We see a lot of advice to write down your goals and dreams, but does it really help? Actually, it does. For one thing, it helps you get clear on exactly what you want, and makes the goals more imaginable. They seem more real when you have thought through them clearly and written them down.

But the big magic is this: We have a brain mechanism psychologists call “preparatory set”. It’s one of the awesome mechanisms the mind uses to sort through the enormous amounts of data that flow in daily, and keep it manageable. By writing down the things you want to accomplish and making them clear, you can “program” that mechanism. Once programmed, it directs your attention to certain events and occurrences. To illustrate: When you decide you want a certain car (my husband is hot for a hybrid) you see them everywhere, you notice every one on the freeway, you see every ad or commercial. Preparatory set works that way. Once you program it with your goals (visualizing in addition to writing is most effective) you will automatically be more aware of certain events, opportunities and people who can be helpful. You'll also be more clear about what you want, and this will sneak into your conversation and your general attitude, where others can pick up on it. It's not really magic, unless you believe as I do, that the mind is a miracle in itself.

For example, to make it easy to include easy exercise in your life, write down your goal (I will walk an extra half hour a day) and picture yourself walking and enjoying it -- perhaps you picture parking a few blocks away (where it's cheaper) and walk the rest of the way, or get off the bus or subway one stop early, or walk to that nearby restaurant (or art museum) for lunch, or take the stairs instead of the elevator when you go to the Xerox, or take a sandwich to a nearby park, or take the dog for a bit longer walk than usual before and after work. If you picture yourself walking and enjoying it, you’ll soon find that you’re noticing more new and different ways you can add in walking without stressing about it.

Several months before I met Richard in October 1981, I did a “treasure map” which is a picture of what you’d like to bring into your life. I wanted true love, so to depict this I found a greeting card with a beautiful art piece depicting Cupid hiding behind a flowering hedge. He has his bow drawn and aimed at the edge of the hedge, and on the other side, you can see the top of the head of someone walking along, about to get zapped. It wasn’t until after Richard and I met that I dragged out the treasure map, and realized the person walking along had curly red hair, just like Richard’s. Today, we have a bougainvillea hedge around our house, which had already been planted when Richard bought the house, just a couple weeks before he met me. There’s a picture on my Facebook page to show how much it looks today like the hedge on my treasure map. To me, it still represents being surrounded in the light of true love.

Your Road Map to Success

Once you have clearly figured out your goals (see “Asking for what you want”), you can actually make a “road map” for yourself.

Creating a visual representation of what you want to achieve can do several things. First, the process of creating it will force you to be more specific and clear about what you want. Second, taking the time and energy to create it is a powerful signal to yourself that you are serious about accomplishing it. It sets an intention. Third, if you keep it where you can see it, it will be a powerful reminder of your intentions for your own life.

Your visual road map consists of two parts: 1) a picture of your destination, and 2) your map of how to get there. The destination picture must be first, because you cannot know how to get somewhere until you have a clear picture of where it is, and what it looks like. This picture is developed from the information you accumulated as you focused on your priorities and your dreams. Once it is completed, figuring out what steps you need to follow to create the results you want provides the details for creating your road map.

Road Map Exercise 1: Picturing Your Destination

It is not important for your finished picture to be artistic — only that it is an accurate representation of the goals you desire to accomplish. It is a visual representation of your ideal life, and you will use it for the next several years to remind and motivate yourself, so treat it as the important project it is. When you look at your finished picture, you should be able to see each of your goals clearly represented.

Creating Your Results Picture

1. Collect what you need to make a picture you can write on: colored markers, pictures and advertisements that you can cut out, a glue stick, and several photos of you and others in your life. You can draw it yourself, or do it on the computer. Colorful, graphic pictures are powerful subconscious stimulants, and the point of this exercise is to help to focus your subconscious on your goals and dreams.

2. Create sections representing your personal life, your business or career, your family life, your friends and your free time. If you want to bring more travel, art, sports, writing or some other pursuit into your life, give that extra space.

3. Title each section, and think about what you want in that part of your life.

4. In each section include images of activities and possessions which represent how you would like that part of life to be. Add pictures or clip art to bring that area to life, such as the kind of home, career, or relationship you would like to have. Add some descriptive words to complete each section.

6. Arrange pictures in a way that suits you, or draw representations of the items that are important to you, and put a picture of yourself in each section. Adjust your artwork until the final result pleases you. When you finish, the picture should be accurate enough so that anyone who looks at it, (should you care to show it) would get an accurate representation of your own idea of who you are.

Road Map Exercise 2: Making Your Road Map

Once you put the necessary time and energy into picturing your destination, you’ll have clarified your picture, and you’ll feel more motivated, much clearer and energized by your vision. Take that energy and use it now to create your road map; a plan of action to get you to your destination.

1. Make a page with four columns and title the left hand column “Where I am Now”. Place sufficient symbols, words or numbers to indicate where you are now in all the areas outlined on your destination picture. Words like “working too hard” or “lonely” might fit to describe where you are.

2. For furthest right column, use the title “My Destination” and arrange similar symbols, words or numbers to indicate where you will be when you reach your goals.

3. In the middle space, develop the steps you’ll need to accomplish to get from where you are now to your destination. For example: In the area of business, the steps might be 1) graduate from school, 2) do a job search 3) develop career skills, experience and expertise, and 4) move up in your career.

Use Your Roadmap Daily

After completing your destination picture and road map, use them daily to remain focused on your goals and maintain your motivation. Keep them where you can review them frequently, and change and update them as needed. You’ll find that having a clear picture of your goals and aspirations in front of you will make it much easier to reach them.

All your decisions from now on can be made in relationship to your road map. If you consider each of your subsequent decisions according to whether it will get you closer to your goal or not, your choices will become clearer and more direct.

Using your destination picture and road map to set your priorities and to keep you focused will help you keep all the important areas of your life balanced and will help shape your future. Knowing where you want to go and how to get there will minimize your tendencies to worry, and reduce your indecisiveness and confusion.

© 2014 Tina B. Tessina adapted from: The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty (Kindle and Paperback)

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for LoveForever.com, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.