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Don’t just dream it, do it

Vanessa Ilicic, HealthLogix Reporter

Take a moment to think about what you hope to achieve. Whether it relates to your personal life, professional life or both, what words and images come to mind? Collating these thoughts on a board – a ‘dream board’ – has certainly become popular in recent years, with Oprah among the celebrity proponents.

Sure, dream boards, or vision boards, can help you see what you want, but do they actually work? There’s no shortage of anecdotal evidence online to suggest that for some people, the answer is yes. For others, however, turning dreams into reality requires more. Enter the ‘action board’.


The law of attraction

Underlying dream boards is the ‘law of attraction’ which, in a nutshell, is the idea that you attract good or bad based on your thinking style. If you think positively, you will experience good outcomes – or so the theory goes. 

“Vision boards are based upon a hypothetical ‘law of attraction’ and metaphysical pseudoscience, wherein your dreams are manifested through beliefs,” explains Dr Farber, Chief Wellness Officer at The Key to Achieve. “You make no plans and you take no action.”

The law of attraction is a divisive concept, with some adamant that it exists and others, such as Dr Farber, who believe it does not. While creating a dream board may precede good outcomes in some cases, there are no guarantees.


Taking matters into your own hands

If you’re beginning to think dream boards are futile, consider this: can the concept be tweaked so the desired outcomes are more likely? Yes, suggests Dr Neil Farber, pioneer of action boards, which he describes as “vision boards on steroids”.

“Action boards use the principle of attraction, where like tends to attract like, rather than a law of attraction in which like always attracts like,” Dr Farber says.

“Vision boards depend on the universe while action boards depend on you. Action boards help people become accountable for goals, appreciate and prepare for challenge, and replace failures with successes.”

Dr Farber says action boards are founded on research studies in social psychology, positive psychology and mind-brain science, and use eight ‘Key to Achieve’ principles and 10 guidelines.  

So what are the eight principles?


  1. Accountability. “Life does not happen to you – you happen to life. Making things happen is your responsibility,” Dr Farber says. (1)

  2. Values. “Establishing goals based on your core values energises you to pursue them passionately,” Dr Farber says. “Aligning your values and goals helps you achieve a balanced and satisfying life.” (2)

  3. Mindfulness. This refers to “being consciously aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in a moment-to-moment way,” Dr Farber explains. “Mindfulness is associated with many health and wellness benefits including improved immunity, resilience, and wellbeing. Mindfulness changes the electrical connections in the brain that inhibit internal chatter and strengthen specific brain circuits allowing you to focus attention on what you most want to accomplish.” (3)

    He adds that “multiple studies show how much more beneficial it is” in terms of motivation and success to visualise a process (as in action boards) than simply the outcome (as in vision boards). (4)

  4. Positivity. Dr Farber says action boards incorporate various “beneficial positive psychology topics” such as strengths, flow (an exhilarating feeling of being in the zone), positive communication, hope and optimism, resilience, gratitude, and making lemonade (cognitive restructuring converting negatives into positives). (5)

  5. Attraction. While “there is no objective scientific evidence that like always attracts like”, according to Dr Farber, “there is scientific evidence that like tends to attract like”. “Positive people tend to attract other positive people. Positive, optimistic thoughts will often yield similar results … but not always.” (6) 

  6. Dominoes. Dr Farber uses dominoes as a metaphor for “steps along the path, leading to the final goal”. He explains: “Obstacles, challenges and events along the way become goals that we want to conquer – dominoes to knock down. We have the power to choose where to place the dominoes and the opportunity to celebrate each time we knock one down.” (7)

  7. Divine visualization. “Visualisation is important in achieving goals”, Dr Farber says. He adds that divine visualisation involves “linking the present directly to the future”, “process or task visualisations” in which you “envision ‘doing’ not ‘having’”, and “reprogramming the reticular activating system – a network of long nerve pathways in your brainstem”. This system takes sensory information, filters it and relays it to higher brain centres for processing. (8)

  8. Inspired action. “Action separates dreaming from doing,” says Dr Farber. “Action arising out of core principles that are energised by visualisations will be deep-seated, meaningful and inspired.” (9)



Getting into action

For those interested in creating an action board, here are Dr Farber’s 10 basic guidelines:


  1. “Acknowledge that you are in control of the entire goal-setting and achieving process.”

  2. “Delineate your core values.” Develop a personal mission statement that “infuses your goals with deeper meaning and passion and allows you to develop inspired action”.

  3. “Be specific in your goals.” Decide when you want to accomplish a particular goal and establish a realistic timeline. “Break the goal down into bite-sized pieces with specific dates for each of the bites.”

  4. “List your motivators.” Identify your reasons for wanting to achieve the goal – “this will be the driving force that will keep you going when things get tough”.

  5. “Make a commitment to achieve.” Create a specific plan for the goal-getting process to help develop resilience. 

  6. “Define your challenges and visualise how you will rise to conquer them.”

  7. Know your strengths and how you will use them.

  8. Identify the resources at your disposal.

  9. “Take action.” “Don’t limit yourself to dreaming” or “leave [your goal] to chance or the universe”.

  10. Acknowledge your progress. “Each time you knock down a domino (accomplish a mini-goal), you need to celebrate and recognise your ‘domination’.” 


So if there’s something you dream about achieving, why not act on it? Whether that involves creating an action board or dream board, or exploring another goal-setting strategy, the choice is yours.


Dr Neil Farber is an associate professor of paediatrics, anaesthesiology and pharmacology and toxicology and a practicing paediatric anaesthesiologist in the US. For details on his publications, visit The Key to Achieve.

Dr Farber’s references:

(1)    Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2005.
(2)    Covey, Merrill & Merrill, First Things First, 1994.
(3)    Siegel, Social Cognitive and Affect Neuroscience, 2007.
(4)    Pham & Taylor, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1999.
(5)    Ben-Shahar, Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, 2007; Diener & Biswas-Diener, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, 2008; Fredrickson, Positivity, 2009; Farber, Making Lemonade: 101 Recipes to Convert Negatives into Positives, 2012.
(6)    Fredrickson, Positivity, 2009.
(7)    Farber, “Dominoes vs Rainbows. Practical Goal Setting” in Psychology Today, 2011; Farber, “The Domino Effect: A Mindfully Positive Path to Goal-Setting” in Psychology Today, 2012.
(8)    Oettingen & Wadden, Cognitive Therapy and Research, 1991; Oettingen & Mayer, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002; Pham & Taylor, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1999. Taylor et al., American Psychologist, 1998; Oettingen et al., Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2009; Rotella et al., Journal of Sport Psychology, 1980.
(9)    The late motivational speaker Zig Zigler.

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Published: September, 2014