The subtle tricks to building an effective vision board

by Pamela Slim

If you have been around the field of personal development in the past 20 years, you have surely heard of vision boards as a great way to graphically illustrate your hopes and dreams, as well as increase the likelihood that you will get what you wish for.

Martha was recently on Oprah talking with Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson about the Law of Attraction.  Helping to demystify  “the secret behind The Secret,” they discussed practical ways to attract more of what you want in your life and less of what you don’t.

Martha and Cheryl brought their own vision boards as examples.   Martha’s included elements of friends and spirituality, as well as a picture of a dog that now hounds her to go for a walk.  Cheryl’s included a picture of a man representing her future groom (who later appeared, and married her).  The show also featured two young sisters, Dominique and Brittany, who demonstrated that you are never too young to put the Law of Attraction to work.

If I would have known about vision boards at age 12, I would look like Cheryl Tiegs, be married to Tony Orlando, and have the Bay City Rollers play at my wedding.  It takes the expression “Be careful what you wish for; you just may get it!” to a whole new level.

But since I am putting together my first vision board at the age of 41, I tuned into a conversation with Martha and Master Coach Theresa Anderson for some tips on unconventional ways to create an effective vision board.

The basics

The mechanics of creating a vision board couldn’t be easier:  get a piece of poster board, glue, magazines  and scissors and cut and paste to your heart’s content.  If you are really motivated, go to the scrap booking section of your local art store and get some fancy stickers, colored paper or other creative materials.

Beyond the basics – how to make the experience much more powerful

What these basic steps fail to take into account is the impact of our social selves on the visioning process.  If we let our brains run the show, we can end up with a board with more bling than Mr. T, but devoid of real purpose and emotion.  This is unlikely to attract much of anything except dust on a shelf.  Instead, consider these tips to super-charge your vision board:

  • Create the “anti-vision board,” either literally by creating a board with images that make your stomach turn, or just by thinking about all the things that you don’t want in your life.  The metaphor Martha used when describing this is the feeling of jumping in a deep diving pool, then pushing off the bottom to shoot up and see how high you can go.   When you know what you don’t want, it can help clarify what you do.  It is related to Chapter Two of Finding Your Own North Star which I wrote about in a prior post, Was Nancy Reagan right?  How just saying NO can change your life.
  • If you just grab the magazines lying around your house,  you may miss images that represent a future you haven’t yet imagined.  Instead, go to a bookstore that has a really great magazine selection and play the Hot-Warm-Cold game:
    • Get as calm as you can by relaxing, breathing deeply and imaging an extremely positive experience in your life (a “+10 for those familiar with the scale).
    • Stand in front of the magazine rack and squint your eyes so you can’t read the words but you can see the outlines of the images.
    • Grab any magazines that jump out at you, regardless if they make sense to your rational mind (Bug Collectors Today, Maxim, Off-Road Vehicles and Martha Stewart Living may be odd companions, but don’t question it!)
    • Go sit somewhere comfortable and leaf through the images.  Weed out those magazines that truly don’t resonate with your body.
  • Feel, don’t think your way through the exercise.
    Our rational minds imagine our futures in neat, organized steps.  So it is very tempting to search for images by thinking things like: “What is the logical next step in my career?’ or “What kind of man would make me happy?” or “What tropical destination is most affordable for a family of five?” Martha says: “To act without thinking is almost unthinkable in our culture!  Powerful action can occur without any thought.”
  • Observe your process of making the vision board; it can clue you into the way you operate in life. So if you take too much time looking for the “ideal images,” you may find that perfectionism gets in your way.  If you never make time to complete the exercise, you may find that you spend so much time taking care of everyone else’s needs that you neglect your own.

While doing these things, watch out for these 5 DON’Ts:

  • Don’t be seduced by the marketing.
    If you flip through one magazine for too long, you will get pulled into the advertising trance of the images and words.  Tune into how the images are making you feel:  anxious, jealous, joyful, trapped?  Pick out the images that make your body feel great – like the way favorite food tastes when you are hungry.
  • Don’t stick with what’s possible.
    If you have a big pile of images that don’t seem to go together, don’t worry about it!  You may not know what a fly fisherman in Montana and a yurt in Mongolia have to do with each other.  Don’t try to make a rational connection, just accept that both images mean something to your Stargazer self.
  • Don’t look at the images in a conventional way.
    Turn the magazines upside down and look at the images as designs instead of literal pictures.  Notice how your body reacts.  Many people will lean towards images that feel right, and lean away from those that feel wrong.  Others notice a very “open” feeling in their head or chest towards attractive images and muscle tension when viewing repelling ones. As you gaze at these images, your mind may try to identify their literal form.  Martha says:  “Knowing what that thing is will not help you as much as picking it without thought.”
  • Don’t fall for clichés
    While researching for this post, I thought I would see if there was software available for this traditionally homemade activity.  And I will be honest:  every site I visited made me want to vomit.  Because they contained, along with slick sales letters and cheesy audio greetings, extremely materialistic and cliché images:  Palm trees.  Beaches.  Fast cars.  Dollar signs.  Beautiful women.  In short, every get rich quick symbol possible.  The point is not that you can’t have a picture of a palm tree and a beach on your vision board.  But only include these images if you are magnetically attracted to them.  Don’t put anything on your board that doesn’t feel extremely juicy and appealing.
  • Don’t settle for second best.  If you get a strong feeling that you want to interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show but can only find a picture of your local consumer affairs reporter, leave the space blank!

Why does a vision board work?
While many claim the power of vision boards are rooted in the Law of Attraction, Martha explains it a bit more simply:

“When you put your attention on something, you experience more of it. Maybe it is created by a magical force of attention. At the very least, you are going to selectively pay attention to these things you like once you selectively start to gear yourself to focus on them more.”

Once the board is created, how to get the most of it:

  • Don’t cling to it.  Put it where you can see it, and think “this is a picture that makes me happy.”
  • Don’t get frustrated that you don’t have it yet.  As much as you can, detach from outcomes.
  • Take a picture of it so you can look at it outside of its physical location.  You could store it on your cellphone and flash on it while in line to pay your light bill.  Or you can save it on your laptop at work and view it while pretending to analyze a sales graph in a meeting.  Per the points above, this is not so you can become obsessed by the images, but rather to have a pleasant glimpse into the future that awaits you.

Other fun, inspirational sites to stimulate your creative thinking and collect images:

  • istockphoto – use keywords to search from a gigantic database of beautiful photo images (this is a paid service since it compensates the photographers who contribute photos, but the quality is exceptional).
  • Our favorite creativity coach Christine Kane wrote a post about her own experience with a vision board, which she followed up with How to Make a Vision Board which got a healthy 97 additional comments from readers!
  • PostSecret is an amazing blog project where people create anonymous postcards with their deepest secrets.  It is another great place to get inspired by hand-created images, and the power of the authentic voice.
  • 2008 Design Trends has some beautiful web design images that can stimulate your design eye.
  • The cool picture of the day site has some really unusual and creative photos.

Finally, if you want to listen to Martha describing the process herself, check out How to Create a Starlight Vision Board.

I hope that you enjoy the process of creating your vision board as much as I did!  Please share your tips or comments on making effective vision boards here.