definitely expanded beyond the version on a flat board by creating layers, folding and gluing paper creatively – you name it – and it can probably be done!
Setting the Mood and Creating Your Board
To start to create your vision board, set the mood with music and an environment that is conducive to focus and to spreading out papers, clippings, and any other desired craft materials.
If you know what you want to “manifest” in your life and thus design and state on your board, create an intention and then flip through magazines and catalogs, cutting out images and words that resonate. Allow for the unexpected to happen in the process – for example, you think the intention is one thing, but really you keep finding yourself drawn to something completely different. Our subconscious can speak to us in powerful ways if we stay open to possibility. I recommend spending about an hour just gathering images and words. This is the part where flow and creativity can really arise. If you don’t have a specific dream that you are aware of, flip through magazines, etc., and cut out and save what catches your attention and let the vision start to emerge from what you randomly select. There doesn’t have to be an “outcome” if you’re not certain – just the process of exploring can be inspiring and helpful in clarifying some of your desires toward shaping a goal or two – or even bringing out a dream you have – for example, to travel somewhere new every year.
Once a stockpile of images has been created, the next step is to arrange them on your board. Then simply trim as needed and glue them into place until the field is covered as much as you desire.
How I Use Vision Boards in My Life
Aside from giving me time to dive deep into my psyche, and play like a kindergartner, vision boarding has helped me to make some tangible steps toward my goals. For example, right now I am working on my next book, Ultra Immunity for Women. It’s about fostering resilience and optimal health using natural medicines. Creating a vision board around my intentions, my vision for the book, my confidence in my ability to take a major leap toward creating a book that is important and meaningful, and also best-seller quality, is a bit intimidating. so I created a vision board about exploring ideas so that my curiosity is engaged rather than my anxiety, that reminds me to have “no doubt” in my abilities, and places the book into the context of a healthy life that I value.
I’ve used this technique many times in my life, and it’s amazing what can happen when we send our intentions out there. It’s not 100%, but setting a course in the direction of our health, our personal, relationship, financial, or profession success – or whatever you envision, through creating intention and making it manifest visually, can be an important proactive, and nourishing tool for making shifts happen in your life.
I hope you’ll create your own vision board and send a picture to me!