Dr Maike Neuhaus
Why I can't stand vision boards and what you can do to visualise more effectively
I’m probably going to make myself unpopular here, but I cannot stand vision boards. Here's why and what I suggest to do instead.
Most of the time I come across someone suggesting to create a vision board, they sell them as though they are a magic ticket to your dream [car/house/relationship]. They promote the message that as long as you stick a magazine picture of your dream [car/house/relationship] onto a canvas, these will somehow magically turn up one day.
I can't stand that, because there is just no evidence to back that up. Even worse is that doing so may prevent you from taking any action that would actually get you closer to your goal (because you've already done your part, right?).
Vision boards simply remind you of your wishes.
And that can be good. However, they fail to prompt you to formulate goals, establish plans, or remind you that your BEHAVIOUR is what will let you realise your goal - not the fairy godmother. techniques, goals or anything else that would actually make a difference in the likelihood of you attaining that outcome. Instead, it would be much more powerful simply to visualise concrete action steps you’re going to take in order to achieve your goal.
Like visual performance - also referred to as functional imagery training.
Visual performance/ functional imagery training is a technique that sport psychologists frequently use to optimise the physical performance of their professional athlete coachees. Developed by a group of researchers from Plymouth University, functional imagery training involves mental rehearsal of a desired behaviour like this:
Think about your goal. Specifically, think about a concrete situation where you have to perform in line with your goal. Let’s say your goal is to get more sleep and the specific (new behaviour) is to go to bed earlier in the evening, in fact before 10 pm. This may sound easy, but it is challenging for you because you have a lot of work and usually use the evenings to catch up on your emails. Or, those few nights when you are on top of your inbox you like to unwind by watching TV.
Now imagine it is the evening and that tonight, you’ll be doing exactly what you planned to do. Imagine yourself working your way through your inbox – just the way you usually do it. Imagine how you can see the time ticking fast on your clock – just like you usually do when you keep working away. Notice the pressure you usually feel to get things done and how tempted you are to keep working for much longer to get things done. Imagine with all your senses how, at 9:30 pm, determined and despite the still bulging inbox, you are determined to stick to your goal, shut down your laptop and go to bed.
The trick is to imagine this scenario as realistically (i.e. in the exact circumstances that your behaviour usually occurs) and vividly as possible. Think of it like a TV ad, where you’re the main actor/ actress for demonstrating this perfect behaviour.
Studies have shown that the more you rehearse your goal behaviour mentally, the more likely you are to succeed in real situations.
Functional imagery training lets you literally build your new habit just by thinking it through in every detail and again and again. Professional athletes use this technique to rehearse every step and breath of their physical performance.
The success of functional imagery training is a great example of the plasticity of our brains - the fact that we can build new neural pathways to build a new habit simply by imagining it.
So next time you want to use vision to get closer to your dreams, I suggest you focus on the behaviour you need to perform to achieve your goal and then use functional imagery training to rehearse it.
You can do so when stuck in a traffic jam, when you're on the train to work, or for five minutes before going to bed. What goal behaviour of yours would lend itself to practice right away?