The Real Reason Why Vision Boards Don’t Work



You know the drill. Get a poster board and a bunch of magazines. Cut out pictures that “speak to you”, pictures of all that you want to have and do and be. Add some written affirmations. Place finished board where you can see it, meditate by it, sleep next to it. Focus on bringing all the words and pictures on the board into reality. And poof! All your wildest dreams will come true!


If only it were that easy!


When I was a teen, I had an early version of a vision board. It was called my bedroom wall. I, like most of my peers, had posters and pages from magazines plastered all around my bed. I must admit, many were of incredibly hot rock stars. But, there were also pictures that I had drawn (I had a bit of talent in that area), articles I had written for my high school and town newspaper, some pictures that I had misappropriated from Yearbook class (I went to school during a time when an entire class was dedicated to putting together the annual yearbook – and I loved it), and so on. But directly above my headboard was sacred space, dedicated to the one picture that embodied all that I wanted from life.


Centered and perfectly positioned for maximum viewing was a pristine full-page magazine spread of a black 1979 Porsche 911 Targa with removable top and “Whale Tail”. Go ahead, look it up. I just did. It still gives me goose bumps. The feeling that I used to have when I would come home and throw my schoolbooks down on my bed, frustrated for being too young to be able to own a magnificent ride like that, feeling trapped by a set of circumstances beyond my control…..just seeing it transported me back, it’s like I was there again. Poor kid, if you only knew!


In my mind, at that time, that car represented material success, or so I thought. A flashy, expensive, “look at me” statement.  A way that I would eventually show all of my small-town friends what a big-city girl I had become. Success, fame, money, that’s what I wanted, and that Porsche would be my grand announcement as I came roaring back into town for a class reunion.


Fast forward many, many years. Yesterday, as my daughter and I were coming home from a lazy Saturday afternoon of lunch and antiquing, a stoplight had us pause in front of the local Porsche dealership. I must admit I gave the lot a long side-eye, scanning for a Whale Tail. Actually, I do it every time I pass by. It’s like an inside joke. But, my reasons are clearer now. That car, I understand now, represented everything I’ve ever wanted and needed out of life, which was, and still is, freedom.


Which brings me back to the premise of vision boards. Or, a better name for them would be “someone else’s vision of what you want and need”. Magazine pictures are meant to elicit feelings of want and need. They are selling you an ideal. And by placing them in a collage in your personal space does nothing but set you up for failure because inherently, on some level, you know this. Weeks and months go by, and the promotion (represented by the picture of a corner office with a view of a city that is unfamiliar), or the relationship (represented by a silhouette person that does not resemble you walking hand in hand with your future significant other on a beach), or the wealth (represented by stacks of fake money) does not materialize. You feel like you’ve done something wrong. You didn’t do your affirmations in the mirror every morning, you didn’t look at the board right before you went to sleep, you didn’t “see” everything manifesting in your mind’s eye. You feel defeated. But that defeat, that feeling, is the one thing that is operational in this endeavor. Because it’s a feeling that you’ve attached to the project. And, unfortunately, that is the one thing you will take away from your vision board project. Defeat.


You have to ask yourself why you want these things. You have to be brutally honest and boil your desires down to the life-enhancing, value-driven why. Because your why will always be about a feeling, and that’s where you need to begin. And once you have your why, you can create a different board.


Did I ever get my Porsche? No. But I did get what it ultimately represented to me. Once I was older and asked myself, “ Really, a Porsche? The car payments, the expensive repairs, and there’s no room for (insert cannot go home without antique store find here). WHY do you want that car?” My answer was simple, but very revealing. When I thought about myself behind the wheel, I felt the warm sun on my face, the wind in my hair, with a long, lazy, carefree day stretched out in front of me as open with possibilities as the imaginary road I was driving on. My worries were few, my finances were stable (obviously, because I owned a Porsche!) and I had the freedom to live a day as I chose.


And, there you have it. It wasn’t the car that I needed, but the freedom it represented to me. Even as a teenager. It wasn’t really the success or fame that I was running towards, but the feeling of being tied down by my youth that I was running from.


As I wrote in my post about daydreaming, I have jars full of shells and rocks that remind me of days well lived at the water’s edge. Sun on my face, wind in my hair, long, lazy days filled with possibilities. I was able to recreate the feeling that I imagined, years ago, having a Porsche would give me. That’s what I use now to inspire me, to motivate me. I look at those jars and the feelings connected propel me to make the adjustments and plans necessary to make more happen. If they were simply a picture of shells from a magazine, or someone else’s shells from their trip, would they have the same effect? No.


Find your why. Connect deeply with the feeling it gives you. Then create your inspiration, whether it be a board or a jar or whatever floats your boat. Someone else’s visual cues will never inspire and motivate you like your own feelings will.



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