What is an inspiration board?
Inspiration boards have become a popular way to visualize what attracts you or visualize brainstorms. They are used for individuals, groups, companies, retreats – for coaching, counseling, events, and projects.
The benefits of you creating an inspiration board for you
First of all, if you are rolling your eyes and thinking this is just another “time-wasting touchy-feely hippy-dippy” exercise, I challenge you to hang in there with me and read on. This is not about giving self-hugs and visualizing a trust fall with yourself. This is a truly effective way to unstick your overly programmed thoughts and perceptions and discover or rediscover pieces to a larger picture that realistically illustrate your true nature, desires, creativity, and even fears.
After working for several years in a traditional work environment with limited flexibility and a long commute, I realized how robotic I’d become. I was always thinking about what I had to do next, worried about how I would get it all done, planning out my timeframe minute by minute, and fretting over the sleep I would continue to lose.
This is a common reason people feel stuck. Not only are they overworked and exhausted, they have lost touch with how to think creatively and imagine other options for their work and life.
In an article written by Professor Lynda Gratton at the London School of Business, “The Changing Shape of Jobs: Work the Shift”, Professor Gratton discusses the potential dismal view of the future of the world of work, “…where the constant needs of a 24/7 world combined with incessant technological demands create a level of fragmentation of time that takes away much of the opportunity to learn deeply or experience creative play.” (Gratton, May 2011)
Right now, if you get a spark of an idea, because we are so trained to immediately start planning, it probably takes you about 10 seconds to discredit the idea by assigning logistical assumptions – “I don’t have enough time, enough money, enough talent, the know-how etc….”
After realizing I was ready to explore and move on from my job, and after politely discarding blanket-advice and choosing to listen to my own desires, I stepped back out into the wild world of options – and began getting to know myself and my true nature again.
An inspiration board is a fun, risk-free, stress-free way to dump out your most raw bits of inspiration without analyzing them. You have to help your conditioning, rationalizing, and planning get out of the way.
Look at it as play. There are no rules, and don’t be seduced by your desire to organize, analyze, beautify, and categorize your bits of inspiration. Do not look at the professional inspiration boards done for decoration or by wedding planners. Those are for a COMPLETELY different purpose and they are meant to make sense and contain neatly shaped pictures that look nice together.
Real life is messy and contradictory. In all of us, there is silliness, seriousness, craziness, happiness, sadness, goofiness, an optimist, a pessimist, a hero, a fraidy-cat, and the list goes on. An inspiration board is not meant to capture the nicely little packaged version of your self that shows up at your office or a wedding, or even a party, or even your home.
Most of our lives these days are somehow ranked, rated, graded, judged, reviewed, or criticized in some way – and there are rules, policies, and etiquette for everything. Can you even imagine what it would feel like to wander into a space free from judgment, even your own? We have to work to get outside of the bubbles we’ve created for ourselves.
Do you remember that we are so much more than our societal labels? If you’re contemplating searching for another job, I am not asking you to create an inspiration board of company logos. I am talking about letting yourself fall down into your wildest thoughts and find a way to externalize them – the first step in bringing them out and bringing your inspiration to life.
There are an infinite number of ways to go about this, and I encourage you to wander off and follow your wild and creative ideas. On the other hand, this is NOT about BEING anything. It is NOT about striving to be a creative person, or about being artsy or creating a masterpiece. The inspiration board is not the challenge. It really should be effortless, that’s the point.
An inspiration board never needs to feel done. That’s another aspect that flies in the face of the way we behave in life. We seek to finish things for the sake of finishing. The term “board” actually has a sense of finality to it. Maybe we could call it the inspiration space or inspiration continuum. Anyway, you get the idea.
You want to be able to easily see your board and refer to it often. You’ll have to get over needing this to be some lovely decorative addition to your house. I taped mine to a wall in my office.
The simplest way to begin is to grab a large piece of poster board. When I didn’t have this and didn’t want to spend the money or the time to get one, I just taped together several pieces of computer paper.
The most common way to proceed is to grab a bunch of magazines and without using a filter to process your “reasons”, start cutting out anything and everything that attracts you. Even if you are drawn to something out of curiosity, consider cutting it out.
There are infinite sources for your bits and pieces of inspiration that can be displayed. You can use the internet, just be thoughtful. The computer and the internet can be so “work-like” and square and perfect. There’s something to be said for the play-like nature of ripping out or cutting out images from a magazine or gluing the sparkly red craft ball that fell off one of your daughter’s classroom valentine’s crafts that for some reason makes you smile. It might add more texture and dimension to what you are doing.
Maybe there’s a leaf or a flower, maybe grass, maybe a sticker, or maybe you draw or even just use colors that illustrate inspiration. Some might suggest that you stay away from words, but for this initial exercise, don’t even think that hard or stop yourself. Just let it flow.
Ok, I rarely know what I am doing behind a camera, so let’s just say that my photography is as appropriately homemade as my inspiration board. Here’s a glimpse:
Then, my husband’s 10-year-old daughter decided to do one as well (very cool). Here is a glimpse of hers:
Resist the temptation to immediately start looking for themes and patterns and representations in what you placed on your board. That can be valuable, but right now, you are trying to just get to your core.
Just stand back and look at your board. Maybe there’s a color or an image that just makes you smile, or maybe there’s an image that makes you laugh.
As time goes on, after a few days or so, slowly start allowing some observations about your board to surface for you, and note your emotions in response to those observations. Start asking yourself what draws you to these images. You don’t have to write them down, just let your mind play and see where it goes.
There is one image I taped onto my board of a pretty girl standing in front of shelves of candles in her store. The truth is that I’ve romanticized the idea about owning a cute little shop like that for years. When I look closer, I don’t actually want to do that and be responsible for the store. I want to be more flexible than that and I’m not sure how much I care about running the store. So I asked myself what it was about this picture that attracted me. The reality is that this girl looks happy, peaceful, confident, calm, and self-assured. She is pretty and looks fit and friendly. The colors in the picture were sweet and soft and I admired what I imagine to be her independence and the fact that she built a business. It makes me feel good to think about those things.
On my board, I also specifically avoided words such as scramble, hurry, hustle, workaholic, and stress-management. They embody the harried society and lifestyle that is supposed to make us proud, but the truth is that these days, to say that they irritate me is an understatement.
My board reinforces and reminds me of my mantra for this time in my life. My mantra is to “do more of my own thing in order to live differently”. For me, “living differently” means living in a way that is in sync with my health, happiness, desires, and passions. It means not accepting old-fashioned overarching ways of living and working without questioning their value or benefit. Very specifically for me, I wanted a much more flexible schedule and freedom to decide how to use my time as it made sense not only for my work, but my health and important relationships as well. Sometimes a potential opportunity will present itself, and I use my mantra and the essence of what I continue to create on my board to help me consider it.
Along the way, as you consider applications of the inspiration you have on your board, try not to be coerced by trends. It’s very cool to start a business right now, and for great reasons! The key is to figure out what YOU really want. Maybe you love what you are doing and just think you could find a company with a better workplace culture – Great! It is tempting to look at the world for hints at what you “should” change – tune that out. You don’t even have to know what questions you might have. Maybe you create an inspiration board for pure fun or out of curiosity!
Some things you unearth may surprise you, some will not. Some observations may create a feeling of confusion – fine, go with it! Don’t get stuck, just keep going.
In the end, an inspiration board is yet another tool you can use to unlock that tap on your shoulder, whisper in your ear, or waves of daydreams that hang out with you every day though have not yet received your full attention. Are you curious about what you might produce? See what happens!
Gratton, L. (2011)“The Changing Shape of Jobs: Work the Shift,” Theory and Practice.