The Life-Changing Magic of Writing Stuff Down

My Annual Process of Vision Boarding

Some people find themselves captivated by a sense of childlike joy and wonder when Christmastime rolls around. And I’m no Grinch. I love holiday cookies and gift giving and a nutmeg-infused cocktail or two. But nothing beats the energy and awe of my January vision boarding routine.

I’ve realized over the years that vision boarding and goal-setting looks different to different people. This process has worked for me, and I hope it’s useful to you as well.

I created my first vision board in 2013, pretty soon after I graduated from college. I was an AYT (Anxious Young Thing) with uncertain job prospects, a mountain of student loan debt, and a tiny room in a decent apartment that I was only able to afford because the rent was miraculously subsidized by my roommate’s wealthy dad (#privilege).

The idea of vision boards sounded interesting to me, but I never had the time or enthusiasm to pursue them. After college, with the real world ahead of me and not much of a safety net below, it seemed like a good a time as any to try to manifest a bright future for myself.

My mom was always a big proponent of vision boarding, but that’s not what she ever would have called it. Before we were all channeling the energy that is greater than ourselves through yoga and crystals and knowing our moon signs, my mom just encouraged me to write down my goals and visualize myself achieving them. In an oft-repeated anecdote of her young professional self, she liked to tell me that when she was struggling to finish grad school, “I used to envision myself walking to my social work job with my little briefcase.” (1. That’s precious and 2. I need to write a blog post celebrating the many benefits of having parents with modest, achievable career goals.)

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My initial vision boards from September 2013 — I still have most of these materials!

So, with my mom’s words at heart and some Pinspiration, I went to Michaels and bought some little square cork boards and tacks as the foundation for my soon-to-be-envisioned future. I used some scrapbook paper I already had and printed a bunch of pictures I liked off Tumblr around four different areas of focus: travel, professional development, finance, and happiness. I continue to use them as a part of my vision-boarding/goal setting process today, and they’ve grown nicely with me over time.

The cork boards were cheap and fell apart, so I consolidated to a singular bulletin board a year later. I used to make a big thing of taking the board down and putting up new pictures and ideas every year, but that started to feel impractical. So here’s how I set goals and create my vision board today.

I keep a list of my goals in the Notes app on my phone. Every year when the holidays roll around, I review last year’s note, copy it, and update it for the new year.

I cannot emphasize how easy this is. I usually set my goals for the year on the train on my way to work. If I really want to get contemplative, I use those awkward 20 minutes after a plane has landed but its still taxiing and service isn’t very good so you can’t really check Instagram but it’s not enough time to watch Netflix or crack open your book. That is the perfect time for annual goal setting.

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Annual goal phone notes from 2018 and 2019 — some financial information removed because people can be weird about that kind of stuff

Once I feel good about the goals I’ve set in my Notes, I take an hour or so on a weekend afternoon to write down those goals onto sticky notes and place them on my now-consolidated vision board.

I use new sticky notes with goals in each category every year. Old notes go into an envelope I have fondly named the Goal Cemetary. I mark off the goals I accomplished on last year’s stickies and sometimes write notes to myself about them to remind myself of what was particularly meaningful about them.

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The vision board in 2019 and my dear Goal Cemetary, where good goals get laid to rest.

After my vision board is updated, I summarize my most important goals for the year and I put them on a sticky note that I place inside my bathroom mirror so I can look at them every day. My vision board is in my office in a place I can’t see easily, so it’s nice to have something more I can look at consistently.

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You have no context for this but I promise you this is the inside of my bathroom mirror and sorry no you don’t get to know what all of my goals are ❤

Last year I started setting an intention for the year and making it my password for my work computer so I had to think about it multiple times a day every day. The concept of having an annual theme feels kind of hokey, but I think by typing it as a password every day it really helped keep it top of mind and set a great tone for the year.

And that’s it! The process has gotten less creative and more practical over the years, but I still agree with my mom that it’s good practice to write down the things you want and envision yourself achieving your goals. Just a few of the things I’ve been able to make real since I started this process in 2013:

  • Taking trips to Seattle, Portland, Austin, Paris, Amsterdam, and Greece
  • Paying off my student loans
  • Building up an emergency savings fund and setting aside money for investments
  • Buying a new (used) car
  • Adopting a cat and fostering a dog

Do you have a creative goal-setting or vision-boarding process that you’ve found particularly helpful? Any neat little tricks like the computer password thing that help keep your goals front and center in a unique way? I’d love to hear what you recommend.

I write things on the internet for business and pleasure. I live in Chicago with my partner and my pets.

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