Having a grand plan for your life is a really good thing. Actually, it’s a great thing! With every goal you work toward, you’re defining your purpose in life for yourself and the world at large.
But a dream without a plan isn’t going to get you anywhere. We (among the likes of Oprah herself) are big fans of using vision boards to focus our aspirations and inspire us to achieve our dreams. Using vision boards may sound a bit like wishful thinking, but they really can help you focus your goals and work your way toward achieving them.
What is a vision board?
A vision board not just a collage. It’s a collage that follows a formula to serve a very specific purpose. Instead of pinning up your favorite images at random, the images used in a vision board are assigned meaning. Vision boards are a collection of images used to help you maintain focus and visualize an explicit goal.
Physical vision boards can include images taken from magazines, newspapers, or otherwise printed materials. They can take many forms, from images stuck into a shadowbox frame and positioned on a desk to a full poster or cork board with images glued or pinned on. Artsy individuals might draw a vision board out by hand, whereas those who are less driven by art and imagery might opt for a vision board dominated by a collection of quotes with fewer images.
When it comes to digital vision boards, many people are unknowingly familiar with them, since many social media websites serve as unintentional vision boards. A digital vision board is a collection of images stored on websites, your computer, or your phone. The top social media platforms for curating vision boards are Pinterest and Tumblr, but you can also get creative and use a document, a folder on your desktop where images are saved, or even the collection feature on Instagram.
Aside from the obvious differences between physical and digital vision boards, digital vision boards generally feature cleanly lined up images. Physical vision boards, on the other hand, usually look like collages. People who prefer a clean-cut look may be drawn to digital vision boards.
The Science Behind Vision Boards
Manifesting your goals in a vision board isn’t just daytime talk show fodder. The science says that the visualization involved in creating a vision board actually works to help you achieve your goals. But, it’s not all in the pretty pictures. You need to actually use the vision board in order for it to work. This means that besides taking the time to create your inspirational piece, you need to spend a few minutes engaging it every day.
Research suggests that visualizing the action steps that will help you achieve your goals works better than just meditating on the end game. A study at the University of California, Los Angeles found that students who pictured studying for an exam got better results than just visualizing acing the exam. And even if you don’t know what your action steps are yet, envisioning either action steps or an end goal were both found to work better than not visualizing anything at all according a 2014 study from the International Journal of Information and Education Technology.
For those of us who are no longer test-taking students, visualization can still be a helpful tool for manifesting our ambition in the world. Let’s say you have a fitness achievement in mind (who doesn’t?). A study published in Neuropsychologia found that doing “mental training,” namely picturing yourself doing a physical exercise, “drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength.” In other words, visualizing yourself exercising helps you get stronger before you even hit the gym.
The mind is a powerful thing!
How to Define Your Goals
Before you can start on your vision board, you need to specify your goals. Defining your exact goals gives you something to work toward. Research suggests that crafting your goals to be as specific and actionable as possible in the short term is your best bet for making them happen.
This means that instead of choosing an intangible goal (like doing your best or being happy), you should articulate something concrete. If your ultimate desire is to be happy, think of the things you do, places you go, or people you interact with that bring you happiness. Use actionable verb phrases like “Take a walk after dinner three times a week” or “Have coffee with a friend every other Sunday” to inspire your vision board. These more clear-cut ambitions are easier to work with and depict visually.
Keeping your objectives reasonable in the short term will also help you accomplish your goals. You can always create another vision board down the line that expands on your shorter-term goals as you realize them. Naturally, definitions of short term are objective, but short-term vision board goals should play out on a timeline that is longer than one month but shorter than a year.
If your goal is to find yourself in the best shape of your life, start with the small steps. Consider researching trainers in your area or sign up for three group fitness classes to attend each week for the next month. Making sure a friend or acquaintance is in at least one of those classes can help keep you accountable and motivated.
If you’re trying start a business or build a brand, instead of agonizing over when you’ll get to celebrate a million dollars in sales or be invited to do a TED talk, finally get some business cards made (so you can stop jotting down your info on scraps of paper) or invest in a freelance web designer to spiff up your site.
If you want to enhance your morning routine, instead of committing to 30 minutes of yoga, a 15-minute meditation, and 15 minutes of journaling, try setting your alarm to get up 20 minutes earlier and add just one of these wellness-enhancing activities to your morning. Once you’ve gotten into the groove, it will be much easier to incorporate other elements. Setting yourself up to win in little ways—like filling a page in your journal before you finish your first cup of coffee or completing a guided meditation before you suit up for the day—will help you build momentum for your bigger, more ambitious goals.
Each step helps you get to where you want to be without getting discouraged along the way.
How to Create a Vision Board
With your goals in mind, it’s time to start crafting! The first thing you need to do is decide if you’re going to keep it digital or get physical with your board. We’re big fans of the digital vision board for ease, but taking the time to create a physical board that you can see daily is extra helpful in solidifying your goals. Out of sight, out of mind, right? A digital vision board may not be seen as often as having a tangible board you see during your day. If you’re creating a physical vision board, make a specific place for it so you’ll see it while doing everyday tasks. The refrigerator, your closet door, or a spot near your desk are all great places to hang a vision board.
You also need to decide whether you want to make your vision board alone, with a friend, or with a larger group. If you’re making big changes that will require your support system, it can be fun to get them involved in creating your board. But if you want to engage in deeply focused self-reflection, it may be best to execute the actual creation of the board alone and share it later. It all comes down to personal preference in this case.
The images you put on your vision board are totally up to you. Look for photos that show off your end goal, whether that’s a job you’d like to get, a physique you’d love to attain, or a big move you want to make.
While you’re selecting pictures that represent your ultimate goals, think about what steps you can take to get yourself there. These action steps are important for helping you achieve your dreams, so find and include images that convey them, like stretches you can do to prepare for meditating in lotus or snaps of beautifully plated healthy food that will help you eat a more nutritious diet.
Also, it wouldn’t be a vision board without an inspirational quote or two. Add quotes that spark your desire to do the hard work to get to your goal; we suggest picking just a couple of shorter quotes so you don’t get too bogged down in the words.
When you are piecing together a physical vision board, it’s a good idea to have different sections mapped out for your different goals. If all the different imagery gets mixed together, it can be hard to focus on a specific goal. You can section off different corners of your board and work inward, or map out different areas for different goals. Affix your images and quotes however you please. You’ll look at it every day, so spend a little time making sure you really love the aesthetic of your vision board, from the background to the thumbtacks (if you decide to use them).
If you’re going the digital route, keep different files (or tags, collections, etc.) for each specific goal. Digital vision boards are particularly susceptible to overload with too many images and themes as space is seemingly unlimited. Keeping your images whittled down to only the most impactful will be helpful in keeping you focused on your goals rather than being overwhelmed by too much visual stimulation.
If you don’t put it to good use, a vision board is just a piece of art or collection of data on your computer or up in the cloud.
Research on the power of visualization consistently concludes that visualizing your goal must be followed by taking actionable steps toward achieving it. After creating your vision board and placing it prominently, take just a couple of minutes a day to meditate on your goals and how you’ll get there—a practice that’s so much easier to keep up with if you keep your vision board highly visible! If you do go for the digital vision board route, pencil in a time once a day to take a scroll through your inspirational images. Once the images are sharp in your mind, you can drop into a couple of minutes of reflection.
To keep track of your progress, it can be fun to keep a mini notebook or journal; even a note on your phone would work. Depending on the goal, check in on a regular basis to evaluate whether you’re making progress and what you need to keep up or consider changing. We suggest a bi-weekly or monthly check in, which is just long enough to see changes, especially when it comes to fitness goals that can take longer to achieve.
It’s also a great idea to get your loved ones in on your vision board. Having your partner, family, or a good friend to help keep you on track is helpful. They can encourage you when you need a push and congratulate you when you get there!
Vision Board Success Stories
It isn’t just Oprah who finds that that vision boards really work. Anyone can make their goals a reality with the help of a vision board. All it takes is the inspiration, visualization, and dedication to get it done.
Writer Jeannine Morris says that manifesting goals through a vision board totally works. “Throughout the years, I manifested TV hosting gigs, brand partnerships, and even finding the love of my life. Since I started putting that energy out into the universe, I’ve hosted for E!, had brand partnerships beyond my wildest dreams and yes, even got married.” Her vote is for a physical vision board.
“There’s something about the creative process of cutting up magazines that’s so satisfying.”
Yoga instructor Mia Michelle Marie says she rooted her vision board in a slightly different way. Instead of pasting together images, she hand-drew her vision of living in a tiny home in the woods. The path to her goal involved selling her yoga studio, taking a work-trade job, then getting a promotion that landed her a tiny house in the woods as part of her compensation. Total kismet.
Actor Kellan Lutz told Men’s Fitness that he creates a vision board once a year. “It’s great when you get to check off dreams” like his acting career, fitness goals, and his fashion line collaboration with Abbot + Main.
“Man if I didn’t have no vision board, I’d be in trouble” Steve Harvey told Oprah during a 2014 episode of the show Life Class. Harvey keeps his visions in front of him in a most unusual way: He has them sewn into the hem of his pants.
Taking an hour to create a vision board may turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done. When you begin to achieve your goals, you can work your way toward your life’s purpose. A vision board isn’t just a collection of pretty pictures, it’s a tool to help you visualize and internalize your own success. Believe in yourself and just watch what can happen.