Career Corner: Pin Down Your Plans with a Vision Board

This season naturally encourages reflection and resolutions, which for some people may bring about feelings of stress and self-doubt. Wouldn’t it be better to approach the New Year with creativity, inspiration, and accountability? A vision board is one great way to get there.

A vision board is a collection of images and/or words that concretely shows what matters to you—quite literally putting your plans for your future on a poster and creating a lasting reminder of where you want to be and what you want to achieve.

April McHugh UW-Madison career counselor
Career counselor April McHugh: ‘Take the opportunity to showcase your personality, creativity and ingenuity.’

While it might sound a bit frivolous, the science behind vision boards is sound. The whole point is intentionality. When we actively, deliberately state what we wish the future to look like, it changes how we interact with situations, how we perceive the world, and how people react to us. It’s positive psychology in a nutshell.

Envision any part of your future

You can create a vision board about anything: your family’s dream vacation, your career plans, hobbies you’d like to take up, new business ventures, or it can encompass all of those.

Within UW-Madison’s Job Search Support Group, vision boards are a tool we use to help people identify career goals and remind themselves what they are working toward.

With a vision board, your goal isn’t simply to state, for example, that you want a job. It’s to decide what kind of job, in what kind of place, working with what kind of colleagues, doing what kind of work, and incorporating what values.

How to create your vision board

Here are a few simple steps to create your own vision board. The whole process can take an hour or less.

  1. Get a poster board or other large surface on which to create your vision board. Gather magazines or other printed materials; anything that includes images or words that you can cut out will work. You also need scissors, pens, markers, glue, and other materials that appeal to you.
  2. Start with a concrete thought. For example, “This is what I want in my professional life in 2017,” or “These are the interests I want to pursue.” Take a few quiet minutes to reflect on this thought.
  3. Find images or pictures that speak to you. Don’t think or judge. Just do. You are trying to tap into your inner thoughts feelings, your wished-for experiences, and the kinds of relationships, communities, or ideas that you want to be part of your future.
  4. Then be selective, especially if you have multiple images. Decide which ones resonate most deeply. If you’re missing something, try capturing it in a drawing or write out a few short words or phrases.
  5. Compile your vision board. You want it to look well thought out rather than cluttered, so take the time to place things meaningfully.
  6. Step back and see what you discover. What are the common themes? Has something new or surprising come out, perhaps an idea you were unaware of or a pattern worth noting?
  7. Post your vision board in a location where you can see it regularly. The visual reminder helps you stay on course with your intention.
  8. Most importantly, hold yourself accountable for what you created. If faced with a decision, determine if it moves you closer to your vision or further away.

If you are more comfortable in the digital realm, there are dozens of free and paid apps to help you build a virtual vision board customized with photos, music, and even to-do lists.

Creating a vision board is a deliberate process. It reminds us that life doesn’t have to be something that happens to us, but instead is something over which we have control.

What better resolution could there be for 2017?

Author April McHugh is a senior career counselor in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies and leads a free weekly Job Search Support Group in Madison. She can be reached at april.mchugh@wisc.edu. For more information, see continuingstudies.wisc.edu/advising or call 608-263-6960.

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.