Why This Year’s Vision Board is a Game Changer

I’ve noticed (word of the year!) that this year’s vision board is a radical departure from those of yesteryears. Reflecting on that little fact led me to the conclusion that there are actually three different categories of vision boards, each serving their own purpose.

Version #1: The Fortune Teller Vision Board

When you don’t have a clear intention, spend an hour or so ripping appealing pictures and words from magazines. Don’t overthink. If you love it, tear it out. Then lay those images out on a board and look to see what has emerged.

Making a vision board in this way feels akin to reading tea leaves. When you step back to look at the choices you’ve made and what you’ve placed near what on the board, there’s always a bit of a surprise.

For example, I made this vision board in 2006, approximately six months before I left my job with the school district to pursue an independent career of writing books and leading workshops.

vision board example

I knew that I felt a lot of stress in my work – I’m not good in political systems. It wasn’t until I looked at the board, however, that I realized I wanted to be soothed, I needed play, and I craved a new beginning. I got the last and repressed the first two.

Version #2: The “I Want It!” Vision Board

Most of the vision boards I’ve seen, and a few I’ve made, fall into this category. In fact, “I Want It!” could be considered the raison d’etre of vision boards.

Vision boards exploded in popularity in 2006 alongside publication of The Secret. That’s when the “build it and they will come” mantra from Field of Dreams was supplanted by the Law of Attraction’s, “visualize it and it will manifest.”

People making “I Want It!” vision boards are encouraged to get as specific as possible in every aspect of their life. As a result, these vision boards are often crowded with images–something for each of physical, social, emotional, intellectual, financial, and spiritual health.

Here’s one I made in 2009. I was at Tama Kieves’ Unleash Your Calling workshop at Omega in Rhinebeck, New York. My first book had been published and I was hoping to emerge from the two day retreat with a creative, awe-inspiring five year plan. That didn’t happen –Tama’s the woman who told me the “creative life as unpredictable stepping stones” metaphor –but we did make vision boards.

vision board example

My board included everything I craved that year: sleep; solitude; passions that weren’t work; the company of vibrant, engaged women; learning, and art. I can’t recall what of that list manifested in the following year, however, I’m certainly noticing that these desires are proving to be a central theme of my life. The more some things change, the more they stay the same!

Version #3: The Metaphor Vision Board

I like this quote:

Metaphor is the right brain’s unique contribution to the left brain’s language capability. — Leonard Shlain

and this one:

Metaphor is a medium of fuller, riper knowing. –Philip Wheelwright

Comparing an abstract concept to something tangible permits a “fuller, riper knowing” because a good metaphor can’t be developed without really thinking about the essence of the concept. And a good metaphor demands layers of interpretation. When a metaphor is made visible on a vision board, it therefore engages interest and encourages frequent reflection.

I made a metaphor vision board for the first time this year.

vision board


I had to take a bit of artistic license with my metaphor. Please imagine the pipe as part of an old-fashioned hand pump. None of the photos I found of hand pumps had any water coming out of them, and that’s an important part of my metaphor.

If you’ve ever tried to pump water, you’ll know several things. You’ll know that:

  • it can be really hard to get the pump started, especially if it hasn’t been used in a while.
  • once started, it helps to develop a steady rhythm – not too fast or too slow.
  • depending on the water source, the piping, and how long it has been since the pump was last used, your initial efforts may yield an awful lot of mud.
  • eventually, if you stay with it, the water runs clear, crisp, cold and, hopefully, plentiful.

The Border and Words

Before I give my interpretation of the metaphor, let me introduce you to the supporting cast on the vision board. You’ll notice a border on three sides, pieces of artist Claude Monet’s Water Lilies painting. My word of the year is NOTICE. The word TODAY is there as a reminder that there is no tomorrow, there’s only ever today. The word VERB reminds me that it is far better to be a verb than a noun; to be writing rather than a writer, creating or making rather than an artist.


And then there are the bears. I’ve had three dreams about bears – two in March and one in December. I take the dreams seriously because it’s apparently unusual to dream about bears, and because the three dreams have formed an evolving, increasingly explicit series. Jungian Jill Mellick, in her book The Art of Dreaming, explains:

“if we pay attention the evolution of the series, these recurrent themes and images leave us a little more conscious after each visit.” 

That has certainly been true for me. Although the context has varied, in every dream the bears have been ambling about paying no attention to me, but intent on sending a message. In the third dream, the bears got insistent and the message was explicit. They repeated, over and over –“If you want to understand, you have to work at it. Ask questions. Work.”

Why This Year’s Vision Board is a Game Changer for Me

I am finally ready to move from intention to action, and this vision board reinforces that. Each element on the board speaks to the importance of practice. It is through practice that I will get better at writing in genres that are new to me.  I won’t be very good at first, but I trust that eventually the water will run clear.

The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps–we must step up the stairs.

Vance Havner

Practice will help me develop my artistic skills and confidence. Attentive, daily practice will help me strengthen my body and train my dogs.

The importance of practice isn’t rocket science. I’ve known it forever. Two quotes on my studio wall remind me on a daily basis:

If you wish to be a writer, write. –Epictetus 


If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write. — Gail Sher

I put those quotes on the wall more than a year ago. This year, I’m going to live them and my vision board, propped near my bed, reminds me of that every morning and every night.

Did you make a vision board this year? What version was it? Is there a metaphor that serves as a guiding principle for your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Brava, Karen!
    I wish you every success priming the pump as you move from intention to action.
    I did not make a vision board, and I may not for 2018, although I have created them in years past. Today I was inspired by YouTube fitness guru’s email to “Begin with the End in Mind” so I am going to make a painting to illustrate that, based on my tarot spread. I hope to blog about it soon!

    1. Oh, I look forward to that!
      I’m guessing that you’re familiar with Stephen Covey’s time management quadrants? They’re a perfect complement to ” begin with the end in mind,” a concept he developed in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Not relevant at all for your painting, but the time management quadrants may be very relevant for aligning your intended actions with the end you wish you achieve.

  2. I love the Gail Sher quote. I’m going to put it up in my office to remind me to relax and know that if I’m writing I’m succeeding. Thank you for the inspiring post. Now as far as the bears go. If you come home someday and your porridge looks like it’s been sampled, DON’T go into your bedroom, okay?

    1. Very good advice, Molly. So far the bears have been ambling about outside my house, but if I don’t start acting on their message they may just get fed up and storm the house. I will be sure to check my porridge when I get home 🙂

  3. Hi Karen
    I love your metaphor message board! It is so calm, clear, focused and peaceful. I also admire to intentionally and rationally do things. It is interesting for me to observe this since I am not at all intentional especially at this time in my retirement. I have adapted an observational strategy where I wait to see what happens and then act if it suits me. Maybe next year I will have a vision board.

    1. In my humble opinion, your way is an absolutely perfect way to be in the early days of retirement. I was the same for a long, long time. It has only been in the last few months that I have grown super weary of not doing what I keep claiming is so important to me. But it took a super long time to get to that conviction and, even now, I still question it sometimes.

  4. Karen, the vision boards remind me of a bucket list. What do I want? What do I need? What do I want to do? Why do I want it? It’s interesting to see how yours evolved from 2006 to the present as your interests changed and your life took different twists and turns. Terrific post, I may just try a vision board and perhaps find out who I am.

  5. Hi Anna,
    I think the big difference between a bucket list and a vision board is the time frame. Vision boards are for the year, whereas bucket lists (at least my bucket lists) are of the want to do before I die variety – which is hopefully far more than a year in the future.
    If you do try a vision board, it would be great to hear what you think of the process.

    1. The big question I have is how do you interpret your vision board? Do you wait a while then look at it, or do you get an immediate revelation that this is what you have been trying to tell yourself?

      1. Hi Anna,
        Good question. For me, the revelations tend to come pretty quickly on one condition. The condition is that I’ve used magazines with images that are truly meaningful to me. If you just kind of get by with whatever you happen to have laying around, your board may not be as revealing of your desires as you would hope. I encourage you to treat yourself – go buy a few magazines on topics that really appeal to you, where you’re sure to find images that resonate. Sometimes it’s something in the ads, not even the articles.
        It’s important not to overthink what you’re doing, but at the same time I find it helps a lot to have the materials that will work for you. Good luck! Let me know if I can help any further.

  6. I’ve only made one Vision Board, and it was of the “visualize my life in retirement” variety (which, ironically, I made as part of a project at work before I announced my retirement). I love your pumping water metaphor, it can be applied to so many areas.

    This is the second time I noticed that you mentioned Verb as a reminder to do, rather than just be. For the second time, I was reminded of a book that I bought on an impulse several years ago after learning about the suicide of a friend. The title of the book, Life as a Verb, by Patti Digh, spoke to me at that very sad time. I just went upstairs to retrieve it and will read it again.

    1. I own everything that Patti Digh has ever written. She is magical! I too started with Life is a Verb. There’s also Creative is a Verb, and there’s an incredible one for sad times called The Geography of Loss. Four Word Self Help is a cute gift book, and What I Wish For You is a good one to give to a young person striking out on their own. The only Patti Digh book I don’t think much of is called Your Daily Rock. Meh on that one.
      Thanks for the reminder, Janis. I think I’ll reread some Patti Digh myself.

        1. I wasn’t aware of any of her books or HER. But thanks to following this comment thread, I have added Patti Digh’s blog to my Feedly account and I will be checking her out! Thanks Karen and Janis!


          1. Yes!! I don’t know you well, Deb, but I’m still prepared to guarantee a direct hit with Patti Digh. She is an incredible storyteller, and an accomplished mixed media artist. I hope you enjoy.

      1. Great job on this vision board post. I’m intrigued by your metaphor board, although I’m more of a practical get to the point kind of person. But I was reading these comments and I’ve never heard of Patti Digh’s books and since Creativity is one of my blogging passions, I’ve gone and ordered Creative is a Verb.

  7. Hi Karen, I like your Water, Verb and Today metaphor. I didn’t make a vision board this year. I was kind of surprised at how intuitive things seemed to be for me when I thought about what I’d want to do in 2018.

  8. Hi, Karen – I need to confess that I have never built a vision board (other than a digital-collage-type-of-thing that I was required to make for a very annoying blogging course last year). I repeatedly say that I am a light-weight compared to so many of the bloggers that I follow.
    That being said, I greatly admire your 2018 Metaphor Vision Board and your commitment to action and writing. I look forward to following your developments in 2018…and to continuing to learn from your posts.

  9. YOU could be teaching a blogging course, Donna, and it wouldn’t be annoying.

    I appreciate you saying that you will be following what happens re action and writing in 2018. Having my blogging friends paying attention helps to hold me accountable to myself to do what I say I’m going to do!

  10. Hi Karen,
    Your vision board is, I find, very soothing and solid. There is no fudging around with what it means (it can be taken this way or that way). I like the water flowing out of the pipe…it kind of reminds me of what I am doing as well. With learning to play the guitar I realize I will be making a lot of noise (some of it not so smooth) before I start to make music. I also really like the verb reference – it is in the doing, the practice not the title or occupation that we make great strides to have the life we want. Your Fortune Teller Vision Board is cool and the pictures of Gumby drew my eye right away and I like the reminder to Indulge in the soothing ritual of tea. I have to admit I like this year’s board because you have used fewer but bigger pictures so it does not look as busy and hectic. It looks like it is, solid and grounded.
    I have done vision boards a few times before and they did help me focus on what I wanted to see in my life. Visually reminding ourselves of certain goals or intentions requires no effort – glance up and there it is, you don’t have to find time to read the notes or journals or do any heavy thinking. One quick look and you are reminded. I think it is great propping it near your bed to see every morning when you get up.

    1. Hi Susan,
      I appreciate your thoughts. I especially appreciate that the metaphor vision board seems more solid and grounded to you. It feels exactly like that to me too!
      Good luck with learning to play the guitar!

      1. Hi Karen,
        Excellent! That is confirmation then when we both are feeling the same thing when we look at the vision board.
        As for playing guitar my poor fingers on my left hand (my chording hand) are a bit sore from holding down steel strings but I am persevering. I have memorized the chords C, D, E, Em and G and am now working on doing the twelve bar blues riff. It sounds like a song (which is thrilling to play right away) and helps stretch the fingers and develop the correct curvature you need to play guitar. Shortly I will have to make a video to share on my channel to show everyone how I am progressing. I promised them a weekly update as I learn to keep me practicing and trying to improve so I have something to show them in the next video and the next…

  11. This is the best article I’ve ever read on vision boards. Up until now, they’ve kind of baffled me. I just failed to see how a bunch of seemingly random images could be inspiring in the achievement of a goal … or help set direction.
    I guess I don’t need to mention I’ve never done one before.

    I find the Metaphor version very interesting and love the analogy of the pump. How very true it is in most large projects – it’s tough starting and often gets worse before it’s better.
    In the end though, “the vision must be followed by the venture” is paramount and where most people fail.

    As always, I’ll be reading with interest as you write about your progress. It seems to me you have a powerful year ahead of you!

    1. That’s a huge compliment, Joanne. Thank you so much. You’ve made my day!

      I’m not surprised that the metaphor board appealed to you. When I think of the gorgeous photographs you take, especially the ones of doors, I find they’re very open to metaphoric interpretations. I’m not saying that you’ve defined what the metaphor is in each case, or in any case, but you have a talent for framing your photographs so that the viewer is encouraged to see beyond. I really appreciate that about your art.

      1. An interesting observation. Although I consider myself an intuitive person, I’m terrible at metaphors – and maybe that’s why they fascinate me.
        … and why is it that it seems easier to ‘read’ other people and patterns in their life, while being blind to our own?

        1. Uh huh, you’ve confirmed what I suspected, Deb. Joanne doesn’t see her photography as art or herself as creative. I’m glad you’re calling her out on that, Deb.
          Joanne – this is a perfect example of being able to see others clearly while having a bit of a blind spot when it comes to ourselves. A wise woman made that observation – oh, that was you, a comment ago 🙂

          1. Thanks Ladies – you’ve both made me smile this morning. I will acknowledge that my personal sense of creativity is a glaring blindspot 🙂
            … something I need to work on more this year.

  12. Karen, I have never done a vision board, so I found your description of your process very interesting. I have made collages in professional development workshops, and always enjoyed doing it. However, when it comes to setting personal intentions or goals, I have always tended to be very word and list oriented.


    1. I was word oriented for the longest time too, Jude. But I found that when I was giving keynotes and facilitating workshops, I absolutely loved creating PowerPoints that were simply full screen images, maybe with a word or two, but often just the image. I sought out images that evoked the emotional reaction I wanted participants to experience. It worked so incredibly well that I now find myself drawn to finding or making images that echo and amplify my words.

  13. Karen, I found your differentiation of the three types of vision boards quite powerful.

    My vision board for the year is actually a Fortune Teller board! Although I do use metaphoric (dream) interpretation when I take a step back and look at it. I keep my Year Vision board in sight all year long – near where I morning journal. So I guess some of it turns into inspiration and manifestation, not just fortune telling.

    I did a “I want it” board last year when we were house moving… although I called mine a Manifesting Design Board. It was to help me envision and then manifest our new space. I look back on it now and think… not bad in creating the feel of the place.

    I’ve actually not done a full-on Metaphor board. I have created a few Soar visual boards since picking my word of the year… in fact I noted while doing them that everything I picked was in an orange pallet – color theory has that linking power and happiness; I also saw it as sunrise and new beginnings. Nothing as in-depth as the pump and bears!

    There is also something about the word practice that is niggling at my brain. I’m sure another few serendipitous nudges will bring it to the front.

    1. Hi Pat,
      I can easily imagine that your manifesting board would have been particularly powerful for your new home, especially in giving you the feel you were looking for. It makes me think of interior designers on tv who do something quite similar – creating a board with colour and design samples all in one spot.
      It’s interesting that everything on your Soar boards was in one particular color palette, and fascinating that you looked at color theory to see the meaning of that. Great idea!
      I wonder if you have a problem with the word ‘practice’ as it is applied to writing or art? I do when I think of practice, like practicing a golf swing – repeating something over and over and over, squeezing all of the juice and pleasure out of it. But I’m okay with practice when I think of it as a daily ritual, like a meditation practice or a yoga practice or a spiritual practice.

  14. Having a clear plan and understanding of your goals is the perfect start! I have never made a vision board and didn’t even know what it was before reading your post. I won’t be making one, though, but I have incorporated some of your wise words and previous comments into my daily blog writing.

    Because of circumstances the end of 2017 and the beginning of this year, I haven’t had any time or intention to come up with goals and plans. They are not important right now, when a family emergency takes place. So, one year kind of merged into the next one with a lot of external factors going on. My motto is to do what makes me happy and strive for no regrets. I’ll just stick with that, whenever our time and life are our own again.

    1. I think you do have an intention, Liesbet. It’s to do what makes you happy and strive for no regrets. To me that’s not just a motto, it’s a mission statement, a life purpose and a crystal clear intention. Making daily decisions with that statement in mind will keep you sailing straight and true.

  15. That was really interesting Karen – I hadn’t thought of vision boards as something that could be done from mulitple angles. The metaphor one was particularly challenging. I’m definitely going to sit myself down and do my own board before too much longer – I’m feeling so inspired by the examples I’ve seen from links in the comments of my “V” AtoZ post.

    1. I’m glad this was helpful to you, Leanne. And I’m chuckling because this wasn’t my V post for the A-Z challenge and yet, obviously, nothing is ever wasted (my W post). It’s all feeling very interwoven or incestuous, I’m not sure which 🙂

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