Don’t Make A Vision Board, Design A North Star Challenge

The difference is focus.

Taylor Foreman
Sep 15 · 7 min read
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Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

When I moved to Los Angeles, I made a vision board with the house I wanted in the hills, the places I wanted to write and perform, and the kinds of people I wanted to be around. Excited and full of energy, I got to work.

The only problem was, I didn’t even know where to begin. I trusted that I would figure it out as I went. Vision boards are a great way to visualize a desired future. There is plenty of evidence that they work, with most great athletes and top performers visualizing success.

A couple of years have gone by, and I achieved some of my goals, but not all of them. I’m happy with what I have done, but I have the feeling that I was stumbling around in the dark a little bit, needing some direction.

Recently, I realized why I achieved only about half of my goals: I had only half the equation. There is something much more powerful than a vision board that combines the training of athletes along with the visualization. I call it the North Star Challenge.

Vision boards give no feedback.

Vision boards do the important work of giving your unconscious mind something to look for in the world and putting all that untapped energy to work. Down deep in our pre-verbal minds is mostly visual, and making a visual representation of what you want is like having a company-wide meeting with your body, getting everyone on the same page. Otherwise, there would be inner conflict of interest, and no progress toward the conscious goals.

However, vision boards offer no structure and no feedback as to whether the goals are getting closer, or even worth striving for. By contrast, North Star Challenges are more intermediate-term goals that you set for yourself. Something concrete and related to your long-term vision, but translated into something that can be measured. And if you can measure it, you can manage it.

Say a long-term goal is to be a working creative with enough income to live a rich life. A medium-term translation of that might be, “get 1,000,000 views on my profile in the next 4 months.” Based on that goal, you can set daily strives that you think would make it possible. Now, you can see on a daily basis if you are falling short on your goal. You can also measure follower growth and see how you are coming along, and if you need to slow down or speed up. Immediate feedback.

Treat North Star Challenges like training for a marathon.

Training for a marathon is the perfect analogy because it should be so difficult that you can’t do it today, but you believe that it is possible if you put in the training. It orients your mind properly so that you expect that it will take a lot of time and energy. You can even tell other people that you are treating it like a marathon and what your goal is. They can cheer for you and you can share progress with them. With the analogy, they will more easily understand how seriously you are taking it. You will, too.

When you set a goal and treat it like a marathon, suddenly the days that suck are full of meaning. You can look at that 1,000,000 views written on your whiteboard and power through moments when you want to quit and watch Netflix. Not only that, but the days when you do it even when you don’t want to are the days when you have the biggest breakthroughs. Without a strong sense of meaning, i.e. North Star, attached to your daily work, you might be depriving yourself of huge insights.

Talk to anyone who has run a marathon, or done an iron man. It was probably the hardest thing they have ever done, but completely worth it. Wouldn’t it be awesome to take that enormous human potential and channel it into the life that you want to live?

Feel the days when you fail.

The reason most people don’t define a North Star is because they don’t want to define failure, that way they don’t have to feel the feelings of failure. Stated in black and white, that is clearly insane. How can we know what we are made of if we don’t define terms of failure — and thereby, success — for ourselves? A life of vision boards is a life of murky unfulfilled desires, and avoiding the harsh truth of our failures, but also the glory of our successes.

When you know exactly how much you have to write, or how much you have to paint, or how many videos you have to make in order to reach your goals, you know exactly when you fall short. That’s a really good thing. Learn from those days. What happens on days when it doesn’t work? How can you grow from it?

There absolutely is such a thing as failure. I would refute anyone who wants to soften the edges of life in that way. Without failure, there is no success. However, failure doesn’t define us, the ability to overcome failure is what makes us heroes, and humans, and fully alive. If I could go back 10 years and tell myself something, it would be to fail quickly and fail often.

Celebrate success.

This is the one I need to practice more than anything. Usually, when I reach a milestone or have a little win along the way, my mind tells me, “It was only because it was about ___ so it doesn’t really count.” For whatever reason, I struggle to celebrate my successes.

This is a huge mistake because success burns good behavior into our minds just as much as failure discourages bad. When we celebrate, we are helping the mind to remember what works, and we are taking a well-deserved break from the work.

Thinking about this now, I need to work some celebrations in my life. If anyone has any suggestions for specific rewards, comment below!

Pick a new North Star Challenge once the old one makes you better.

Eventually, you are going to reach the destination. The time limit you set for yourself, and you are either going to have succeeded or failed. The result is completely secondary to what the journey taught you.

If you focus too much on the success, you will feel that life is meaningless once the good feelings wear off. Life is about continuing to play, not winning. On the other hand, if you fixate on the failure — well, it’s not hard to imagine what is bad about that. The rule is same for the daily failures along the way. What is there to learn from it?

Most importantly, it’s time to pick a new North Star. Right away. It will be a better choice than the last one, because the journey will have taught you many things. Think about this: if you had not gone on the journey and taken the goal very seriously, you would not have learned what you learned, and you would not be a wiser person to pick a new North Star Challenge. Perhaps focusing too much on viewers was too shallow and made your work suffer. Maybe this time you can focus on quality somehow. Who knows? You won’t until you get there.

Do a postmortem.

When the goal is finished and you are well on your way to a new North Star, take some time to look back on what you learned.

Was it too hard? Too easy? How did you change? What would you do differently if you could go back?

Repeat.

Do a few North Star challenges in a row, and you won’t recognize your life anymore. Things will be so radically different, you won’t believe it. Just a couple of years of really striving for what you want and facing the fear of failure.

The first one is the hardest, because you haven’t proven to yourself that you can do it yet. They get easier as you do them because they start to transform your life and you build confidence. In my opinion, it’s also just fun to have a challenging goal in your future. If there wasn’t a chance I’d fail, it wouldn’t be a real challenge, would it?

Pick something about as hard as a first-time marathon.

I’m going to harp on this, but I love the analogy of a marathon (for someone who has never done one). Hard, but not impossible. It will test your will, but not break it. It’s the perfect level of hardness to make a North Star Challenge.

You won’t know exactly how hard it will be, but you can have a sense of it if you trust yourself. 1,000,000 viewers for me sounds just about right. Maybe I will get to the end of 4 months and it will have been impossible in the time frame. Maybe it will have been easy. I won’t know until I get there.

Take the opportunity to push yourself a bit. Make it so that you won’t feel like a dip if you fail, but you will feel awesome if you do it. Don’t make it so bad that you don’t believe you can do it on any level of your being. Write it down where you can see it every day, and let it sink in.

Watch the vision board manifest anyway.

Make a vision board or don’t, but after a few North Star Challenges, you will find that everything you did — or might have — put on them will manifest in your life much more quickly.

You can’t just visualize success — you have to define the terms and make it happen.

Bottom Line

This is supposed to be fun. Why else would people run marathons and do iron mans? They challenge the human spirit and push us to our limits. That’s the only way we get to see what we are really made of.

Our entire life can be that way, too. It doesn’t have to happen to us, it can happen for us. First, we have to voluntarily take on the suffering of life and turn it into a game. If you can do that, you can live any life you can dream of.

Please share your North Star Challenge with me!

Thanks for reading and happy living!

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Taylor Foreman

Written by

Writer, comedian, storytelling as therapy. The first joke I ever heard was peek-a-boo. Chasing that high ever since. Need a writing partner? taylorforeman.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 120,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Taylor Foreman

Written by

Writer, comedian, storytelling as therapy. The first joke I ever heard was peek-a-boo. Chasing that high ever since. Need a writing partner? taylorforeman.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 120,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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