create an empowering dream board

Whether you call it a dream board, vision board, or treasure map, the process of creating your own board is a powerful first step to achieving your goals. Your board serves as a visualization tool by providing a snapshot of your “desired future” … it helps you focus your goals and envision where you want to go, what you want to do, who you want to become, what you want to have … and with whom you want to enjoy it all!

5 things to consider before creating your kick-ass board 

1.     The #1 rule. dreams vision-board1 vision-board-poster

… actually, it’s the only rule:  Have fun with it! Think big. Think ideal. Think the moon. Think “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?” If an idea or goal does not excite, or even scare you a little, it’s not daring enough – and chances are it will drop off your radar as one more ho-hum thing to do.

2.     Your board must resonate with you on an emotional level.

Looking at your finished vision board MUST create an emotional charge that you feel in your body … you should feel a “yes!” in the belly that revs you, reminds you where you’re going, propels you to take action, fires you to succeed.

Visualization is meant to raise your level of vibration, so as you create your board, only include goals that challenge you, and images that spark real desire.

Don’t add images just because they’re pretty, or might be nice to have. Don’t include certain goals because you think you “should”.

And don’t include the dreams,  aspirations, and expectations that others project for you. This is your board … your life to create!

3.     Consider the type of board you prefer.

I’m using the term board, which implies a flat board that you’d pin to a wall, but you might prefer a folding board, like a large menu; or a portable three-ring binder, scrapbook, or ringed note cards. You might prefer a document or workbook on your computer or tablet. Or you might prefer a mindmapping software. Consider your lifestyle and work style, and do what works best for you. (I create a flat board to pin on the wall, then shoot it with Evernote camera, so it’s always with me on my smartphone and synced on my laptop.)

4.     Determine whether to create a single board or multiple boards.

career-vision-boardSome prefer to encompass all of their goals on one board. Others prefer separate boards for different purposes, or different roles and goals  e.g.,  family, money, health, marriage, career (like the one on the left).

Since I’m very visual and tend to take a global perspective on things, I typically prefer one global board that encompasses all aspects of my life.  It gives me the big picture view I need, and keeps all of my goals in front of me. However, when I work on a really intense project or longer-term assignment, like a book or film project, I might make an additional board dedicated to that specific project. It helps focus goals and visualization around that project, and prevents my global board from becoming cluttered.

5.     Your board is a visualization tool, not a panacea. Visualization works … when supported by action.

Without action, your board is merely a collage. You’ve heard the expression “Where focus goes, energy flows” – your daily actions and thoughts must support your goals. As a visualization tool your board should align with your overall written plan. (Assuming you have one, your written plan defines your objectives, goals, strategy, tactics, timelines, and deadlines, etc.).

Creating your board

Select pictures, words, photographs, quotes, textiles, and objects that inspire you.  They represent the experiences, accomplishments, and possessions you want to attract into your life and that are symbolic of the lifestyle you’re in the process of creating. For example, you might want to attract a new lover or marriage partner, a bigger home, a specific car, or new career. You might want to travel through Asia, learn French, take up Salsa dancing, master golf, or lose 50lbs.

Grouping your cutouts into content categories or similar groups – such as family, love, money, career – helps create flow to your story.  I also recommend leaving random space between images or content categories for the following reasons:

  • Too many images create distraction. Covering your whole board, leaving no empty spaces, makes your board look cluttered, even chaotic (and chaos is the last thing you want to attract!).
  • With some background space, the eye can scan your board more effectively, seeing the big picture and the small details.
  • Grouping images into role or goal categories makes it easier for the brain to organize the information, which strengthens visualization.

Positioning your board for best results

One of the most effective places to keep your vision board is by your bed. Aside from your honey, make it the last thing you see before you turn out the light at night, and the first thing you see in the morning. Spend some time looking at it … but it’s not enough to just see it … you must feel it.

  • Envision meeting your goals and internalize the experience.
  • What does that feel like? Do you feel excited, loved, awake, alive? Do you feel knowledgeable, energized, empowered, liberated?
  • Close your eyes; breathe into it. Draw on your senses … what surrounds you in your future life? Imagine smells, touches, tastes, sounds.
  • Feel grateful for what you already have, and for what’s coming. Welcome these things into your life. Embrace them.

Okay, okay … so the first few times you do that, you’ll probably feel a right tosser!  Even if you’re alone. Been there, done that.

But neuroscience shows that what we’re exposed to before we go to sleep works deep in our subconscious. It also shows show that when we visualize, our brain is activated to subconsciously start seeking what we’re looking for. Have you ever bought a rare foreign car that few people have seen, and suddenly you start noticing them everywhere without even looking for them? That’s your brain doing what it’s designed to do.

So get over yourself! Start visualizing morning and night, and any time in between when you have a few moments to yourself. You want this, right?

To share or not?

There’s always debate around whether or not you should share you dream board (and goals in general) with others.  My recommendation is this:

Unless you know with 100% certainty that someone will fully support your aspirations, keep your vision board and goals to yourself.

Many researchers believe that sharing goals leads us to “talk” about them more than “work” on them.

Also, when you share goals at large, you open yourself up to potential sabotage (intentional or otherwise) by the naysayers – by those who don’t understand what you’re aiming for, or who those who might feel threatened that you’re creating change or succeeding where they’re not.

I’ve never found it helpful to share goals with groups or acquaintances, and so I don’t. But I do share with my goal partner, and with trusted family members and friends. Finding the right sharing partner is critical … but that’s another post for another day. Meanwhile, choose your counsel wisely!

The little choices you made yesterday and today may seem inconsequential. But keep making them, and they will design your future – positively or negatively.

Good luck … and have fun creating your board! I’d love to hear about your experiences, successes, and challenges.

finding your creative dna

When Seattle artist Carla Sonheim joined me on the show last year, I asked her to share a key takeaway from a book that we both rank as one of our favorites – The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by award-winning choreographer, Twyla Tharp.

Sonheim said her biggest aha moment was discovering Tharp’s theory on “Creative DNA”.  And that once she recognized and understood her own creative DNA, it changed her life and how she works.

“Creativity is learned, nourished, and maintained; for inspiration to flow through us and spring forth from the mind, you must prepare, have rituals that invoke it … know how to scratch the surface of things to extract the essential, use the accidents and incidents that appear in our life, have an idea-base which serves as a backbone for our creation, use our talents wisely, recognize roadblocks and the moments that overtake us, know how to fail, and pace ourselves over the long term – to the very end.”

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit.

After reading Tharp’s book nine years TwylaTharpBookago, my key takeaway was a ritual she calls “Subtraction”.

During the beginning phase of a new choreography, Tharp places herself in a bubble of “monomaniacal absorption” where she’s fully invested in nothing but the task at hand.

“I list the biggest distractions in my life and make a pact … to do without them for a week.”

Tharp’s subtractions include

  • Movies
  • Multitasking (no reading on the StairMaster or eating while working)
  • Anything related to numbers such as contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales
  • Background music

When I first read this I thought, brilliant! Obvious, but brilliant.

I implemented the ritual of conscious subtraction right away and it’s become firmly ingrained as a natural part of my creative DNA. I apply it every time I enter a new project phase, or whenever I start feeling overwhelmed – assuming, of course, I remember to subtract in the heat of the moment!

For me, this isn’t a hardship or forced discipline. I find that subtracting for a week, or sometimes even a day or two, helps put me in a different zone where I gain clarity, lockdown focus, and accomplish much more. It creates a working version of the Buddhist state of “being still”.

My subtractions include

  • Newspapers, radio, and television (apart from work)
  • Personal email, snailmail, phone calls, texts — the smart phone’s turned off (yes, shocker, it has an off button!)
  • Socializing, networking, events, meetings, social media, lunch dates etc.
  • Shopping of any kind ( … so I need to get milk and cookies in tomorrow)

A few additions

As well as subtracting, I add a few simple things that feed my soul such as nightly baths dogbath full of really expensive bubbles. Evening candlelight versus electric light. Extended walks on the beach.  Gregorian chants. Nature sounds.

Oh … I should mention there’s one surprising and very pleasant bonus to the ritual of subtraction that might entice you to try it for yourself, and that is this:  If your honey participates alongside you, things can get wonderfully romantic without all those distractions.

Of course, that could create a whole other set of distractions …

So what’s your creative DNA? What creative rituals or processes work well for you? Do you add or subtract things from your week? What are your biggest distractions?


Carla Sonheim is a painter, illustrator, and creativity workshop instructor known for fun and innovative projects and techniques designed to help adult students recover a more spontaneous, playful approach to creating. She is the author of Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun, and The Art of Silliness: A Creativity Book for Everyone.   

More about Twyla Tharp and her books.