Recovery Help Now | Creative Visual Mapping: Envisioning and Reaching Goals by Sarah M. Frank, LMFT, ATR-BC
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Creative Visual Mapping: Envisioning and Reaching Goals by Sarah M. Frank, LMFT, ATR-BC

With the start of a new year, it’s not out of the ordinary to hear talk of New Years’ resolutions; “I want to be a better person”, “I want to get in the best shape of my life”, “I’m going to quit (fill in the blank)”… These all sound wonderful but where do you start? How do you “be a better person”? What does this entail? How will you know when you’ve accomplished this? It is important to have a vision of what it is you are looking to do/be/have so that you can determine the particular steps needed and begin to take action.

With the start of 2018 I decided to spend some time really thinking about what I want to work towards this year. “Self Care” always stands out as something I could use more of (progress not perfection, right?), but the details are sometimes unclear. I know I struggle in particular with getting started on things I perceive as “work” or difficult (like exercise, leaving the house, getting dressed,..). I also have a hard time keeping the momentum going. As an artist, with a mostly visual learning style, I found it helpful to start my quest for “self care” by making a visual representation of this goal.

I started with a list of things I associate with my desired self-care practice. This list includes exercise, field trips, meditation, being spiritually focused, art-making, time with my pets, reading, healthy eating, discovery/learning, and gifts to myself (like manicures, massages, meals out, etc.). This list may seem simple and clear at first glance but from years of experience I can tell you that I go from excited to overwhelmed, from overwhelmed to avoidant, and from avoidant to hopeless. Negative core beliefs of being incapable and unworthy sneak out from the shadows, fueled by the proverbial towel I’ve thrown in each time I don’t follow through on something.

So, to take a different approach, I start with the first thing on my list: Exercise. I forgot to mention it is also helpful (no, actually crucial) to treat myself with compassion throughout this process, reassure myself that I don’t need to go from one to a thousand, and then come up with achievable and realistic steps. The goal of incorporating exercise (which is part of the larger goal of improving my self-care) is big, in and of itself, and needs to be broken down into bite-size pieces. What can I actually commit to daily, weekly, monthly that is maybe a little challenging but not likely to make me give up? I use this question to guide me while considering and listing subcategories for each of the items on my list, making sure to include amount and frequency, like walking for 15 minutes three times a week. I try to simplify my list as I go, maybe combining similar categories that are both met through one activity or action (visiting the Self-Realization Center in Los Angeles applies to at least three of my categories; field trips, being spiritually focused, and discovery/learning). I add lines, circle words, underline and color code my categories until I feel satisfied with what’s there.

My next step is to transfer all this to a larger paper that I can use as a daily reference, map, reminder, and motivator, displaying it someplace where I know I can’t avoid it. For this part I get out some art supplies to use: rubber stamps, magazines, stickers, colored pencils, and markers. I end up with a sort of mandala arrangement; a picture in the center that captures the essence of my goal, with “self care” stamped below, and subgroupings of images and words all around it for each of my categories of self care. I then decide to transfer all of the measurable actions/activities I had written down (with amounts and frequencies) to a blank sheet of nice paper to hang beside my large map. I number them and add little stickers corresponding to each of my subcategories so I can see at a glance what areas I am hitting on my map based on the activity choices. This will be the list I pull from weekly and enter into my schedule. The map is on display where I can see it daily as a reminder of the commitment I’ve made to honor myself through self-care.

The specifics of my process may not be exactly what you envision doing yourself and I mostly include them to provide a context and example for this exercise. There may be aspects that are helpful to you, that encourage your creative process, or maybe just get you thinking about your own goals and how you can make them achievable. Some goals can be reached more quickly and others need to be broken down into smaller steps over time. Either way, by envisioning your desired outcome often and organizing and planning the actions needed to reach it, you will be more likely to hold on to motivation through times of self-doubt and keep your eyes on the prize.

Elana Clark-Faler