Do Vision Boards Work?

a road that runs between two small hills

Do vision boards work? Let me save your fingers from unnecessary scrolling: Yes, they do.

But not everyone agrees. So, before you take my word for it, let’s take a look at what science has to say—well, what researchers have to say, anyway.

But first let’s talk about what a vision board is.

Vision boards are a collection of words and images that depict what you want to do, have, be or feel. They’re a visual representation of how you want to experience your life. Rooted in the concept of visualization—the process of creating a visual image of something—vision boards bring your goals to life with pictures. Essentially, they’re an artistic rendition of the future self you want to create. And, for that reason, they’re also a form of self-care.

So, how exactly do vision boards work?

The Science Behind Vision Boards

While few studies have looked at vision boards specifically, the concepts of visualization and mental rehearsal have been studied extensively.

Athletes use visualization techniques to successfully prepare themselves for wins at upcoming competitions. One group of researchers concluded that mental rehearsal “exerts a significant positive effect on performance.” The team also found that “the positive effect of mental practice on performance declines over time,” pointing to the potential for mental fatigue if techniques aren’t modified periodically.

Similarly, guided imagery has been shown to, at least temporarily, boost immune function, as well as reduce symptoms of depression in cancer patients. While these techniques should certainly not be considered as the sole treatment of serious health conditions, there may be some merit for use as a complementary therapy.

Honestly, it’s not that far-fetched to believe that when you consistently give your attention to what you want (rather than what you don’t want), you’ll be more likely to notice and seize opportunities when they come your way.

But there are a fair number of people who still don’t believe vision boards are worthwhile. Some researchers call them fantasies, claiming they aren’t effective “because they do not generate energy to pursue the desired future.” And some have even suggested that dreaming and wishing may be harmful, or counter-intuitive, to goal-achievement.

But just because not everyone agrees doesn’t mean vision boards are useless. So, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water just yet.

Vision Boards as a Goal-Setting Tool

Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support their use (because there’s a lack of research, not because research has refuted their effectiveness), creating a vision board isn’t all that different than creating a written list of goals–only the format is different.

We already know that having clear goals is essential if you want to reach them. Because if you can’t visualize what it looks like to achieve your goal, how will you know when you do?

Can you imagine an architect sitting down to draw up a set of blueprints without a vision? Or an engineer mapping out plans for a satellite without a vision?

Vision boards offer an alternative to making a list of goals. And, at least for people like me, it makes the process of goal-setting more fun.

vision board

The Real Catalyst for Change: Action

The naysayers aren’t totally wrong, though. Vision boards, in and of themselves, aren’t the real catalysts. They’re just the starting point. Simply gluing an image to a piece of paper doesn’t make it magically appear—at least, not in most cases. The real catalyst for change is energy.

Just as architects need builders to bring their vision to life, we must be willing to invest our time, money, energy, and other resources to propel ourselves toward our vision. Action is the missing link between merely thinking about the life you want and actually living it.

Using a Vision Board to Connect the Dots

Another reason vision boards are effective is that they serve as a reference point, or guidepost, that you can return to over and over again when you get distracted, lost, or need to reconnect with your why.

It goes something like this: Why on earth did I say I was going to get up at 4 AM and run 3 miles every day? Well, according to my vision board it’s because I want to reduce my blood pressure, lose the excess body weight that’s increasing my risk of developing diabetes, and climb 3 flights of stairs without feeling out of breath. That’s why I’m not going to press my snooze alarm today. By reviewing the images on your vision board regularly, you can reconnect those dots and solidify your commitment to your plan to make sure you don’t lose momentum along the way.

Tips for Creating a Vision Board

So, let’s talk about how to create a vision board. Here are a few tips to help get you started.

  • Gather supplies. Get yourself into an artsy-fartsy mindset and gather a few supplies:
    • Journal, large poster board, or copy of The Self-Care Planner* (there are designated vision board pages inside the planner. See more images here.)
    • Scissors
    • Glue or Glue Stick
    • Post-it notes (so you can write down ideas for images or words that you can search for later online or in magazines)
  • Give yourself plenty of time. You don’t have to complete your vision board in one day. I create mine over the course of several weeks each December to prepare for the year ahead.
  • Focus on action-oriented images. Don’t neglect visualizing yourself “DOING” what it takes to manifest your vision. Choose a photo of someone lifting weights, not just looking buff. Choose images that depict the actions that will lead you to earning more money, not just a wad of money.
  • Keep it visible. One thing I love about The Self-Care Planner is that I get to carry my vision board with me everywhere I go: vacations, the grocery store, from my couch to my bed. Keeping it within reach keeps me more connected to it.
  • Revise it as needed. Big life changes often requires us to significantly update our vision board. That happened to me last year when I got divorced unexpectedly. What I envisioned early in the year is not at all how my life played out.

While it’s true that a vision board alone won’t necessarily inspire you to take action (Because it’s soooooo much easier to think about doing something rather than actually doing it, right?), it still makes sense that in order to take action you need to have a clear goal.

And that’s why vision boards work.

The Bottom Line

Vision boards don’t change your life the moment you glue a magazine clipping to a page; you have to be willing to take action.

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