“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” – Rosabeth Moss Kanter

In the blur of everyday life, it can be easy to get swept along by the never-ending stream of busyness, without ever stopping to envision what is possible beyond our current situation.

We may catch momentary glimpses of our potential – we’ll read an article that inspires us or run across a person who seems to be on track, and think “I could do THAT”. And that may carry us along for a time, but inevitably we find ourselves back where we started, with nothing changed except the fact that a few more hours or days or weeks have passed.

This is familiar terrain for me. For many years I found myself locked in this pattern. I was yearning for change – deep down, a part of me knew I was meant for something other than the life I was living. And yet, despite many, MANY attempts to change the trajectory of my life, nothing seemed to stick.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and a lot of inner work had to happen in order for me to get through to the other side. However, one of the most important things that I’ve learned is the power of having a clear vision.

Without a clear vision, we can easily find ourselves floating along through life, adrift on a sea of emails and conference calls, status updates and shopping lists.

We wonder “How did I get here?” and, more importantly, “How can I get out?” We try to create change by doing things that we think will help, only to find ourselves back in the same place again.

A clear vision gives us something to aim towards, a destination to chart our course by. Once we know where we’re going, it becomes much easier to get there.

This may seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how many people I’ve talked to that are unhappy and struggling with their current situation but don’t have a clear vision for what they want instead.

Without a vision – some inner reference point to chart our course by – we’re just treading water, waiting for the tide to come along and take us wherever it’s already heading.

By contrast, a clear vision creates powerful emotional fuel. It’s the wind in our sails that pushes us forward out of the doldrums of stagnation and keeps us moving consistently through obstacles and challenges.

Of course, developing a clear vision takes time. It requires introspection, dreaming, and self-reflection. Activities which, because they don’t seem outwardly productive, often get sacrificed for activities that do.

In these moments, I find it helpful to remember that the seed takes root under the soil, away from prying eyes.  On the surface, it may appear that nothing is happening, and yet that is when the deepest, most foundational work occurs. 

So, what do I mean by vision anyway? For me, this definition sums it up nicely: a vision is a clear mental picture of a preferable future. 

Let’s break this down a bit. 

A vision should be clear.

The clearer you are about what you want to create, the easier it will be to create it. Think about a home remodeling project – even an amateur knows that it’s risky to start knocking down walls without a vision of where you’re headed. What’s more, we intuitively understand that the clearer they are up-front about what the finished home will look like, the easier the entire process will be.

Of course, developing a clear vision takes time and energy, which is why it often falls by the wayside. It also requires that we’re tuned into ourselves, in terms of what lights us up, what brings us joy, what energizes and inspires us – without this, we run the risk of creating a vision for what we think we’re *supposed* to want, rather than our authentic desires.

 A vision should form a mental picture.

There’s a reason why high performing athletes spend hours visualizing themselves achieving their desired outcome – scoring the touchdown, crossing the finish line, standing in the winner’s circle. They do this because it works. By creating a clear, detailed mental picture focused on what they want to happen, they are sending a powerful signal to their brains about what they’re most interested in creating while providing themselves a motivational anchor point for when the going gets tough.

Allowing ourselves to spend time mentally picturing what we want to happen does two key things – first, it focuses our mind on what we want, which is a requirement for creating it. Secondly, it creates the powerful emotional fuel that we need to get in motion and stay in motion.

A vision should focus on the preferable future.

Visioning, by nature, is future-focused. So is worry.

Both worry and visioning require the application of our imagination, both require mental energy, and both have the power to lead us exactly into what we’re envisioning.

The key difference: Visioning focuses on a preferable future – what is our desired outcome?

By contrast, worry focuses on an undesirable future – what are we trying to avoid?

Either way, we are going to invest mental energy, and either way we’re going to create a certain outcome. Choosing to apply our imaginations to the task of avoiding the things we don’t want in life is akin to taking a trip by avoiding all of the destinations we DON’T want to visit. Even if we succeed, what have we gained?

By comparison, turning our mind in the direction of what we DO want naturally turns it away from what we don’t want. It’s also a necessary part of creating it. And even if we don’t wind up exactly where we hoped, we’re sure to wind up a heck of a lot closer than if we’d navigated by avoidance alone.

 Don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer that “NOT THIS” is great information. Sometimes the only way we can find out that something isn’t meant for us is by trying it on and experiencing the discomfort of wrong-sizedness. And sometimes the ever-increasing tightness of “NOT THIS” is what’s required to move us out of the doldrums of indecision and into action, which is itself a huge gift. However, there comes a point where “NOT THIS” isn’t enough.

We have to be willing to do the often vulnerable and sometimes scary work of tuning into what we DO want instead. And we have to give ourselves permission to spend the requisite time and energy figuring it out.