by Summers McKay
In January of 2013, I sat on my living room floor amidst an egregiously large pile of magazines collected over the years, old bridal magazines, fitness, wellness, and Oprah mags, aging New Yorkers, dozens of unread Entrepreneur magazines and university alumni magazines. In addition to my audience of magazines, were my two enormous Maine Coon cats, a pair of scissors, glue sticks, a blank poster board and a relatively decent bottle of wine.
It was a period of substantial transition in my life and I needed some vision to help me chart the next path. I had recently finished business school and was uncertain of what to do with the next chapter of my life. I was at the tail end of a divorce, had a few rounds of dating – which frankly was about getting to meet myself again after a decade long relationship – and knew that in order to create space for a new and lasting relationship, the most important person I needed to focus on was myself. I was ready to create a clear vision for the future – professionally, romantically, and identify the areas where I wanted to grow. Taking cues from Olympic Athletes and more than a few professional coaches, the practice of visualization and a vision board was my goal.
I began with a meditation, journaling of what inspired me, lists of what I wanted out of this life, big and little things, and then I set to work pouring through the magazines looking for images that inspired empowered, excited, and illustrated what I might want to be as I opened the next chapter of my growing up. After that celebratory magazine culling with my kitties and wine, I had a pile of pictures and words and began pasting them onto the board. It did not come together in just one night.
Over the next week I added layers, put on pictures, decided they weren’t right, covered them up with other pictures, and stared at the work in progress, my life in progress, every night when I returned from work. After ten days, I was done. I had created a vision board that hangs in my office today. It is filled with pictures of an independent, fierce, athletic, maternal and determined woman with phrases like “live better”, “captivating chemistry”, “do you believe in miracles”, and “if you can think it, you can build it.” There’s a page from The New Yorker, and images of P!nk, Oprah, and Coco Chanel, and the overarching theme of that vision board was LOVE.
Project complete, it was clear that my next mission was establishing love for myself, love for adventure, a commitment to confidence, love for my current life and love for my future. It turned out to be a tremendously accurate future vision for my life. Eerily prophetic, the images of the scuba diving, triathlete with a captivating romantic partner, quickly becoming the parent of two children, a job in media and storytelling to improve the world and change consciousness, with a ton of sparkles – is pretty much exactly what I got. The only thing missing at this point is that story in The New Yorker.
Vision boarding is a practice that I have utilized annually since. It is how I have set my course personally and professionally. Two years ago, I put a picture of a baby and a shepherd looking dog on my 2018 vision board and despite being told by docs that the baby wasn’t going to happen, I now have a precious six month old who is carefully supervised by her Australian shepherd “nanna”.
VISION BOARDING AT WORK
I have led Vision Board workshops both in small circles of women and at graduate level institutions. I have seen the power it has for many people to gain clarity, intention, and optimism for the life they currently or intend to lead. Vision Boarding works.
This past week, my partner in leadership here at TOD, Kristy Jansen and I sat together to create our vision boards for our year ahead as publishers, entrepreneurs, leaders, moms, pet parents, wives, and creators. On the afternoon of the last Monday of the year, we transformed our office conference room into an adventurous, festive, vision board workshop – with candles for inspiration, journals for documentation, and of course (because it was the holiday break and technically our office was closed) a delicious bottle of Rosé!
As Kristy and I step into our roles as leaders of this growing business, we are both looking at ourselves and our lives differently. The business itself is also changing. Bringing this practice into our professional development at The Optimist Daily was a perfect fit.
THE NEUROSCIENCE BEHIND VISIONING
Simply put, vision boarding is the practice of gathering images and words that speak to you and compiling them into a collage to represent the direction and intention of your current project, year, or life’s path. It is an extension of the practice of Visioning. Athletes have used mental imagery to achieve victory for many years. In the 1960s, famed tennis champion, Billie Jean King utilized the practice to see herself winning points, championships, and ushered in a new era for athletic feminism.
NeuroScience supports the practice of putting together a picture of your goals according to a recent interview of Tara Swart, neuroscientist, medical doctor and executive coach on CNBC Make It.
“You would be surprised how many high-powered executives secretly have action or vision boards at home or saved on their computers.”
“Vision boards prime your brain to recognize opportunity. For one thing, looking at images on a vision board primes the brain to grasp opportunities that may otherwise gone unnoticed, says Swart. That’s because the brain has a process called “value-tagging,” which imprints important things onto your subconscious and filters out unnecessary information. The brain assigns a higher “value” to images than written words on a “to-do” list, says Swart, and the more you look at those images, the more those images move up in importance.”
A key to the efficacy of Vision Boarding is not just creating the visual tool over a glass (or two) of wine, but diving into the emotional experience of achieving what you see on your board. How will you feel when you have reached the goals you have set forth? What will life look like and how will it be different when you’ve reached the vision you are crafting?
Fundamentally, this is about setting one’s direction with intention.
In business school, there is a well used book for Operations courses called, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt & Jeff Cox. A key question it asks executives to reiterate is – What is The Goal?
A Vision Board can clearly anchor your goals in a way that helps you head in a good direction. Often we are distracted by all the things we have “to do” instead of doing the things that put us towards our goal. Your Vision Board – or Action Board as Swart calls it – reiterates The Goal.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR VISION BOARD
It’s not a complicated process, but it is one that requires a little organization and commitment of at least a few hours in the afternoon or evening. Make sure it is time when you can have space to create and not be pulled in other directions. Commit to putting down your internet connected devices and picking up scissors and glue.
- Magazines – LOTS of them! Ask people around you to share their piles of magazines with you – regardless of the subject matter – you’ll want to have a great big pile to go through and recycle in the end. This is where getting together with a few people to create your board can help.
- Glue Sticks, Scissors, and a large, sturdy, Poster Board
- Candle – There’s something meditative about lighting the candle at the beginning of the process.
- Journal or Notepad and a comfortable pen.
Make it Festive: Whether that’s with wine, a warm pot of tea, some great music, and a comfortable place to create.
Write Out The Goal: Begin with two 10 minute writing periods to clear out the past and usher in the new.
In the first 10 minutes free write following the prompt – “I am ready to let go of…”
What are you releasing as you approach this next chapter? Is it fear, anger, resentment, debt? What from the past that has prevented you from moving forward are you ready to release? When you have finished this writing, take a moment to read it to yourself – but do not share it if you are working with others, and then – in a fire safe bowl – burn it.
In your second 10 minutes free write following the prompt – “I am ready to welcome in…”
For me this year it is: A new home for my family that is spacious, clean, bright, and warm, a business that continues to grow and support the lives of my team members, sustainable revenue for our investors, personal strength and health, a joyous experience raising my new baby girl, a committed and kind marriage, an opportunity to impact people and the world through doing good, and to be an example for my children and my community on the new paradigm of feminine leadership.
This, you will read aloud and share with others in the room if you feel compelled. Once you’ve identified what you want to call in, use it as a reference for the pictures you collect.
Then, the Cutting Begins: Before you glue anything, amass a pile of all the images from the magazines that inspire you – words that stand out, pictures of people doing things you’d like to do, places you intend to go, and ways you are ready to feel.
Stick It On: Everyone has a different process of gluing the images on the board. You may use the board in quadrants, choosing a section to represent various areas of your life: work, relationships, money, self. For me, I tend to not have clear lines between areas of my life, so everything piles on top of one another in a pyramid of success!
When you think you are done, stop. Feel free to take a break from the process, look at the board and review to see if it shows you what you are calling in. Like wine (perhaps the rose you were enjoying), Visions grow and change and get better with time. Do not consider it complete after your first gluing. Add images and layers over the course of a few days or weeks. If you put something on there that doesn’t seem right, glue something better over it. There isn’t a grade, a right or wrong, just a process of creating an image for what you want in your life.
Place your board somewhere you will see it every day. For Kristy and me, these 2020 boards are going up in The Optimist Daily Office. The office itself is actually getting an upgrade too! As we were creating our boards, we both realized our office space itself needed an overhaul. Over the next week, we will actually be building out a new, expansive area for our team to collaborate and share.
Tell yourself the story of what you see on your board often. Let the images speak and remind you what you are working towards. The life you want is yours for the creation – the vision is yours to build.