Do you want to be a better person (or healthier, or more successful, or happier) in the New Year? Many people do; but New Year’s resolutions are rarely effective at achieving these goals.

A big reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work is that usually they are just said in your head, or maybe aloud: people simply ‘resolve’ to lose 10 pounds, or give up smoking, or to make more money. But ‘resolving’ to do something doesn’t give it much staying power — no wonder that after 1 month, 36% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned, and 54% are forgotten after 6 months.

There is a much more effective way to achieve your goals: a vision board (also known as a “treasure map”). A vision board is a collage of images and words cut from magazines, or taken off the Internet; it’s a vivid reminder of what you want in your future, and an important tool for creating and living your best life. With a vision board you not only write down what you want to create, you also visualize the desired outcome in images.

What makes images (and vision boards) so powerful?

Visual images evoke strong feelings and influence our thoughts and behavior even when we aren’t aware of it; they work on us on a level deeper than rational thought — they are the language of dreams. In scientific terms, images activate the RAS (Reticular Activating System) part of the brain, which is believed to be the center of arousal and motivation.

The advertising industry makes millions by understanding just how powerful visual images are: take a striking picture, add a few carefully chosen words, and — abracadabra! — you can overcome viewers’ barriers to spending money. As the old saying has it, “a picture is worth a thousand words” — and thousands of dollars.

So imagine if you knew how to use images’ power to influence your thoughts, feelings, and behavior — intentionally.You could use that power not only to change bad habits, but also to change your perception of yourself, overcome your own barriers, and create everything you want in life! Images — the language of dreams — can truly help you fulfill your dreams and live an extraordinary life.

Vision boards, as featured on Oprah Winfrey and Larry King, are popular but fairly new idea; but visioning itself is an ancient practice that has worked for thousands of years. Visioning involves releasing what’s negative in your past and then starting fresh — from your positive intentions, dreams, longings, and core values — to envision a better tomorrow, starting NOW.

Many prominent people have used vision boards to fulfill their dreams, for example:

* President Barack Obama — his online campaign team created a vision board at the start of the Democratic nomination campaign;

* recent Olympic gold-medal gymnast Nastia Liukin, who even researched the actual medals to be awarded in Beijing and put photos of them prominently on her board;

* author and motivational speaker Lisa Nichols, who made a vision board showing herself as a guest on Oprah — and then showed it to Oprah and her audience when she got on Oprah’s show;

* visionary CEO Walt Disney, who made a vision board for Disneyland years before anyone had heard of theme Vision 20 parks (or vision boards!).

How do vision boards work?

People use vision boards to start a new business or change careers, find a soul mate, achieve their ideal weight, realize a dream project — to fulfill any goal that matters to them.

I encourage participants in my vision board workshops to first visualize what ‘lights you up’ — the experiences you want to have (more of) in your life — and then to see what goals arise from there. This ensures that your goals are based on your deep intentions, dreams, longings, and core values, rather than a sense of what you ‘should’ want.

To illustrate, I’m going to share with you how a woman in one of my workshops created a vision board and used it to transform her life and achieve everything she wanted — in less than a year.

When Mary created her vision board, she was recently divorced after 22 years of marriage; she and her four kids were newly poor and feeling a lot of stress from the trauma of the divorce. Mary used her vision board to start over and create the life of her dreams. She began her visioning by acknowledging and releasing the negativity surrounding her divorce; then she could clearly see what would ‘light her up.’

The goals she created were going back to college in mid-life to complete her undergraduate degree, and getting funding for graduate school; feeling better about her appearance and getting in shape; finding romance and enjoying life again; and taking care of her family and helping her kids to fulfill their dreams. None of these seemed possible at the time — she had no money for tuition, or even necessities; she didn’t like the way she looked, was overweight, and had serious health issues; and romance seemed highly unlikely for a middle-aged divorcee with four stressed-out kids and no money.

Yet within year of creating this vision board, Mary had it all:

* she graduated with highest honors from a private college and won a full scholarship for graduate studies in good-paying new profession;

* she got comfortable with her body, lost 68 pounds, ran a half marathon, and now is often mistaken for her 21 year-old daughter’s sister;

* she helped her kids fulfill their dreams — her oldest daughter finished college and moved across the country to a dream job; her next oldest auditioned for, and got into, music school; her son won track races on a national level; and she moved her family to a great new home.

* she was courted by number of men, found lasting romance, and started really enjoying life for the first time in years: she traveled, started playing the piano again, took up drawing, joined a women’s group, enjoyed plays and concerts for free (she ushered), and capped it all off by flying an airplane — an old dream — for her 45th birthday.

How did Mary’s vision board help her accomplish all this?

1. It helped her clarify her vision and values — what’s most important to her and how she wants to be:

* rooted, confident and strong (an image of a tree)

* able to take care of herself and find comfort, satisfaction & beauty in aging (an image of an old woman’s hands)

* fit and attractive (exercise images)

* able to keep things light and enjoy life (images of fairies and basket of raspberries)

* experiencing romance (images of entwined hearts)

2. The vision board helped Mary focus on what’s really important — which could get lost in all the “stuff” she was busy doing. She hung her vision board by her bed, so she saw it every morning and evening. It reminded her daily what she was creating in her life.

3. Mary’s vision board helped her reframe her image of herself, so it’s positive and optimistic. Whenever Mary looked at her vision collage, she saw herself already fit, already confident and strong, already taking care of her family, already enjoying romance – already being the person she wants to be.

4. It kept her inspired to take new actions to fulfill her vision. Every time Mary looked at her vision board, she experienced what would be like to actually achieve her vision; this gave her daily inspiration to take new actions, meet new people, and have new conversations – naturally and without effort. These new actions and conversations are what caused her vision to be fulfilled (sometimes in ways she wasn’t expecting!).

Mary’s vision board was an extraordinarily effective tool; it helped her transform her whole life in less than a year. Here’s to your dreams being fulfilled, too!