Beyond DBT: Vision Boards and the participate skill

I like the clarity of using frames to display each individual vision of the life I am creating.

I am just going to admit it.

I like vision boards.

My personal prejudice: I don’t like the messy collage vision boards.

I like mine orderly, because to me the vision board isn’t just an exploration of how to have a meaningful life/what i want from my life/my goals. Its a daily reminder.

This captures a feeling, an experience that I want to stay mindful of. Even if it isn’t a daily part of my life.

My favorite vision board was a special wallpaper of picture frames. I covered a kitchen wall next to the fridge with it. Inside each frame, I showcased what I wanted for my life. I had a photo of a girl cuddling with a horse, because though I don’t enjoy horseback riding, I love grooming and cuddling horses (if you haven’t tried it, there is nothing like a horse resting its head on your shoulder, nuzzled into your neck, sighing and letting some of his weight rest there! Magic!)

Mothering is complicated. This cue reminds me to reflect on what kind of mom I want to be.

I love having music in my life, so I picked art and photographs of symphonies and mosh pits. They are reminders of who I am.

I am a mother. Its easy to get lost in the day to day minutia of parenting, and forget what your deeply held wise-mind values are about mothering. So I simply pasted a question: What is a good Mother anyway? A remind of who I want to be.

Your Vision for Your Life

It is so easy to forget your goals, the desires that motivate you. Of course, there are material goals. Emotional goals. Career goals. And there are also goals about the sort of person you want to be. What kinds of relationships you want in your life. What kind of environment you want to be in. What causes matter to you. What values you want as your guide.

Perhaps reflecting on the following questions can help you develop a vision for your Board:

  • Who do you want to be?  (What kind of person?  What qualities or values do you want to embody?  What is important to you in terms of character?  Or who you are in relationship to other people?)
  • Where do you want to be in life? (What are your goals and aspirations?  Be honest these are about your values not any one elses). 
  • What experiences do you want to have? Places you want to travel, things you want to try?  This part is your bucket list
  • Over the course of your life, what experiences have brought you joy? What activities behaviors give you a sense of meaning and purpose? (think small not just big)

Environmental Cues

I think Vision Boards are a wonderful way to create environmental cues. This idea comes from Environmental Psychology (how your environment influences you. )

Cues are elements in the environment that convey important information or trigger an affective reaction. For example, for those walking by, litter on the sidewalk is an environmental cue that other people did not keep to the anti-litter norm. Seeing such a cue is likely to influence one’s own behavior.

Siegwart lindenberg

Prior studies have shown that situational cues can have a significant impact on behavior. For example, playing French music in a wine shop has been shown to increase purchases of French wine. This new research shows that even cues that are not directly related to an individual’s goal can have a substantial effect in a task environment, influencing cognition and the subsequent manner in which a task is completed.

Virtual boundaries: How environmental cues affect motivation and task-oriented behavior, science news, sept 2012

On the other hand, (Hey! This is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, where we can entertain all sides of an argument and see the truth in everything.), there are several articles in Psychology Today that recommend throwing away your vision board!

A perspective on the pitfalls of vision boards

Dr. Neil Farber sites these studies in Psychology Today:

Experiment #1 (from Pham and Taylor at the University of California). Three groups of students: Group 1 (Secret group – my label, not from the study): Students were asked to spend a few moments each day visualizing with a clear image how great it would feel to make a high grade on an important midterm exam that would take place in a few days time. Group 2: Students were asked to spend a few minutes each day visualizing when, where, and how they intended to study. Group 3: Control group of students not asked to visualize doing especially well on the exams.

Students visualizing being A students (Group 1), studied less and made lower grades on the exam. They felt better about themselves but achieved less. Students visualizing studying, prepared better, studied more, scored higher grades, and were less stressed.

Experiment #2 (Pham and Taylor). A similar studied showed similar results for golfers and tennis players. They were more successful if they imagined themselves training rather than winning.

There is a powerful lesson that we can take from these studies that dovetails nicely with the Values and Priorities section of the Emotion Regulation Unit in DBT. It also works with the Imaginal Rehearsal strategies with the Cope Ahead Skill. And motivation for the participate skill.

Your vision board is not a DREAM board.

It’s an Action Board.

You use the board to give yourself a clear idea of what you want–and how to get there.

What are the daily activities? The small tasks that build you towards your dream? Include those!

I see reminders in my vision board that cue me to engage in an activity related to my goals. Does that make sense?

The beautiful thing about DBT is that we are blessed with over a 100 skills, and we can build on them. So in the Dialectic, yes! We don’t want to kick back and visualize our lives changing and just wait for that to happen. And then a miracle occurs!

Rather, we want to use the board to be specific about action steps.

I hope you will take inspiration from the vision boards I am posting here and think about how to use a Vision Board to Motivate Action. To clarify who you want to be and how you want to exist in the world–and then do it.

Perhaps you can

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Diana is a licensed professional counselor based in Nashville. She has been teaching DBT skills for the last ten years after writing her master's thesis about making DBT skills training interesting and engaging. She loves using story telling to help illustrate how skills can be used.

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