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January 11, 2019

Unreal Expectations – Why Vision Boards Don’t Work

Saturday, January 12th, 2019 marks National Vision Board Day. Vision boards have been described as a fun way to express your dreams for the future, using the concept of Law of Attraction. Paraphrasing Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup for the Soul books fame, a vision board is a collection of images that depict what you want in the future in the way of experiences, feelings, and possessions. Canfield goes on to say in his five-minute video on the topic, you should keep it neat, no clutter because it is distracting. I agree with him on this point, but I went on to watch more videos, mostly from bubbly young females, and I concluded it was more a chance to admire pretty things you don’t have, spread glitter, and overuse the words ‘cute and fun’.

What surprised me was while these young ladies were talking about the great future they wanted to have, they also were saying negative statements about the images they were using to express their goals. “Well, I like this photo because it’s my vibe, but I know I will never be able to do or look like this…..”. Whatever ‘this’ is. During one young lady’s video, she used negative statements nineteen times throughout a ten-minute video. I don’t think she had a clue how harmful she was being or how unlikely the board would influence her goals for the year.

Vision boards don’t work, and I am going to state the case by starting with two stories from my past.

Story 1 – In 1999 I was working at a job where I needed to go out and do field measurements of an existing building (Three family house). I was alone while doing this and I remember was it was a hot day. I mention this because trying to field verify an existing building while it is occupied is difficult enough, trying to do it by yourself is extremely challenging. The temperature didn’t make it any easier. Hence I was not in a great mood.

I was working outside in the front of the building, taking pictures and measuring when a dog next door started barking at me. I’m a sucker for saying hello to every dog I meet, so I walked over to the fence that separated the two property to get a closer look. As I approached, the dog stopped barking and started to greet me with high jumps, a big smile, and a wiggly butt. I didn’t know what kind of dog it was, but it was cute and fluffy. Just like that, I fell in love with this dog, and I told myself that one day I would have a dog like that. Afterward, I did some research and found out it was a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier and more I read the more I fall in love with the breed.

Story 2 – In 1996, I was working for a residential Landscape Architecture firm as an Office Assistant. One of my primary responsibilities was to keep the office tidy by picking up after the Architects. They would look through their vast library of books for inspiration and leave them on the table for me to shelve. This gave me a chance to look at the books too and dream of a day when I would have a house. Some images caught my eye, and when I had the opportunity, I would pull the books and relook at the things that touched me on a deeper level. There were, in some cases, images that I copied and kept. I remember one house that stood out, it was a simple two-story brick colonial with a French flair. Almost all colonials are English in style, so maybe that is the reason it caught my eye, it wasn’t typical. But like so many things I keep, this image was filed in a manila folder and forgotten.

Fast forward five and half years. My husband and I have made a move from Boston, Massachusetts to Richmond, Virginia in hopes it would help us fulfill our dreams of buying a house, having a yard, and get a dog. And the moved worked, all things we envisioned we achieved. Two months after arriving in Richmond, we adopted Scarpa, a Wheaten Mix mutt, and in May of that year we bought and moved into a two-story brick colonial.

But wait, wasn’t this post supposed to be about vision boards not working?

DIY vision boards are claiming you need to portray your “Idea Life” but we all know, there’s no such thing. I didn’t do a vision board that had the perfect dog and perfect house pinned to it. I had those images tucked away and only found them long after both of them had come into my life. I didn’t stare at those images every day willing them to appear. And if I had, I might have missed out on what I ultimately received. Scarpa is a great dog! But if I had had my heart sold on the illusion of a full-breed Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, I would have overlooked the opportunity to make him mine. If I were hell bent on that colonial with a French flare, I would have never found the house that we bought.

How much do we all miss while in the pursuit of our dreams and goals because what is presented to us isn’t matching our ‘vision’? I am afraid to say, today, chasing our dreams has reduced us to being box checkers, not life achievers. We need to keep in mind that marketing images in magazines, books, and blogs are absolutes. They are made to look perfect. They are, in fact, selling the idea of ideal.

In Chapter eight of Brene Brown’s book “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t),” she describes an activity she did with her women’s issues classes called “Magazine Day.” In brief, she asks her students to bring in their favorite magazines, and they pile them on the floor. Next, Brown gives the students scissors, glue, and paper and asks them to spend the next hour going through the magazines and cutting out the images for their “Ideal Look” to make a collage. Then she asks them to go through the magazines again to cut out images that actually look like them. As Brown describes, after about fifteen minutes the students get frustrated and give up. She ends “Magazine Day” by asking the class, “Where are you? You pay for this magazine. You love it. Where are you?” (I’m on the treadmill, trying to walk my ass off, literally, listening to this audiobook, and this part made me cringe. I thought to myself, stop Brene, you’re killing me!) I didn’t have to do the exercise to know I am not there, I am not in any of those magazines.

The directions to make vision boards are set up to take out the one thing that should be in the equation, you, the person! Setting goals for the future is a highly personalized task and should start with what is going on inside not grabbing parts and pieces off the supply shelf or cut it out of a magazine. The whole thing can be disheartening.

Is there a better way?

I was recently introduced to Chris Brogan’s concept of My 3 Words Process, by Thea Orozco over at She did a podcast about not doing New Year’s resolutions and instead pick three words that encompass themes for the coming year. Right off the bat, it sounded much more doable. I chose my three words, wrote them on a sticky note, and stuck it to the lower right corner of my screen. I look at it, and I thought, yes, I can do this, I can move towards these three words. I actually took the concept a step further, but that’s my vibe, and created an envelope with each word on it.  Each time I hit one of those words, I write it down on a scrap piece of paper, date it, and put it in the envelope. My intent is, at the end of the year, I will have evidence that I have taken actions even if I still have accomplished the final goal. Looking back, I know I will be happy with myself at the end of the year when I can prove to myself that I took action. Here are my 2019 three words:

Speak – When I say speak it includes writing, for me it is the same thing. I have so many things I want to get out of my head. I have found an outlet that lets me share my thoughts with the world which boosts me and makes me feel as if I can also meet new people (networking in my new city) and have something to contribute.

Complete – I have started a lot of projects both personally and professionally, and I want to work on completing these projects. I have three books and two workshops that are halfway done! And that is just on the professional side, good lord I need to finish something!

Serendipity – Big fan of the concept. I want to balance the serendipity events in my life with actionable steps towards my goals. This word really encompasses the first two words.

Can you see the difference? I am in all three words. Even in serendipity, I still say that it is going to be balanced with my own actionable steps. And the most precious thing is, also if someone else were to select the same three words, they would end up meaning something different. Oh yeah, it took me two minutes, and there was no glitter bomb to clean up. Instead, I took the time to get to work on those words.

What three words are going to move you forward in 2019?

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