Remember making collages as a kid? Remember the way you leafed through your parents’ old magazines, cutting out your favorite images and words and painstakingly gluing them together on poster board or construction paper? It’s probably been a long time since you’ve created or perhaps even thought about collages and what they used to mean to you. It’s also possible you think of collage-making as a strictly childhood pastime, which is a nicer way of saying that you think it’s childish. But for many people out there who embrace positive thinking and visualization, producing focused versions of collages, called vision boards, is a very important part of adulthood—more specifically, a happy and successful adulthood.
I Think I Can, I Think I Can …
The popularity of vision boards today is largely thanks to the hype surrounding The Secret, a book released in 2006 with an accompanying DVD that centers on the Law of Attraction, which is the idea that your mode of thinking, be it positive or negative, directly affects what the universe puts out there for you. In other words, if you think negatively, your life will only result in negativity. But if you put positive mental energy into the universe, positive outcomes—getting that promotion you wanted or getting out of debt—will happen. At least that’s what The Secret’s followers and other champions of positive thinking believe. It’s kind of like what Thomas the Tank Engine preached: “I think I can, I think I can …”
Creating vision boards is considered a vital step on the train ride to success. Since The Secret posits that positive, focused thinking is the key to achieving goals, pinpointing what those goals are and having something tangible to symbolize them is an essential part of that. As The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vision Boards explains, “[Vision boards] remind us what we should and should not be doing in order to achieve our goals.” The images and phrases that make the board should represent the highest priorities in your life. It reinforces what you’re supposed to focus your mental energy toward in your daily life. Some maintain that being in front of the vision board for a certain amount of time every day is necessary, while others, like O Magazine columnist Martha Beck, suggest that keeping it around is actually unnecessary. She writes that the act of making it is really what keeps the goals in the subconscious.
For some people, it’s surprisingly motivational. Nancy, a guest on Oprah’s “Go Beyond The Secret” episode in 2008, uses a vision board to keep her goals at the forefront of her thoughts. “It’s kind of a verbal and visual articulation of my goals,” she told the audience. “I can remind myself, ‘You need to take actions if you want these goals to show up.’ It’s not a magic trick, really. It’s about you being the person who’s motivated to make that stuff show up.” Whether you’re a Secret fan or simply believe in the power of positive thinking, that aspect of taking action should also be a part of the journey. According to the Complete Idiot’s Guide, “You need to act in order to make the most of your vision board; otherwise, it’s just a wish board—things you wish would happen, but for which you’re not willing to work.”
… But Can I Really?
When Oprah gives her endorsement to, well, anything, her legion of fans is almost sure to follow suit. So when she devoted episodes of her show and issues of her magazine to The Secret and vision boarding, the public took notice and paid attention—but not without some skepticism. In fact, for as many people out there who embrace The Secret’s foundations, there are just as many, if not more, who raise an eyebrow at its insistence on optimism as the solution to all of life’s problems. Barbara Ehrenreich actually wrote about the danger of such thinking in her book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, arguing that social problems like poverty can’t be solved by positivity alone.
Not that there’s anything wrong with looking on the bright side when times are tough. But it’s like what the Complete Idiot’s Guide and Martha Beck and other vision board enthusiasts say—just thinking isn’t going to do much of anything. Even so, does the belief alone that creating a vision board and focusing your mental energy toward a specific goal do anything? Can vision boards actually work? You’ll find plenty of people who say they do. You’ll also find those who say that they’re a waste of time. There’s no definitive answer either way because it’s a matter of belief. If you believe in the power of vision boarding enough, you might find opportunities opening up that others might not notice.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a social psychologist, wrote about that effect in a 2008 Psychology Today article, exploring whether the Law of Attraction is a placebo effect. “The placebo effect is truly mind-over-body, or mind-over-mind, in action,” she wrote. “The pill may be a sugar pill and the strategy may be completely worthless, but if you think that it’s going to work, it just might work.” And that might be why vision boarding and positive thinking in general might work for some people and prove fruitless for others.
The hype of The Secret is dying down these days, but there are likely people out there still cutting out compelling pictures and writing down meaningful affirmations on poster boards. And if that gets them that much closer to their goals, more power to them. There’s no harm in creating something tangible to inspire you. And given how much you enjoyed making collages as a kid, it might even be fun. Just don’t forget to put forth effort in other ways to make what you want out of life happen. Vision boarding, should you choose to go down that road, seems only one small part of the bigger picture.