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How to Make a Vision Board: Find Your Life Ambition

"Vision Board" by Amy Palko

“Vision Board” by Amy Palko

Since childhood, I’ve had a vivid recurring dream in which I can move objects without touching them. When I awaken from the dream, I can’t believe it isn’t true. For hours I’ll glare at objects—starting with cars or furniture, gradually lowering my sights to scraps of Kleenex—incredulous that I can’t move stuff with my mind.

Except that now I can.

A friend just gave me a gizmo called Mindflex, a game that includes a magnificently dorky-looking headset, a console, and a little foam ball. The headset transmits your brain’s electrical activity to a fan in the console that blows the ball into the air. By thinking different thoughts, you control the fan, and thus the altitude of the ball.

The fact that this works delights but doesn’t surprise me. The discoveries of physicist Werner Heisenberg, not to mention my recurring dream, long ago convinced me that the mind influences physical matter. If Heisenberg’s work is unfamiliar, let me translate the theory into Californian: “Consciousness can shape reality.”

This oversimplification makes my brain wince…which moves the Mindflex ball, confirming for me that the New Age ideal of mental magic—the notion that thoughts can create reality—is kinda, sorta supported by evidence. My goal is to teach you how to use one aspect of that magic, something indubitably cheesy but surprisingly effective. I’m talking about a vision board.

All the Pretty Pictures

Next to the Mindflex on my desk is a photo box containing many images I’ve torn from magazines. I plan to glue them all to one large piece of butcher paper. The resulting collage will be a vision board; its purpose, to depict (and lead me to) my desired future. This whole process makes me roll my eyes—as I was trained to do over the course of my very rationalist education—but damn if it doesn’t work.

Sometimes.

I’ve made several vision boards that bombed out, and some that were so successful that the hairs on the nape of my neck prickled for months. Years ago I glued up a headline that said MAKING AFRICA WELL. I thought it was a joke—oh, sure, like I could do that—never expecting that a few years later I’d be invited to speak in Africa and while there meet folks who are healing African ecosystems. Suddenly, I found myself volunteering to work with them.

I’ve discovered there’s a trick to making a vision board that brings forth such improbable coincidences. It starts with avoiding common pitfalls that result in faulty, inoperative models. Many people hear the basic instructions—”Find pictures of things you want in your life and stick ’em where you can see ’em”—and create virtually identical collages: a wad of cash, a handsome husband, a gorgeous body, a luxury car, a tropical beach.

Snore. These images constitute our culture’s idea of the good life. Even a rich, happily married beauty queen with a Porsche in the driveway and a house on the ocean will crank out this same damn vision board. This has no juice at all. To really work, a vision board has to come not from your culture but from your primordial, nonsocial self—the genetically unique animal/angel that contains your innate preferences.

When you start assembling pictures that appeal to this deep self, you unleash one of the most powerful forces on our planet: human imagination. Virtually everything humans use, do, or make exists because someone thought it up. Sparking your incredibly powerful creative faculty is the reason you make a vision board. The board itself doesn’t impact reality; what changes your life is the process of creating the images—combinations of objects and events that will stick in your subconscious mind and steer your choices toward making the vision real.

Vision Board 101

I’ve known for some time that staring at objects while holding pictures in my head makes reality oddly responsive. I was persuaded of this by two events so striking and improbable that I’ll describe them to you in some detail. Both occurred while I was illustrating a children’s book, which was never published because: (1) My animal/angel didn’t really want to create it; (2) I got tired after doing about 25 percent of the illustrations; and (3) the book basically sucked.

Anyway, one illustration I did finish depicted a startled elephant. I wanted to paint it from a child’s perspective, with the pachyderm rearing back, lifting one front leg, raising its trunk, and opening its eyes and mouth in surprise. I had no photographs that showed this scenario, and it wasn’t the easiest thing to imagine. So I went to a circus, found an elephant who seemed to be parked in neutral, crouched down in front of him, and squinted, imagining what he’d look like with his leg lifted and his trunk raised. The elephant looked back at me…and adopted precisely the pose I was picturing. He remained in this awkward position for several minutes as I scribbled a sketch.

Just days later, I was working on another illustration involving parrots (this children’s book was set in post-genocide Cambodia—what fun for kids!). In the midst of my research, I learned to my surprise that there was a species of parrot indigenous to my own turf in Arizona. I stared at these parrots in my bird book, wishing that one day I could see a living specimen. At that moment, I swear to God, I heard a scratchy thump, and three rare parrots landed on the window screen less than a yard from my face.

That’s when I began believing that animals respond to intense visual images held in the human imagination. So does my Mindflex, and perhaps even complex phenomena like one’s love life or career. I also noticed that the mental state that produced the elephant and parrot miracles was very different from the hankering I directed at my usual goals. And I’ve come to realize that you need to get into that mind-space if you want your vision board to work for you like a short-order cook hopped up on Red Bull. Here’s how to do it….

Step 1: Please Your Animal.

There are two basic procedures involved in creating an effective vision board. First, instead of cogitating about familiar images, scout for the unfamiliar. Your mind can’t do this. Your animal/angel self can. Just page through a magazine (and walk through the world) noticing things that trigger physical reactions: a heart thump, a double take, a gasp.

The only responses involved should resemble these:
“Ooooh!”
“Aaaahhhhh.”
“Whoa!”
“!!!!”
“????”

These “thoughts” register in your stomach, your heart, your lungs—anywhere but your head. You can’t produce them in response to cultural clichés or abstract ideas. Nor can you always know why your body reacts to an image. Wondering, then finding out, is one of the most delicious things about assembling a vision board.

For example, as I rummage through my current collection of images, my body is utterly unmoved by photos of mansions or designer clothing. What interests it are pictures of an abstract sculpture, a dried leaf, and (overwhelmingly) a map on which the migratory route of the springbok antelope is shown in red. !!!! Go figure.

Though it makes no logical sense, I know from experience that gluing these pictures on one big page will begin catalyzing something beyond my mind’s capacity to calculate or conceptualize. If you’re not already accumulating images that rock your socks, stay alert. Whenever you find them, filch them.

Step 2: Let Go Mentally and Emotionally.

Most folks master Step 1 easily, gathering new and interesting images by the bushel. It’s like making the Mindflex ball go up: You stare at the ball and picture it rising. Powered by the output of electricity from your brain, the fan starts to blow, et voilà! Up goes the ball. You do this with focused, intense thinking—something you’re almost always engaged in.

Step 2 of making a vision board requires something trickier: not thinking. This is the counterintuitive process that makes the Mindflex ball descend. To do it you must relax completely and let your mind go blank. You don’t concentrate on the result you want—i.e., the ball going down. In fact, you concentrate on not concentrating. Slowly the fan decreases speed and the ball begins to drop.

This is exactly what you should do once you’ve created a vision board. Stop thinking about it. Lose it. Recycle it. The biggest mistake aspiring reality creators make (aside from that predictable cash/tropical island collage) is continuing to push something they’ve already set in motion. You’ve felt the repellent energy of salespeople desperate to hook you—it makes you sprint away so fast, you cause sonic booms. Don’t use that results-oriented energy.

Anecdotes about vision board success always include statements like “Then I forgot all about it until the very moment, years later, when I found myself standing on the Champs-Elysées, holding that exact plaid umbrella!” The key phrase is “forgot all about it.” The purpose of the vision board is to focus your attention—briefly. After that, the less mental strain you feel, the sooner good things will happen. That initial intense focus helps us create “search images,” and by relaxing, we increase our chances of noticing the things we seek. Then it’s time for the trickiest step of all….

Step 3: Be Still and Still Moving.

Making a vision board is not a substitute for elbow grease. Magical co-creator or not, you still have to do stuff. For example, I want to be better at social media—you know, all that Faceplace Twootle Googler stuff. So I put a headline on my vision board: SOCIAL MEDIA GENIUS. I tried reading blog posts and signing up for all sorts of new online accounts, but I was making zero progress. Two weeks later, I was working on my laptop in a bookstore when a man with a kind face asked me if I liked my computer. He turned out to be a social media specialist and an extremely nice guy, and I hired him to be my social media genius. He’s brilliant, he’s motivating, and he’s kicking my ass, teaching me how to accomplish my goals. I wanted the Force to give me fish; instead, it sent an expert fisherman to teach me.

This is the zone of reality creation: regularly picturing delights that don’t yet exist, emotionally detaching from them, and jumping into action when it’s time to help the miracles occur. I’m barely learning this, to be (in T.S. Eliot’s words) “still and still moving.” But in the moments I get it right, every step I take seems to be matched by a universal mystery, which obligingly, incredibly, creates what I can’t.

So that’s my 411 on vision boards, but please, don’t believe me. Try it yourself. Do it as a lark, a hobby, a physics experiment (though calling it that may cause Werner Heisenberg to spin in his grave like an Olympic ice dancer). While you’re oohing and aahing, cutting and gluing, I’ll be wearing my fabulous headset, making the Mindflex ball follow my mental orders like my tiny foam bitch. If you happen to know I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me.

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.