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Goal posters

Believers are positive that illustrating their dreams on "vision boards" can make them come true.

Anita R. Dhaliwal's physical dream board. She cofounded the website
Anita R. Dhaliwal's physical dream board. She cofounded the website more

Ursula Augustine has big dreams; make that universe-size dreams. The Philadelphia makeup artist wants to grow her business - internationally. She wants to win professional awards - as in an Academy Award. She wants to meet certain people - Muhammad Ali, Michelle Obama, Motown's etiquette queen Maxine Powell, to name a few.

On that last one? Mission accomplished. On Saturday, Augustine shared the stage with Powell during a self-esteem/beauty workshop.

Happy coincidence? Not according to Augustine. She is convinced her good fortune came by the way of her dream board, a collage of pictures - the microphone she'll use to accept her Oscar, a Motown label, a $50 bill - and inspirational quotations of her life goals that aid her daily meditation.

"It works if you truly believe," says Augustine, 51, who lives in Cheltenham and owns Ursula's About PHace Rittenhouse. "There really is a higher power out there. . . . We can't even comprehend what is possible."

The self-help technique that uses a dream board, or vision board, as a tool was popularized by the 2006 film and companion book The Secret, and went viral when the diva of anything's possible, Oprah Winfrey herself, touted the practice. But over the last seven years, what might have been written off as a self-help fad has hung around, growing in popularity as ever more believers feed the craze. Vision board workshops attract newbies, setting them on the path to inspired action. And websites offer virtual boards, ultimately creating social networks where dreamers buoy one another., for one, has grown in 16 months to more than 10,000 active users, says Anita R. Dhaliwal, the cofounder of the website, where you, too, can "start creating worlds of endless possibilities."

"People are realizing the magnificent power behind this," Dhaliwal says.

Her own dream board story began in 2007, when her mother died from cancer at age 60. She feared she was headed down the same path. Then she saw an Oprah show on The Secret and watched the film. She learned about the ancient notion of "The Law of Attraction," which, according to the film, holds that feelings and thoughts attract like experiences, based on similar energy vibrations. Think positive, and positive experiences pile up. Go negative, and the future is black.

The board, Dhaliwal explains, visually organizes dreams and goals. "You visualize this dream board daily, with emotions of joy and ecstasy," she says. "The subconscious mind does the work. It says, 'We need to find the physical experiences to match what she's experiencing.' "

In her own case, she created a board that pictured cabanas in Thailand, among other images. A couple of weeks later, her brother offered to take her on an all-expense-paid trip to Thailand. She was blown away, and she says she knew she had to help "the world find its purpose, for the world to find its joy again." The website's Facebook page has nearly 19,000 likes.

Psychologists, however, give the practice mixed reviews. A Psychology Today blog item from last year was headlined: "Throw Away Your Vision Board." In it, physician Neil Farber cited various experiments that suggest cutting out pictures and writing down positive affirmations may actually keep you from reaching those goals. "It's easier to think, wish, and dream than to do," he wrote.

Patrick Markey, an associate professor of psychology at Villanova University, calls all the talk about positive vibrations "kooky. There's no research out there."

He allows, however, that people pick up on other people's mood - and if the pictures on a board make you happy, others will no doubt notice.

And, he adds, it never hurts to think about your goals, as long as you also "ruminate about the paths to achieve them."

Clinical psychologist Hal Shorey, an assistant professor at Widener University who practices positive psychology, often uses a technique similar to dream boards with patients. He tells them "to dream big and write it down," he says. "I think vision boards are a derivative of that. They're positive. They allow people to dream of something with no restraints. It helps people break out of their negative cycle."

Syreeta Scott, who calls herself a stylist of people's lives, leads two-hour, $50 workshops (as well as offering private consultations) on vision mapping, which relies on a journal rather than a board to not only organize dreams but also identify core values. "That way, people don't limit themselves in what they think they can reach," she says. Her next workshop is March 30 at the Convention Center. In the workshops, which have sold out in the past, participants bring magazines and create chapters in a journal she provides.

Scott attributes the staying power of vision boards to the economic doldrums. "People are feeling hopeless. They're opting to do something outside their normal comfort zone," she says. She adds, "It works."

On this day, Stephanie Schwartz, 25, of Bear, Del., a department store manager, is in Ursula's to touch up her brows. She joins the dream board conversation, pointing out that she had a picture of a fabulous apartment on her board, and now she lives in a "gorgeous" two-bedroom one.

Augustine, for one, says she lets the universe dictate her actions. "I make bad choices," she says. Example: The place she originally chose for her studio fell through at the last minute. As she scrambled for a new location, she walked by an acquaintance outside for a smoke who knew of a vacancy - her current location, which she loves - and had the connections to seal the deal. The universe worked its magic, two years before she even made her first board.

At the end of 2009, she and a girlfriend decided to ring in the new year by dreaming big and searching through magazines (Glamour, Fortune, Newsweek).

While most boards are jammed with pictures, Augustine took a more literary bent, going easy on the visuals in favor of words written on the neon-green poster board: "When 1 Teaches 2 Learn." "Limits like fears are just an illusion!" "People who play it safe, seldom make history!" And her mantra: "Pray GOD-size prayers."

She spent a few minutes daily visualizing her goals, and before long, she was realizing her dreams by the bushel. "I think the board speeds up my process," she says. "It keeps you focused."

Augustine exudes positive energy as she talks, starting with her wide-as-Fifth Avenue smile. As she points out her goals on the board - and all that have come true - it's hard not to get caught up in her enthusiasm.

Consider: In one corner, she has pasted a cover image of InStyle. In 2010, the publication featured her as a top makeup artist. She also has Allure on the board. And guess what? In December, the beauty magazine selected her as a Philly hot spot.

The words "a good book," she says, have translated into an offer to pen a beauty book. A stethoscope, representing her health goals, is at the center of the board. Since she put it out there, her once dangerously high blood pressure - her physician wanted to put her on medication - has dropped significantly, enough that she has avoided taking any pills. Of course, she also worked at it, using a pedometer to increase her exercise and rethinking her diet choices.

Still, she marvels at her good fortune. "Crazy," she says.

And so goes her dreamy life.

"So much of this board has happened," Augustine says. "I can't get how people don't believe it."