Is vision-boarding the key to your happiness in 2024?

If you spent any time scrolling through Instagram or TikTok on New Year’s Day, you’ll have seen a new routine emerging among the midnight kisses and scattering of sequins: people huddled on the floor, hunched over piles of old magazines, cutting things out and sticking them onto large whiteboards, probably to the soundtrack of something like Natasha Bedingfield’s classic aspirational bop “Unwritten”.

It’s a bit like the sort of thing you would do in a GCSE art class. Except there’s nothing childish about this activity. In fact, some would say it’s the most mature way to ring in the new year. Introducing “vision-boarding”: an arts and crafts way of helping you to visualise your goals for the year ahead and manifest them into action. Hailed by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Cardi B, a vision board is something that might sound like a niche spiritual practice reserved for the woo-woo among us – today, though, it’s very much a mainstream activity.

Just search “vision board” on TikTok to see what I mean. There are hundreds of thousands of clips of people spending hours meticulously cutting and sticking, all in a bid to create their boards. One video with more than 4.2 million views shows a woman pasting postcards with words like “discipline” and “a new era of me” printed onto them. There are photos of juices in supermarkets, women lifting weights, and people travelling on yachts. One postcard simply reads “be a bada** with a good a**.”

Another video with more than 1.3 million views shows a board featuring a mix of minimalist interior snapshots, photos of women in baseball caps in front of laptops, and phrases like: “You choose the future with your actions each day.” But it’s not all as “Live Laugh Love” as it sounds. For many people, vision boards feature very specific, personalised words and images that help them articulate what they’re hoping for in the year ahead.

“I look through a load of magazines and newspapers and see what I am drawn to, whether it’s photos, words or sentences, and then tear them out,” says Pam, 49, from Kent. “I do vision boards every year and can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found old boards and the photos or words on them [were proven to be] so accurate.”

It’s a similar process for Catherine Warrilow, 44, from Oxford, who has been creating vision boards for the past four years. “I prefer it to setting new year resolutions because I don’t feel that surrounding yourself with massive goals like losing a stone, taking up a new hobby, or earning six figures is healthy,” she says. “They’re largely not achievable. A vision board is designed to remind you of how you want to feel, not goals you need to achieve. I find it helps me to say yes to the right things and no to the wrong things, as well as keeping me true to my values.”

I see a lot of people just putting up pretty pictures, which can look great and be inspiring, but a vision board is where you actually put down very clear goals … It’s not supposed to be vague. From a neuroscience point of view, in order to prime our subconscious to reach a certain goal, we need to have very clear ideas

Roxie Nafousi

The rise of vision-boarding is an extension of manifesting, which, despite coming from ideologies that date back to the 19th century, has had a major renaissance in recent years. The idea, which was widely dismissed in 2006 when Australian television producer Rhonda Byrne published a book about it titled The Secret, is that positive thinking can lead to real-life action. The roots of manifestation are in the law of attraction, which was a pillar of the New Thought movement in the 19th century. According to Byrne, it can be broken down into three stages: ask, believe and receive. But the modern reinterpretation makes a little more sense.

“Vision boards are a visual representation of what you want your life to look like,” explains Roxie Nafousi, bestselling author of Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life and Manifest: Dive Deeper. The practice embodies everything that manifesting is about: being specific about what you want, picturing what it will look like, and trying to imagine how it will feel to have it. “They enable us to set really clear intentions and goals, which is important because as humans we need to feel like we’re moving towards something.”

It’s not just about trying to achieve certain successes, either, as one might think from some of the vision boards on TikTok that champion certain jobs or lucrative career paths. “It’s about having things that are driving us and giving us a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” adds Nafousi. There’s also a theory that visualising what you want to achieve in such a clear and concise manner can have a direct impact on your brain in terms of pushing you to achieve it.

“Our subconscious mind responds powerfully to imagery, so [a vision board allows us] to access parts of our mind that go beyond our conscious thinking,” explains Noor Hibbert, leading celebrity mindset coach and bestselling author of You Only Live Once. “The subconscious mind is responsible for so much of what we do automatically, therefore, by harnessing the powerful process of imagery, we can begin to transform our mind at a deeper level.”

How you do it is crucial. Remember: a vision board is not the same as a mood board and everyone’s is different. “I see a lot of people just putting up pretty pictures, which can look great and be inspiring, but a vision board is where you actually put down very clear goals,” says Nafousi, who doesn’t use any imagery when creating her own vision boards.

“I just write down different categories of my life, like career, love, hobbies, and personal development. Within each I am really specific about what I want, putting down the exact figures and publications I want to work with. It’s not supposed to be vague. From a neuroscience point of view, in order to prime our subconscious to reach a certain goal, we need to have very clear ideas.”

You don’t have to do it by hand, either. “I’d recommend creating your vision board online,” suggests Hibbert. “You can use tools such as Canva to add your images if you want them. This means you can always update it and change it, rather than the old school version of cutting out images from magazines to add to a collage, which is more difficult to change once it’s created.”

‘A vision board is designed to remind you of how you want to feel, not goals you need to achieve’

(Catherine Warrilow)

Once you’ve done the board, don’t simply toss it to one side. “That’s when the real work begins,” adds Nafousi, whose first book, Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life, features a set of key steps one can take in order to help push someone along on their manifesting journey, from removing fear and doubt to overcoming challenges. “The final part to manifestation is taking actual action in the physical world,” adds Hibbert. “Therefore, a vision board is only as strong as the action that we are willing to take in life to make it happen. Manifesting isn’t magic. It does require you to participate in creating your dream life.”

As for why this practice seems to be more popular than ever before? Well, take a look at the world. “It’s about finding purpose and fulfilment,” says Nafousi. “And doing things that give you hope.”