“What most of us need is to genuinely feel optimistic, despite the passage of time. We need a way to stay connected to a broader vision of our lives, against which we can make sense of the challenges and obstacles we encounter during our lives.”
Visioning: Creating the Life of Your Dreams by Glenn A. Williams provides an inspiring introduction to the process of envisioning a successful life. Part instructional manual, part gorgeous coffee table book, the process of reading Visioning is both immersive and inspiring. The beautiful photographs throughout the book invoke serenity and introspection, and are balanced nicely with actionable advice for imagining a successful life. Williams walks us through the steps required to envision what our life will look like when we consider the questions: What do you really want for your life? Why is that a meaningful pursuit? What are you dreaming about, but not doing?
Create Your Vision
"Our vision is an integral part of making sense of the world we live in and then acting within that framework to achieve our goals and objectives."
Visioning is the process of creating a detailed picture of what a successful life looks like in the future. It is a deeply personal expression of our desires for a meaningful live, and will look vastly different for each person who undertakes the exercise.
The process is deceptively simple: pick a specific date in the future (could be a landmark birthday, New Year’s day, or any other meaningful day), and imagine your life on that day. Williams recommends imagining a day 5 to 10 years from now—it’s far enough in the future to allow for expansive thinking, but not too far away to feel unattainable. Create a clear, specific vision of your life on that date, being sure to include visions for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.
Your job at this stage is to focus on the what and why of your vision, and to avoid the impulse to get bogged down in the how. Don’t worry about the logistics of achieving your goals—the methods will become clear as a result of figuring out what you want to achieve, and why it is important to you.
Creating a clear vision is a four step process, outlined below (41):
1. Discovering: stimulating and inspiring yourself through connecting with ideas, images and impressions that potentially express elements of your vision.
2. Designing: representing your vision as symbols (through images, drawings or words) on index cards, sticky notes on a wall, a page, canvas, poster or computer screen.
3. Developing: synthesizing, organizing and refining the contents of your vision into a presentation format that suits your intended purpose (e.g. a poster, computer-based presentation, a typed or hand-written document).
4. Delivering: sharing your vision with another person (or people) is a pivotal stage that completes the first iteration of the creative, cyclical process. At this stage, you may think that you have not actually done anything about making your vision a reality. However, when someone else reads your vision back to you, or witnesses you speaking your vision aloud, you are likely to see yourself starting to think and feel differently about your vision
Make your Vision Specific
"Imagine that you are going to hand me a script for a movie. The more detail you can provide me, the clearer I shall be able to see your vision, through your eyes. It is not about whether you really end up living in that suburb, on that street or in that house, for example. However, that kind of level of detail would enable me to go away and make a movie – figuratively speaking – with you as the star of the show. Imagine me playing that movie back to you and your response simply being “yes, that is perfectly what I imagined my ideal future would look like in my vision."
Williams suggests articulating your vision in the present tense. As opposed to saying “by then, I will probably be running a successful business,” practice saying “I have a successful business,” and imagine what that feels like (not what it will feel like). It may seem like a subtle, or semantic shift, but the effects are profound. As you work through your vision, imagine it in vivid detail, like a film about your life that just happens to take place in the future.
This shift in thinking will allow you to immerse yourself in your vision, and create the right image. By using the present tense, you can shift away from viewing your vision as a hypothetical—and receive the psychological benefit of envisioning your success as though it has already happened. Instead of focussing on process (which can lead to thinking about challenges and roadblocks before you really get started), your focus on what success will feel like, and will be more likely to chase after this feeling in the years to come.
Be Kind to Yourself—Visioning is hard work
"There is ample evidence that we need to spread out, wander, explore and even brainstorm before these kinds of answers come to us. We need to open our mind and senses to images, impressions, sensations, associations and what they stimulate before we begin the process of sense-making. This non-linear nature of the creative process has also been shown to be effective for people in endeavours as diverse as mathematical code breakers, inventors, entrepreneurs and artists."
The work of creating a personal vision is difficult, heady stuff. Williams strongly suggests that you carve out dedicated time and space to complete this exercise. If you’re trying to squeeze it in between emails, stressed about picking up your kids on time, or worried about an upcoming deadline, you will likely struggle to articulate a clear, meaningful vision.
As the quote above indicates, to do deep, creative work, we need space to daydream and to wander. Many of Williams’ clients take a weekend away to complete this task. If you can’t spare a whole weekend, think about ways you can get out of your usual environment. It could be a long walk in a local park, a meandering drive around the countryside with no particular destination in mind, or a long extravagant lunch by yourself at a new restaurant. You want to focus on new opportunities—so get away from your usual environment.
Williams also notes that it’s important to take care of yourself throughout the process. It’s difficult work, so treat yourself kindly—get a massage, ensure that you’re hydrated, break up your thinking with exercise, or treat yourself to whatever form of self care you find most comforting. You will be imagining a new, exciting future—difficult to do if you’re hungover or chowing down a burger.
Though Williams created this process with executives who are already quite successful in mind, the process outlined in this book will be beneficial to people at every level of success. I didn’t know it at the time, but 5 years ago, I undertook a similar process. I had applied to go back to school (again), and spent many afternoons (before my shift at the bar) really digging into a vision for my future. I took long walks and let myself imagine what a successful career would look and feel like. Though I didn’t write it down, that vision sustained me through the grind of school, and a series of less than ideal jobs. Five years later, I’ve achieved my vision, and it feels better than I imagined. I will be returning to this process again and again, to help me stay connected to my goals, and to imagine what success feels like.
Visioning is a powerful process that will help you connect to what matters most. It is deeply personal, and will look different for everyone who undertakes it.
What does your vision for the future look like?