How Creating a Vision Board Can Help With End-of-Life Planning

Learn the “why” and “how” of using a vision board.

Humans have always been dreamers, imagining the future and hoping for good things to come. Even some cave paintings that date back to prehistoric times are thought by researchers to represent hopeful visions of a successful future hunt that would yield abundant food for survival. So there’s a long history of mankind recording dreams and goals in the form of pictures.

Today elite athletes frequently use a similar form of visualization to enhance performance in their sport. They mentally envision a run-through of the upcoming event and see themselves carrying out each step and task flawlessly. Research has shown that this form of mental practice is nearly as effective as actual physical training itself.

In a similar manner many people who follow the Law of Attraction made popular by the book The Secret have begun creating vision boards, which consist of a collage of images, quotes, words, and small objects that represent their goals for the future. A survey of successful small business owners found that one in five had used a vision board as they were starting their business and 76% of them said they felt the board had helped them make their vision a reality.

So if visualization and vision boards can help athletes and business owners, they should also be helpful in our daily lives as we look to the future and begin to plan our goals. But it’s important to understand the process better in order to make use of vision boards.

How vision boards work

Psychologist Barbara Nussbaum says that images and photos that relate to specific details of our goals help create a multisensory experience of the future we wish to see. As the brain “rehearses” these positive scenarios it forms pathways that make them more familiar and attainable for us. But she says it is essential that the images on the board be tied to emotion because “emotions are the glue that connects us to what’s most important in our lives.” So vision boards that focus on how we want to feel in the future are the most effective.

Vision boards and end of life planning

Most people avoid thinking about the end of life because they find it frightening or disturbing. Therefore they fail to make plans and put their wishes in writing because it feels too negative. But we know that beautiful images, such as those on a vision board, activate the right brain and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to the relaxation response. This stress-reducing effect can be very helpful when associated with thinking about the end of life and envisioning the future of our last days on earth.

Overcome the brain’s negativity bias

According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, the brain has a preference for negative memories and emotions, which is a protective mechanism to help us avoid danger. He says it is necessary to intentionally supply the brain with multiple positive experiences and sensations in order to overcome the tightly held unhappy memories of the past. No wonder we avoid thinking about death: our memories related to it are most likely negative and painful and we have few positive emotions to balance them out.

So a vision board that contains beautiful images and soothing affirmations related to the end of life floods the brain with positive emotions that become associated with the process of dying. Reinforcing this connection repeatedly over time by looking at the board can gradually help diminish our fear of death and our negativity about the end of life.

Clarify goals

As we brainstorm the contents of our vision board we will become aware of the things that matter most to us in life. Thinking about the people we want near us, the environment we want surrounding us, and how we want to feel as we approach the end of life helps us clarify the most important details of that scenario. We can live with more focus and intention in our lives if we know what really matters to us and make our choices from that foundation.

Practice positivity

Each time we view our end-of-life vision board we allow the brain to rehearse a future that is filled with beauty and positive experiences such as love, forgiveness, family, and joy. The old negative associations that had previously been attached to thoughts about the end of life will gradually lessen as these new positive feelings are strengthened. Over time our fear of dying will decrease and a feeling of ease will become more prominent.

Increase self-awareness

The process of selecting items for a vision board requires us to go within and truly understand our own wishes, desires, fears and motivations. This search helps us make decisions for the future that reflect our true purpose and meaning in life. Each day of life going forward is enhanced once we know ourselves that deeply.

Communicate our wishes to others

An end-of-life vision board can be shown to loved ones to help them understand what our wishes are for our last days. Rather than handing them a document to read, we can furnish them with a beautiful vision of what we want that will stir their emotions as well. This will help put them at ease so that conversation can flow with much less resistance. The vision board will also serve as a visual reminder to everyone of your wishes in the days to come.

Tips for creating an end-of-life vision board

· Gather materials such as a cork or poster board, pins or glue, scissors, magazines, newspapers, catalogues, photographs, postcards, greeting cards, poems, sayings, quotations, etc. You can also print pictures from the internet if you don’t have other sources for images.

· Write down your goals for the end of life: where do you want to be, who do you want to be with you, how do you want to be cared for, how do you want to feel, etc. This may take some time and thought.

· Find images and sayings that depict each of your goals in a beautiful and symbolic way. Choose items that stir your own emotions to be the most effective.

· Glue or pin each of the items to your board in any arrangement that is pleasing to you.

· Place the board where you will see it every day.

· Journal about the goals you have set and the action steps that will be necessary to make them a reality

When your vision board is completed you may feel motivated to complete or update your written advance directive. You will still need to have these forms available as legal documentation of your wishes. Revisit your board and your documents once a year so that you can make changes as needed.

Remember that the details you envision now for the end of life may not be what you actually desire when you reach that point since everything changes with time. But you are reinforcing the positive feelings of peace, comfort, love and joy that you will definitely want to attain no matter what your circumstances are at the end of life. Focus on seeing the beauty and good in everything and you will make it a reality in your life.

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