A simple stack of handwritten “vision cards” that I look at and work with every day has helped me more than any other personal management tool to achieve goals in every area of my life from being a successful author to helping others to live according to their values to building an income that sustains me to living environmentally to being an effective climate change and social change activist to being a good dad.
This post is about how to create and use your own set of vision cards. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.
And by the way, I have found that the techniques I am about to tell you about help me not just to improve my own life but to help me as a change-maker too. For example, I hold a vision every day of a world at peace–which means and end to the climate disaster and income inequality and war and racism etc.
I don’t for a moment think my visioning will cause those things to happen (though all of us holding the vision every day might). I do find that holding the vision helps me to take actions towards its become reality.
What are “vision cards” and how do they help?
My vision cards are a set of index cards on which I have written very specific visions for the life I want to live and the world I want to live in. Every morning, after meditation, I go through my vision cards. I sit in with each card for a moment, imagine that I am sitting in the life and world that includes what it says, feel the glow of satisfaction that goes with it, and turn to the next card.
What does it do for me? It actually moves me way more quickly towards my goals for my life and for helping the world.
You will find samples of some of my current vision cards throughout this post.
But first: Why do we need to start with a vision?
How do you get the life you want and be the kind of change-maker who helps bring about the safe, happy world you want? People ask me that all the time. I ask them in return, “Well, what life do you want?” and then they mumble something vague that pretty much amounts to “Not this one.” Then, I laugh and say, “How can you get where you want to go if you aren’t really clear about where that is?”
The answer, at least for me, is to begin by creating a specific vision for the life I want to live and the change I
want to cause. To get to where you want, begin by asking where that is and then steer towards it. Makes sense, right?
When you go to Google Maps, you can’t just say “Take me where I want to go.” You have to very specifically say where that is. I’m sure you know that is true and certainly a lot of other people do because I have had a lot of requests to write this post. After I happened to mention my vision cards in a Facebook and blog post the other day, I got a bunch of messages asking how I use them and even got invited to run a workshop on vision cards for an organization.
Other reasons holding ourselves accountable to visions work
Besides for the fact that you can’t get somewhere without knowing where that somewhere is, having visions and reminding yourself of them every day:
Reprograms your brain to perceive opportunities you might overlook: One of my visions is to use my position in life to influence others to create the world I believe in. So when a well-known politician recently told me he was having a challenge getting support for an environmental measure, the fact that I held the vision of using my influence made me think of connecting that politician to the leader of an environmental non-profit whom I happened to know. The result was a fruitful partnership that took one small step towards the world I want to help create.
Keeping your vision in the front of your mind helps you steer towards that vision.
Activates your creative unconscious: By spending time every day reminding yourself of your vision, you tell your unconscious, “Hey, give some thought to this. Send me some ideas.” It is just the same as when you have in mind something you are writing. You get ideas for what you want to write in the shower, right?
If you, spend time with your visions, your unconscious also starts sending you ideas to help you build the life you want in the shower–and other places, too.
Returns you to what you have decided is important: By reminding myself every day of my goals, I find myself frittering less time away watching streaming video and scrolling mindlessly through Facebook. I also don’t commit to things that aren’t important to me.
I get asked to do an interview on climate science? Explaining climate science is not in my mission. Explaining to people that the quest for a better world will make them happier is. Knowing my vision makes me turn down the wrong things and pick up the right.
The path towards your goals becomes clear by itself: For example, as a spiritual, mindfulness and environmental-living practice, I envision a life with less waste. Knowing how not to waste is hard in our society.
But by holding the vision for myself, the actions I need to take appear one at a time. Oh! Don’t buy the packaged vegetables. Oh! Borrow a drill instead of buying one. Just holding the goal, has allowed the path to appear almost by itself.
Brings the magic of the universe to bear: Maybe you believe in magic or maybe you don’t. But when I hold my visions I find the weirdest synchronicities appear. I meet someone surprising. I get an important email that advances my vision out of the blue. I know it seems a little woo woo but I find it to be true.
Three reasons we resist defining our visions and how to overcome them
Defining our visions makes so much sense and its importance is so completely obvious. Why do we overlook it? We seem to want to skip that step, at least I know I often do and so do people I work with in my coaching and mentoring practice. Often times, we are scared to define our visions because:
We are scared to face how much different our life is from the life we actually want: But actually, I have found that, when I begin to define my vision, I already have a lot of what I want… I am just scared that I will lose it. For example, I always find myself putting leisure time on my vision list. But I already have a lot of leisure time. I am just scared that if I use my leisure time as leisure time I won’t have leisure time in the future. Crazy!
So be sure when you create visions to be grateful for what you already have. That will help short circuit this fear.
We are ashamed to want things for ourselves: The thing about creating vision, for me, is that there are an awful lot of things I want. One thing on my vision list is a good wardrobe that I can enjoy. I can’t help telling myself that is shallow.
On the other hand, I don’t like buying new things for environmental reasons and I don’t like having a lot of things because I like simplicity. So how can I want things in ways that are both good for me and the world? How can I get a good wardrobe that is line with all my values.
The act of defining goals that don’t just do good for me but do good for others helps short circuit my shame. It also makes for a more meaningful life.
We are scared that, if we create a vision, we will be married to a path we end up not wanting: Some people are as horrified about committing to a vision as they might be to agreeing to an arranged marriage. How do I know if I will like it if I get it, they ask?
But visioning is not a stagnant process. It is a process of constant refinement. When you create a vision, you may find some objection to it. Like my vision for a good wardrobe. Instead of throwing my vision out, I integrate the objections to refine my vision. “I want a beautiful, simple wardrobe of just a few marvelous pieces that I buy second hand.”
Realize that it is okay for your vision to change with time and as you try it on. When that happens, just rewrite it.
Break out of your vision-limiting shackles by listing the roles that are important to you in life
This should take you 15 minutes.
A problem with creating a true and individual vision for our lives often comes because we are told in a torrent of societal messaging that there are really only three important things: career, romantic relationships and possessions. But we don’t actually live in those three boxes. We live in the moments.
One way to make sure we get the moments we want is by defining the many other relationships–or roles–that are most important to us. This may include career, romantic relationships and possessions, of course, but it doesn’t end there.
Here are a bunch of roles that are important to me in my life and that I have built visions for: Dad, homemaker, breadwinner, climate change activist, dog owner, traveler, spiritual seeker, leisure-time enjoyer, family member, writer, romantic partner and dater, meditator, change-maker, person in charge of my personal care, person in charge of my health, friend a socializer, reader, passionate learner, steward of my current future finances etc etc.
Make a list of the roles you fill that are important to you. Don’t make a meal out of it. Take 15 minutes. This will make choosing your visions way easier.
Now, choose your concrete vision for each role
This might take an hour.
By defining your roles, you will now have defined the areas in which to create your goals and visions.
As examples, as a person who never wants to stop learning, I want to learn to read Tarot cards and to speak Spanish. As a dad, I want my daughter to feel supported and happy and to be wise and and authentic. As a person in charge of taking care of my body, I want to keep my blood pressure down by eating an almost-entirely plant-based diet and exercise three times a week. As a steward of my finances, I want to earn a certain amount each year and have a certain amount banked.
In choosing my goals, I choose things that feel exciting and maybe slightly outside my reach but not so outside my reach as to seem totally impossible. I find it is important to be excited about my visions but also be able to believe they are realistic. What inevitably happens is that I find, as I work with them, that they start to feel attainable and then I redefine them to make them bigger.
For example, I defined a certain amount of money I wanted to have saved by the time I am 60. But then I realized that I want to have enough cash to do things like start community living situations for people and to help support young people whose missions I believe in. Then, I had quintuple my savings goal.
Other things to remember in setting visions:
Be specific: Don’t just say “I want a good living situation.” Say, for example, I want a living situation that costs no more than xxx and that is an area people want to visit. I want there to be plenty of light. Those are just examples, of course. You must choose what is important to you.
When you can’t be specific, create a vision to have a vision: I want to spend more time in the countryside. The thing is, I am still not sure where or how. I want it to be near a railway line so I don’t have to use a car–I know that. But do I want to own a house or rent one or just have a room? So my vision is to have a vision. “I have developed a vision for countryside living that…. ”
Don’t forget your vision for the world: What difference do you want to make in the world? How do you want to use your life in service? What world do you hope for? What role can you see in bringing that world about? This are questions that should be answered in your vision cards.
Include a timeline: By when, will each of your visions occur? What is an accelerated but realistic timeline?
Write it in the present tense and with feelings: When you go through your vision cards, you will take a moment to feel what it feels like to have the goal completed. It helps to do that if it is in the present tense and to include the feelings you hope to feel: “It is my 60th birthday and I feel so safe and satisfied and joyful to know have accumulate xxx dollars in ways that are in line with my values and that have helped the world and to know I can use these resources to enjoy my life and to help create a just, joyful world for others.”
Write your visions on index cards
Not on your phone or computer. Not in a notebook. Honor each vision by actually making a physical object that provides a place for it–your index cards. Give each vision a place on its own card. Get a thick rubber band to hold the cards together. Carry them like you carry your wallet or purse or glasses or phone. Treat them as though they are crucial.
Add a mission card and affirmation cards
To my vision cards I also add a mission card and some self-affirmation cards. My mission card just reminds me daily of my mission: “Helping people and organizations realize they can have more prosperity, meaning and joy by adopting lifestyles, systems and operations that bring peace, happiness, justice, right action and good will.”
I also use affirmation cards to help me believe I have the characteristics to achieve my visions: “I am savvy and amazing about attracting revenue opportunities that are in line with my business. I am good at networking and people love paying me for my good work.”
(Maybe I will later do a post on how I defined my mission and came up with my affirmations).
Go through the cards each day
This takes me ten minutes every day.
I go through my cards at least once every day, usually after I meditate. I read each card and–sometimes closing my eyes–allow myself to believe that the vision is already true. I let the feelings that come with that truth to arise. I put myself in a scene and then I feel what the scene feels like. Then I move to the next card.
Carry them and talk about them
I also carry my cards wherever I go. I keep them in my bag. I go through all the cards at least once a day, usually after meditation. I read each card, imagine it to be true, feel the feelings of it being true, and consider the actions I would take if it were true.
I often find that I talk about my cards. For example, recently, a friend said she felt guilty about using her friend networks to create business for herself.
I told her that was because she believed that her doing business with her friends would take something from them instead of giving something to them.
Then I whipped out the card below which says “I am filled with goodwill and ideas for people I want to work with and who pay me.” I carry my cards everywhere. I make them part of conversations. I talk about them. I show them to people. All of this makes my visions real and compelling to me.
Ask yourself what the next action is
As I go through the cards, I also ask myself what the next step I might take towards the vision. For example, I have a vision for spending more time in the countryside. There is a farm I might like to be associated with. I might decide, say, to give the farmer a call. But sometimes there is no action I can think of in the moment. Instead, I have to trust that the next opportunity to take an action will arise.
But, paradoxically, don’t try to achieve your visions
I can put this best by quoting another one of my cards: “My subconscious is constantly steering me and offering me guidance towards my visions. I don’t not need to scheme but sense the turns I should take according to events as they arise. So-called frustrations are simply traffic signs. All I hope for is already unfolding.”
Let it be a fluid process
I replace a card in the stack when:
I find I have resistance to it because it is not quite right. For example, I vision a community living situation. But I found that I was resisting the idea of being subject to the whims of a group of other people. I realized I wanted a bit more control. Call me a tyrant, but what I really wanted was to own a building and rent out rooms. I want to run it as community but to have final say. I replaced that vision card to reflect my full vision.
I have lost enthusiasm for the vision. If, after so many repetitions, I can no longer feel excited, I rewrite the particular card in new language that makes me feel excited again.
The card becomes frayed or dirty. I treat my visions with respect. When a card becomes dogeared, I rewrite it on a new card.
My vision has changed. Sometimes, I find a vision no longer fits or it is not ambitious enough. Then I replace it or simply remove it.
Enjoy and watch for evidence
Finally, I try to enjoy using my vision cards and I watch for evidence that my visions are moving towards me. I hope you’ll soon see such evidence in your life too!