A "painted picture" is a vivid, detailed, very descriptive vision of your future.

The goal is to imagine yourself, and your business, three to five years in the future, and write down as many details as possible. Literally envision a specific date in the future, and imagine you are there.

The idea is that by envisioning the future in detail, it is more likely to happen.

How old are you? What day of the week is it? Where do you live? Describe your life and your business at length. Describe exactly what you see when you look out the window onto your future self and business.

Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, built a $100 million business, and credits his "painted picture" for his success. In fact, over 200 scientific studies have found that, as Scudamore says, by "visualizing abstract goals as pictures and videos, you're essentially turning your future into a story that will stick." Specifically, in 2012, the National Institute of Health found links between visualizing the future and success.

I couldn't agree more. I've created three "painted pictures" at different points in my career. And I can tell you from personal experience that each has had a real and meaningful impact on my future.

In 2015, I created a picture shortly after I founded my current business, Stride Consulting. Today, four years later, it's eerie how much of what I wrote has come to be. I literally wrote "we've won Crain's Best Places to work three times and we landed a spot on the Inc. 500 list." This has actually all come true, and I wrote it when we had just opened our doors.

Painting a picture (or two) of your future.

But a weird thing happened last month. At the start of 2019, I sat down to write out my new picture. Where do I envision myself and my business on January 1, 2023? As I wrote, I realized my personal picture was clear--I had a clear vision of myself and my family in 2023.

But I had two visions of success for my business. Path one involved growing in one location, and path two involved geographic expansion. And I became stuck. Try as I might, I couldn't choose a vision. I was at risk of having no clear picture, and this didn't sit well with me.

Then I had a light bulb moment. I realized that 2019 looks identical, in terms of what I want to achieve, regardless of which path I choose for 2023. And so, I picked up my painted picture and clearly, descriptively and vividly, wrote two distinct visions of the 2023 future.

The thing is, in six to twelve months, I will have to have the discipline to go back, modify the vision, and ideally pick a path. But given where I am today, having two paths is significantly better than not having any vision at all.

Whether you have a crystal-clear vision of the future or not, take the time to create one or two painted pictures. Clarify and describe what you see as much as possible.

And take comfort in knowing you don't have to have a crystal ball. No one knows what the future holds. Take the time to gain clarity on the path or paths you aim to choose, and you will be glad you did.

Published on: Jan 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.