How to create a vision board

Photos by Carla Kucinski

I like to think of vision boards as a visual inner compass; it’s a creative way to help you focus on who you want to be and what you desire your life to be. Vision boards can help you see your goals and achieve them. Assigning an image to the goal (or multiple goals) makes it feel more attainable. It’s no longer a thought floating around in your head; it’s real and has meaning. If you can’t see the goal, how do you know where to begin or where you’re headed? And when you finally get there, how will you know you’ve arrived?

I started creating vision boards about 8 or 10 years ago, when my therapist introduced me to the process. She didn’t refer to it as a vision board necessarily; rather, it was like drawing a map of your subconscious mind. The process involved flipping through a stack of magazines and tearing out anything that sparked something in me. You’re not supposed to question your selection or hesitate before ripping it from the pages. It’s supposed to be a free-flowing process. No second guessing. No questioning.

At the end, you glue the images to a piece of paper or poster board or you can paste the images to your canvas as you collect them. Then you sit back and analyze what you see. I found the experience freeing and eye-opening — and at times surprising. Objects appeared on the board that tappped into parts of my subconscience that hadn’t been unearthed. Seeing my completed vision board was always an “a-ha” moment.

Our busy lives create busy minds that prevent us from connecting to ourselves and listening to what our hearts truly desire. Vision boards help us pause, take a deep breath, and dive into our subconscious minds to discover what we truly want in our lives.

Creating a vision board is a very meditative process. It quiets the mind. (I recommend doing the exercise in silence so that you can fully immerse yourself in the process and limit distractions.) The experience feels similar to painting or writing or wandering through nature snapping photos. You get in “the zone.” Hours glide by without noticing.

Although you can create a vision board at any point in your life, I find I gravitate toward vision boards after I’ve undergone something life changing or I am in the middle of something that feels life-altering. (It’s definitely been one of those years.) I recently decided to create a vision board after reading life coach Martha Beck’s “Steering by Starlight,” a fantastic book about finding your destiny and how you can guide yourself to that destiny. She calls her vision boards “pictorial star charts,” a collection of images that represent the vision for your life. In her version, you can tear images from magazines, but she also recommends printing images from the internet if you have a specific goal in mind.

Once your star chart is complete, she suggests closing the activity with a “spell” or a prayer. Some sort of statement that you send out into the universe. She likes to start her statement with one simple word: “Thanks.” It’s “gratitude for what you’ve received (in the future.)” I love that concept of believing you will receive what you put out into the world. Already imagining that you will obtain your destiny gives hope. Beck says that most of the time her clients’ charts come true, sooner than they had imagined.

For my board, I adopted Beck’s statement method but added a twist. In addition to stating gratitude, the statement should be a phrase that you tell yourself. Maybe that phrase is to help guide you (“Follow your heart.”); or to keep you from feeling discouraged (“Great things await you.”); or a sentiment that you need to express to yourself daily (“Trust the journey.”). Perhaps it’s not a sentence that resonates with you but one single word or a title for your vision. (Dream. Strength. Peace.)

The vision board I created is a combination of the approaches by Beck, my therapist, and author Julia Cameron, who briefly shares her thoughts on the practice in her book, “The Sound of Paper.” Definitely worth checking out.

Below are my step-by-step instructions to take you through the process of creating a vision board. Set aside an hour — two if you really want to dig in deep — and unlock your subconsciousness. Ready. Set. Go.

Step 1: Gather supplies

I picked up this square cork board and the dry-erase board at Target for $9.99 each, along with some fancy push pins for under $3 (also a Target find). I liked the idea of hanging my vision board in my office with my “statement” written on the dry-erase board underneath. You can also use a plain sheet of paper or poster board or a small canvas and glue the images to the material.

Step 2: Grab a stack of magazines

Aim for a good variety of about 12 of your favorite used magazines.

Step 3: Let it rip

As you flip through the pages, tear out any images that ignite a positive response. Anything that evokes feelings of freedom, pure joy, etc. It’s usually the images that cause you to pause that you should tear out. Don’t question why you’re gravitating toward that image; it will all become clear later. You can use scissors to cut out your images or for those of you who desire a more “freeing” experience, use your fingers to gently tear the inages from their pages. Feel free to rip out any words that grab you, too.

Step 4: Assemble

Now comes the fun part. Pin (or glue if using paper) the images to your board. Try not to edit yourself during this process. Let your intuition guide you as you place the images on the board. Again, don’t question or try to analyze your board until it’s complete.

Step 5: Step back and observe

Take a step back from your masterpiece and for 5-10 minutes observe what you’ve created. Journal about what you see. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself.

  • What sort of themes emerge?
  • What do the images have in common – if anything?
  • What’s the overall tone/mood?
  • Does anything surprise you?
  • What goals are present?
  • What’s the overall vision?
  • If you could give the piece a title, what would it be?

Once you feel like you’ve fully explored your board, write or say “thank you” followed by your statement/affirmation/prayer.

Place your vision board somewhere in your home where you’ll see it every day. Then sit back and enjoy the journey.

When we shall leave this place

kristel poster

May 16, 1961 – January 10, 2016

My longtime veterinarian has a theory about pet’s names that she shared with me years ago. I was in the waiting area of her office with my terrified cat when the next patient, a ginormous St. Bernard, was summoned by the vet tech with a cheerful, “Come on, Tiny.”

I laughed about it with the vet later and she said, “You know, animals have a way of growing into their names and they just seem to fit.” I think she’s right and I think it works that way for some people, too.

It’s certainly the case with my wife Joy and it was most certainly true for my friend, Kristel Sweet Wooten. She was simply one of the sweetest souls I have ever known and she died in January at the shattering age of 54.

I’ve avoided writing about her death until now for several reasons but the most honest one is that it just cut too close to home for me. You see, Kristel and her wife Mary were married a few months before Joy and me in the spring of 2014. Like us, they went to Washington, DC to be legally wed and then held a service at their home church in Raleigh, North Carolina a few weeks later.

We could have never imagined that less than two years later, we would be sitting in that same church, once again shedding tears, only this time not the bouncy happy ones but the heavy very wet ones that burn.

I still see those two days – their wedding day and Kristel’s memorial – together, like two sides of a coin. Heads – a long and happy marriage. Tails – a slow but certain fade to darkness.


dance on air  Fig. to be very happy; to be euphoric enough as to dance on air. Photo courtesy of Justin Cook Documentary Weddings.

I can picture Mary and Kristel dancing together at the entrance to the sanctuary of their church as guests were arriving on that sunny but brisk afternoon in late March.

It was a little unorthodox for sure, but it was so them. And God, they looked so happy. I’m sure I’ll never hear the term “dancing on air” again without seeing those two on that day.

They made the promises most couples make on their wedding day, not knowing that many of them would soon be tested. Kristel was diagnosed with Stage IV cervical cancer almost exactly a year later.


Maybe it’s good that we never know what’s next.

Stage IV cancer will pretty much coldcock any conversation to a halt.

They shared the news on Facebook in a very straightforward manner and then Kristel set up an on-line journal that folks could sign up to follow. Here’s where I need to tell you that Kristel was also one of the funniest people I have ever met. She had a very southern accent (think Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain) which made everything she said even funnier. So I was not surprised when she named her on-line site, “Go to You Glow” – a reference to her first IV treatments to flush out the toxins that were promoting the growth of her cancer.

She went through several crushing rounds of chemotherapy and yet her posts remained upbeat and laced with gratitude, another Kristel trait. She even managed to find the upside to losing her hair in her post on September 2, 2015.

I am getting used to being bald and it feels good to rub my bald head. It’s surprising how good rain feels on my scalp and the sunlight and a cool breeze. 


Kristel made bald beautiful and fun.

In early September of last year, I made a post about a dear friend from grade school who had just been diagnosed with tongue cancer and was beginning a brutal regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.

Kristel was one of the very first folks I heard from after that post. She private messaged me on Facebook to tell me that I, or my friend, could contact her if she could help in any way. She said, “I won’t play counselor or physician. I could be a confidential friend for what to prepare for. Just an offer, because whoever you love, I love.”

I read her message at my desk that morning and crumbled. I was astonished and humbled by her enormous capacity for empathy in the face of her own mortality.

She went on to tell me the things she wished someone had told her before she began her treatments – like chemo makes you feel like your insides are being stripped out.

And then she did something that I will never forget. She asked me for my friend’s address so that she could send her a hand colored postcard with a word of hope and strength.

kristel postcards

Kristel creating.

I still don’t have the words for this.

I just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, a devastatingly exquisite memoir by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 36. He died last year before his manuscript was completed and his discerning words have made me think of Kristel a lot. He writes, “I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

This is how Kristel died – living.

She rode her bike when she could, she went fishing with her family and she started a card “ministry” at her church. And she and Mary went to Oregon last fall for a grand adventure.


Mary (left) and Kristel, sweethearts and sweet hearts.

She kept living.

I could or would beat myself up or be miserable about the things I can’t do or the mistakes I’ve made or what I can’t control. Instead, I think I’ll pat myself on the back for doing my best to get over the hurdles and for having a decent attitude. I can’t control what life throws at me but I can control my reaction. August 2, 2015 

Her posts became more infrequent and then there was a menacing silence on her site. Finally, Mary posted on January 5th and shared that Kristel was resting comfortably at home and getting hospice care. The end was near and she died peacefully surrounded by family and friends a few days later.


Mary’s status update on the day of Kristel’s memorial service.

Kristel’s memorial service was as wonderfully unorthodox as her wedding. There were plenty of tears but it was a genuine and joyful celebration of life. Interspersed throughout the service were Kristel’s own words taken from her journal posts, now a liturgy of hope and gratitude.

The service concluded with a wonderful responsive benediction crafted from her entry of June 14th.

Leader: As you go out in the world today, remember to smile.

People: Try to stay out of the heat, be thankful for the air conditioning.

Leader: Say at least 3 nice things to others, say at least 3 nice things to Yourself.

People: Be kind to your partner/spouse.

Leader: Drink lots of water.

People: Hug your children.

Leader: Hug your friends and parents.

People: And be aware of wonder.

Leader: My love to you all. 

We could still hear the refrain of the last hymn, Sweet, Sweet Spirit, as we slowly made our way out of the church:

There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.

Sweet, indeed.

Epilogue: My friend from grade school had a PET scan last week revealing the acronym all cancer patients pray for – NED – no evidence of disease. I can see Kristel smiling at this news.


kristel in a hat

What’s in a name? Sweet Kristel.