As a writer, I’m naturally drawn to exercises that seek to enhance creativity. I’ve tried various one-minute meditations. (They often turn into half-hour naps). I’ve reorganized my work space so I’m standing up or looking out the window (for hours). I’ve called my grandmother to ask her stories about her childhood. (I really should write a book about Granny). In other words, I’m quite good at procrastinating.
Recently, however, I was looking less for something to get me over a bout of writer’s block than I was something to get me over a sort of life-encompassing creativity slump. (Let’s call it the February blahs). So I decided to create a vision board.
For those who don’t know, a vision board is a poster-sized collage of images and words one has ripped out of consumer magazines. The idea is to flip through pages of old magazines and tear out anything that instinctively appeals to you. If there’s even a niggling doubt, you leave the page intact. But if your gut says yes, tear with reckless abandon and stick it on your poster.
According to proponents of vision boards, the exercise is meant to help you better understand the direction, deep down, in which you’d like to take your life. And of course, it should make you feel more innovative and action-oriented as a result.
Admittedly, I had great fun doing this exercise. For one thing, it gave me something to do other than meet an imminent writing deadline. For another, ripping stuff is fun. (Just ask any preschooler). But if the point of enhancing creativity is to trigger one to create something, I’m not sure the board has done its job.
According to my vision, I’d like to eat penne salad with feta, live in a log cabin and own a red purse. There’s also a really neat cocktail recipe pinned to the side, but I chalk that up to a recent dry spell on the alcohol front.
Although I have this pretty collage up on my office wall, (which, by the way, my six-year-old considers “the best art” I’ve ever done), it has failed in its purpose to help me initiate something different in my life.
See, the thing about vision boards is that they’re kind of fluffy. But without some kind of action plan associated with it, the vision board will exist as a pretty piece of wall art.
A blog by Dr. Neil Farber on the Psychology Today website helped me realize what I really need is an action board, something that has a few clearly defined goals with measurable targets along the way. While pop psychology tells us if we think optimistically about things long enough they will happen, Farber says this is tripe.
He cites at least one study that suggests the opposite. In the study, a group of students were divided -- one group was asked to study for the upcoming standardized tests while imagining a really great outcome. A second group was asked to visualize where and how they would study. The third group was asked to study while at the same time thinking about how they would avoid failing. The second group performed best on the tests. Why? They mapped out what they had to do to achieve their goals – as a result, they studied harder and were ultimately better prepared for the exams.
If it’s my goal to have my “best body” as the vision board suggests, it’s not enough to paste pictures around the house of skinny and muscular women. I have to map out precisely what I’m going to do to achieve that goal. Perhaps more importantly, I have to include hurdles in that map -- things that will get in the way of my goal -- and think about ways I will overcome those challenges.
I’m not going to throw out the vision board just yet. If nothing else, it’s helped me get a sense of my decorating style. But I have discounted its ability to trigger anything on the creative front, with the exception, perhaps, of this column.