As we part ways with 2019 and welcome 2020, we reflect on our resolutions and the changes we’d like to make for the upcoming year. Quitting smoking, beginning a new exercise routine, or starting a saving’s plan are the types of intentions we set at this time.
Something you’ll hear much about when it comes to manifesting our intentions is a vision board, otherwise referred to as a dream board.
“You should make a vision board of what you want to achieve in your life!” enthusiasts will proclaim.
What is a vision board, exactly? It’s a DIY montage of glossy images that represent the life you wish for. Typical vision boards include pictures of white sandy beaches with sparkling waters, beautiful bodies glimmering in the sun, smoothies embellished with a slice of fruit, and airplanes carving a dotted line to desired destinations. There are numerous tutorials on how to make the perfect vision board and even workshops where you can do so as a group activity.
Vision boards are a subject of great excitement among those who believe in their power to attract good fortune, happiness and success in life. The images we glue onto the board in a ceremonial way supposedly send our intentions out into the universe, generating a law-of-attraction effect. But do vision boards actually work?
Why Vision Boards Don’t Work
Despite new-age claims that vision boards are a powerful means of manifesting your dreams, science speculates otherwise.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin states that vision boards can actually do more harm than good and have a way of stunting our growth. With a few of her patients, she’s observed their tendency to get lost in lofty daydreams of success with no apparent plan of action towards these yearnings.
In a way, vision boards work to the same effect. Instead of adopting a proactive attitude where we work toward a goal, they have us waiting around for the universe to manifest our montaged wishes out of thin air.
Despite how crystal-clear their imaginings may be, numerous studies show that musicians, athletes, and students actually perform worse when they envision themselves succeeding at something.
In one particular study, one group of students was asked to visualize themselves scoring a high mark on their exam. Another group of students was asked to visualize themselves engaged in an activity: studying for the exam.
As you might have guessed, the group of students who visualized themselves studying performed better and came through with higher grades!
Here’s another eye-opening fact: A 2011 study concluded that positive fantasies about the future do not appear to be effective in producing that reality. Instead, positive fantasies sap you of the energy you need to pursue your ambitions. Visualizing, say, a brand new Lotus car sitting in your driveway releases an endorphin that relaxes you, which essentially demotivates you from working towards attaining it.
The same goes for a vision board pasted with pleasant imagery of all the stuff you want to manifest in your life.
Process-versus outcome-based mental-simulation is what we’re after when it comes to manifesting intentions!
What To Do Instead
Ok, so if stuffing your mind with fluffy thoughts of a successful life doesn’t work, then what does?
Let’s say you are a runner training for a big race. Seated in meditation, picture yourself engaged in the act of running. See the horizon magnifying slowly towards you as you swiftly make your way forward. Take note of the blurring scenery on your peripheral as you whizz past it all.
Even more powerful than merely seeing images flitting across the screen of your mind, however, is to try and feel the experience, in a visceral way. Feel the wind passing through your lungs with each breath and the impact of the earth under the sole of your shoes. Try to mentally connect with the muscle groups that tense and release to produce such an easeful sprint.
You are much more likely to see results this way, as you are motivating your brain and body into action!
Recently I watched an inspiring TED talks video about how to get better at the things you care about. It had something to do with being stuck in the performance-based mindset, instead of being in the learning-based mindset, which prevents growth.
One of the things we can do to stay in that learning-based mindset is to work on our sub-skills.
For instance, a writer can sharpen their typing skills so they are better able to “capture the messages” channelled through them. It’s got nothing to do with mastering the art of writing, but it can certainly improve your fluency, making it easier to express yourself. As for runners, a sub-skill could be working on the breath with pranayama techniques.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work
Research reveals that about 40-50% of all American adults make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, 30% of those resolutions are abandoned within 2 weeks, and more than 50% are abandoned by six months (Norcross, Mrykalo, & Blagys, 2002).
“The main reason that people don’t stick to their resolutions is that they set too many or they’re unrealistic to achieve,” claims Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction.
These people might also be dealing with what’s called “false hope syndrome”. False hope syndrome is when you’ve got unrealistic expectations about the speed, amount, ease and effects of changing a particular behaviour.
How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
Based on the insight above along with some of my own, here are a few pointers on what to do in order to make your new year’s resolutions stick in place.
Taking baby steps is surprisingly effective for building healthy habits. Rather than commit to an hour of meditation or yoga every day, start with just 15 minutes, and work up from there. It’s better to do something every day for a shorter period of time than only once a week for longer. Be realistic! Too often we set unrealistic goals and of course fail to meet them as a result.
Trying to quit alcohol? Rather than banish it from your life entirely, limit your consumption by resolving to have a drink only once a week, or every 3 days.
A long list of resolutions is overwhelming, daunting, and sure to fail. Instead, pick one thing you really want to focus on, like quitting smoking. When enough time has passed and you feel confident you have successfully followed through with your resolution, take on a new challenge. It’ll motivate you, to know you succeeded before.
Time has shown me that if I don’t enjoy what I’m doing in the moment, it doesn’t matter what the reward is – it’s not going to become a reality for me. If my head is stuck in the future, I’ll soon lose interest in whatever habit I’m trying to cultivate now.
For example, I’ve never been one to stick to a gym routine. It bores me and by the second week I’m out. What does work for me? Taking part in an activity that I find truly engaging, inspiring, and amusing which lets me lose myself in a state of flow. Activities like dancing, bicycling, or yoga do that for me.
What’s your why – your motivating factor? Make sure it’s coming from a place of positive motivation and love – not fear. Otherwise, you’re eventually going to lose interest.
In all our pursuits, sometimes we forget that gratitude is the best motivator. If you need a push in the right direction and you want to cultivate some good habits in your life, practice gratitude as much as possible. Research on the effects of gratitude confirms that it activates the region of the brain associated with willpower, motivation and positive habit-building.
Sankalpa is the practice of setting intentions and combining that with the power of yoga. It literally translates from Sanskrit as “an intention formed by the heart and mind.” We often mention this at the beginning of yoga, prompting students to take a few silent moments to set an intention for their practice.
You can absolutely create the life of your dreams. Nothing is impossible! But don’t stop at vision boards, as they work in just the opposite way we intend. Instead of visualizing your success, try conjuring up clear imagery of you performing a certain task or duty linked with the goal you are trying to achieve. Choose some good sub-skills to master; they’ll help you build a sense of accomplishment.
And as for your new year’s resolutions, keep it simple and be practical. It’s amazing how small changes over the long run have the potential of leading to big changes.
May this year bring you all those beautiful things you may have taken the time to paste onto your vision board. Now get out there and make it happen!
Happy New Year
Kyneret has been practicing and teaching yoga for over a decade. She began as a yoga teacher for Modo Yoga Maple in 2012, and has recently set off on a nomadic adventure to South East Asia. She remains active within our Modo community as a blog writer.
When not writing, she is fully immersed in the day-to-day adventures of travel life and actively seeks out as many foreign yoga experiences as possible to further her knowledge and skills! You can follow Kyneret’s travels on her instagram account @planes_trains_autoimmunity