Scrap the usual New Year’s resolutions and make a vision board instead.
New Year’s resolutions can give us fresh hope and perspective, starting us on new habits. Or, possibly more often, they become a millstone of our own making around our necks, dragging us down as we fail over time to live up to the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves. That list of good intentions—lose weight, stop smoking, act more generously, save a certain amount of money, get better grades, read at least a book a week—fades in our memories as we tackle the ups and downs of life that are still with us in the new year.
Should we toss the idea of New Year’s resolutions altogether? Some social psychologists have said that resolutions tend to be put-downs of ourselves, a list of everything we’re failures at accomplishing. As such, they can give us negative feelings about ourselves instead of hopeful ones.
Yet there can be tremendous power in reminding ourselves that we always have opportunities to change old patterns that haven’t worked for us. Some threaten our very lives. Others keep us from finding joy and fulfillment. And here it is, the time when most of us are thinking about the planet taking another circle around the sun, and feeling as though it might be time to freshen up our lives—as long as we can do it without becoming disillusioned.
There’s a different way to make resolutions that accomplishes all of this and more, called the vision board. It’s way more fun than lists and children of almost all ages can do it as well, making it a family activity for the holidays. It transforms the old preachy word list into a more positive message for our futures, and keeps our intentions in front of us as an inspiring reminder of what we want to do, not of what we’ve failed to do.
Vision boarding is a sort of woo-woo phrase for a basic art collage—poster board, glue sticks and lots of pictures cut from old magazines. To this you can add images from ink stamps, your own drawings or photos printed from your computer. Everything is added to the page in ways that please us visually.
I was first introduced to the idea of vision boards at a gathering hosted by a friend. We were told in advance that we might want to think about our goals for the next year (as well as to gather magazines to add to the pile). Some people think of it in terms of their many goals, while others pick a theme. I did the latter, asking myself what my life had been lacking in recent years.
The answer, strange to say, was fun. I had gotten out of the habit of having fun—so much so that I’d actually forgotten how. I knew I used to have fun, but how? It strangely took a great deal of time to figure that out.
Finally, I came up with some ideas. New trails for my hiking, preferably ones with streams and waterfalls. Dancing! I’d barely danced in years, because my husband doesn’t care for it, so I hadn’t bothered. Wearing silly clothes and bright colors. Bonfires on the beach. Playing an instrument. Kayaking.
Seated around a table with the other visionaries, creating our boards together, made for a deeply pleasant social experience, during which we learned about each other by hearing the yearnings of each participant.
The difference between a vision board and a list of resolutions is that instead of thinking abstractly about what we want to accomplish, we create a visual image of ourselves engaged in what we want to do and be. Instead of vowing to save more money, our collages might include photos of people engaged in creative ways of saving money, such as more home-cooked meals or buying toys in thrift shops or inviting friends over for a movie and popcorn instead of going out. Instead of promising we’ll be more fit, we could include photos that show people enjoying exercises that we like, or colorful pictures of fruits and vegetables. Repeated intentions to quit smoking might have failed, but on a vision board, we could show some of the things we could afford with the money we save from not paying for cigarettes, or images of healthy people engaged in aerobic activity, reminders of the life people can live when they’re not blackening their lungs.
Though I went into my vision-board exercise with some ideas in mind, it felt important to remain open to what I would find in the pages of the magazines. They included a penguin plunging forward in a moment of pure abandon, with a look of joy on its face, and a shark leaping out of the ocean, a reminder of the fierce power with which I wanted to tackle my goals.
The board hung on the bulletin board in my office for the full year afterward, where I was reminded several times a week of my vision for myself. I mentioned dance to a friend and she told me about a group that gathered on Wednesday nights in a social hall, put on music and just danced, no judgments. I tried it and loved it. I invited friends to nighttime bonfires at the beach, picked up my old guitar again, and went kayaking with the family. In all, I did about three-fourths of the things on my vision board, including a little more fearless leaping. It’s far more than I’ve ever managed with a list of resolutions. The difference was that with the vision board, I could literally see everything I wanted to be and do.
By Karen Klein