Envisioning: Use Your Imagination to Manifest Your Goals

This liminal, in-between space — the dusk of 2022 and the dawn of 2023 — is a great time to look toward the future and reflect on the past. Think about your life thus far and how you want the rest of it to play out. What’s the best case scenario? Visualize it in as much detail as you can. If thinking of your whole life feels daunting, try to focus on the past year or next year instead. 

Brain studies show evidence that visualization and focused imagination impact all kinds of cognitive processes in the brain, meaning your brain is training to achieve the very thing you’re envisioning. You can enhance and activate your vision by connecting it to your emotions. How do you want to feel? What will the journey be like?

Ask yourself one more question: Starting today, if everything met or exceeded your highest expectations, what would your life look like? 

How to Bring Your Vision to Life

It may sound like magical thinking — the idea that you can conjure up the kind of future you want by envisioning it and evoking the feelings it would produce, but it’s actually neuroscience. There is evidence of positive visualization improving athletic performance, building muscle, enhancing memory, and improving the side effects of chemotherapy or postoperative outcomes. Consider the placebo effect; it illustrates the mysterious power of the mind. But it isn’t quite as simple as imagining things to life. We need to anchor our vision to personal meaning and values; then, most importantly, we need to act!

Here are eight ways to successfully envision and realize your preferred future: 

  1. Start with reflection. Understanding your past, even just the past year, is a vital step. If things haven’t been going well, it’s an opportunity to acknowledge, accept, and learn from experience. If they have, it gives you a framework for the future. More than likely, there will be positives and negatives — simply take stock of them. It’s not the time to perseverate, but lean into the things that come to mind first.
  2. Turn your sights forward. In as much detail as possible, imagine yourself accomplishing your goals as if it’s the present moment. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? What do you feel? What do you hear? The images can serve as a guidepost to create more concrete plans.
  3. Get even more specific. Don’t just imagine yourself at the hypothetical finish line. Envision yourself on each of the stepping stones required to get there. For example, don’t just imagine the moment you see your novel on the shelves of your favorite bookstore; imagine yourself writing each day with inspiration and perseverance. Don’t just envision yourself enjoying your dream vacation; picture the moments leading up to that when you choose to save money instead of spending it.
  4. Write down what you want to manifest. Writing and reading activates your brain in a specific way, forcing you to get even more detailed about the image you’re painting in your mind. It’s also a form of recommitment. Think of it like a hack for more effective visualization. 
  5. Tap into your emotions. Identify and feel the emotions that are connected to your vision. When you accomplish your goals, how will it feel? Use your imagination to immerse yourself and actually feel those feelings. 
  6. Talk about your vision with others. Similar to writing, this further reinforces your imaginings. The more mindfully you discuss it, the clearer and more refined the image will become in your mind. Consider confiding in a good friend or even a therapist. 
  7. Make envisioning a habit. Visualizing is more effective when it becomes a part of your daily life vs. something you do once or twice per month. Practice at least once or twice a day, perhaps in the morning and at night. The more you do it, the more it will become like a reflex. 
  8. Take it day by day. Although envisioning requires mental “time travel,” both forward and backward, ultimately, you must learn to stay in the present moment. Each time you’re faced with a choice, even a small one, ask yourself what will bring you closer to where you want to be. Evoke your vision and the accompanying feeling, too. Don’t waste time or energy ruminating on all the work you have left to do; just put one foot in front of the other. 

Use Meaning as an Anchor

When it comes to envisioning success in the new year, my best advice is this — use meaning as an anchor. Your hopes and dreams, those goals you plan to make reality, should be personally meaningful and connected to your values. Take the time to fully consider what you want out of life and why.