Visioning Exercise

7 steps for conducting a visioning exercise

7 min read
Lin Grensing-Pophal

“If you can dream it, you can do it,” goes a quote widely attributed to Walt Disney. While the sentiment is apt and inspiring, Disney didn’t actually say it. A Disney archivist, Dave Smith, “explains that the phrase was actually coined by a Disney employee for the Epcot ride Horizons in the 1980s,” according to Gizmodo. Regardless, it’s a motivation sentiment, and one that is supported by coaches, therapists and others who help clients achieve their dreams through a visioning exercise.

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What is a visioning exercise?

Rev. Stephanie Clarke, a speaker, author and coach, says the idea of a visioning exercise was started back in 1985 by Michael Beckwith, and a small circle of trusted colleagues and friends.

“Rev. Michael Beckwith appeared on Oprah after his role in the DVD about the Law of Attraction called ‘The Secret’ in 2006 and has become internally famous since then.” ~ Rev. Stephanie Clarke

Visioning, says Clarke, is a process similar to meditation, but with a specific goal in mind to access inner wisdom rather than simply to still the mind and focus one’s thinking. During a visioning process, she says, a person consciously tunes into their inner self, where infinite intelligence resides.

Conduct a visioning exercise in 7 steps

An effective visioning exercise requires closely following a set of prescribed steps recommended by the experts.

  1. Find a quiet space.

  2. Determine your purpose.

  3. Picture your ideal scenario.

  4. Acknowledge what you don’t want.

  5. Ask probing questions.

  6. Embrace daily visioning.

  7. Know when to seek outside help.

If you want to access inner wisdom to achieve professional and personal goals, then keep reading.

1. Find a quiet space

Visioning Exercise Meditation

Find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed. Effective visioning requires focus. If your office is busy and prone to frequent interruptions, find a quiet spot away from the office — a park or another outdoor setting, a library, or some other space where you won’t be interrupted.

2. Determine your purpose

Gain clarity around the purpose of your visioning exercise. Let’s say you’re considering a career shift. Your purpose might then be to determine whether a career as XYZ would be rewarding. Maybe you’re thinking about acquiring another small business or merging with another organization. You might then state your purpose as determining whether this business move would yield the personal and professional rewards you’re looking for.

3. Picture your ideal scenario

Picture yourself moving from “here” (where you are now) to “there” (where you would like to be). Marian Their, president of Boulder, Colo.-based coaching firm Expanding Thought, Inc., suggests that those engaged in a visioning exercise close their eyes to see the world as they experience it in the present. Then, she says, they need to begin to “see” a new or different scenario, developing in vivid detail. Thier says that she thinks of visioning as creating a series of mental and emotional Polaroid snapshots.

What seems to work best, says Their, is to gradually begin to see yourself in the future. It’s important that the person has the opportunity to look at his or her life like a movie and to be writing the script with a beginning, middle and end. It’s less about finding a new or expanded career than it is about knowing what is fulfilling and researching what kinds of jobs would be the right fit.

4. Acknowledge what you don’t want

Gain clarity around what you don’t want. This is an often overlooked step in the process, says Jeff Skipper with Jeff Skipper Consulting in Calgary, Canada. Visioning, he says, needs to focus both on desired, and not desired, elements of the future state. According to Skipper, this is the vision we want to push away from. It can be a strong force to realize clearly what you don’t want and push off that toward an attracting but challenging vision of the future.

Perhaps your concern with changing careers is that too much time would be required to learn new competencies — time that would keep you away from family and fun. Your visioning exercise should, then, focus on how you would avoid those time pressures, or how you would carve out time to spend with family regularly.

5. Ask probing questions

Visioning Exercise Questions

Ask some inward questions. Clarke recommends having a notebook and pen at hand to scribble down any impressions based on your inner responses to questions like:

  • How do I envision my life?
  • How do I envision my career?
  • What does this vision look like, sound like, smell like, taste like and feel like in the physical realm of manifestation?
  • Where must I grow and expand in order to step into this vision?
  • What must I let go of in order to be the clear instrument for this vision?
  • Is there anything else that I need to know right now?

Incorporating a writing exercise into the process at this stage can also be helpful, says Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP, a licensed clinical social worker, certified group psychotherapist and creative arts therapist with 30 years of experience working with individuals and groups.

She says the visioning exercise is about creating a character much like crafting one in a play with as much detail as possible.

This engages the emotions, imagination and cognitive mind in a coherent way that studies show impacts the choices we make in the present. Making the future self a real person increases the likelihood we will take action consistent with who that person is.

6. Embrace daily visioning

Incorporate visioning into your daily activities. W. Jonathan Poston, a former USATF Level II endurance coach, says your visioning exercise is not a one-time activity, but an ongoing process that should be done not just once but daily. He recommends setting aside 20 to 60 minutes each day to “stabilize the vision” — relax and envision every detail of the life you want.

"Once the vision is stabilized, get down to the details. Eventually you’ll start feeling like the role you’re imaging, and feel more comfortable about the transition. Plan your leap out, and keep the visioning throughout. Always keep the vision steps ahead, seeing exactly where you want to be and seeing yourself accomplishing what you want.” ~ W. Jonathan Poston

Find the time of day that will work best for you. If you’re a morning person, maybe the first thing in the morning is the time for you to find a quiet place to conduct your visioning exercise. If you generally find yourself with time to spare over the noon hour, that might be the best time for you. Or if you could benefit from some time to rewind at the end of the evening before you go to bed, that might be your prime time. The key is to find a time and then stick with it.

7. Know when to seek outside help

Know when to seek outside help with your visioning exercise. If your efforts have failed to yield the results you’re looking for, or if you simply feel you could benefit from additional external expertise, it might be time to consider bringing in someone to guide you through the process. This Harvard Business Review piece offers some tips on finding a coach that will work best for you.

The science behind a visioning exercise

Visioning isn’t just the stuff of spiritualism, mysticism or mythology. There’s science behind the practice, says Treder-Wolff. She points to a Scientific American piece that describes several research studies supporting the value of looking ahead to envision a desired future state.

Treder-Wolff recommends using the concept of visioning in work with clients and trainees, because it is uniquely powerful for galvanizing the creative energy we need to push through obstacles and reach for possibly challenging but important goals.

Indeed, if you can dream it, you can do it. And visioning can help.