“Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.”
What is Intentional Living?
Intentional Living is living a life on purpose and in alignment with your personal beliefs and values. In other words, it’s living a life in alignment with who you really are or who you really want to be. It’s living a life that is authentically you by consciously making choices and being deliberate with your actions every day.
Intentional living is a very personal thing and looks different for each of us. We all have our own values, core beliefs, and priorities as well as unique passions and talents. Also, we all have our own personal version of what our best life would be.
There are no right or wrong way when it comes to Intentional Living.
It’s just a matter of doing some deep soul-searching and identifying what is meaningful to you and what you want your life to look like in all aspects. Once you have identified these different areas then it is a matter of taking consistent deliberate actions in alignment with these things every. single. day. It’s not a quick fix. This is a process that happens over time.
Sounds intense, right? Well life is never always predictable and we can try to plan as much as we want and other things may happen. Intentional living isn’t perfect just as life isn’t perfect but it can try to start giving us some control and create meaning in our lives as much as possible.
Who is Intentional Living for?
One of the beauties of Intentional Living is that it’s for everyone. It is not exclusively for one religious group or another, one culture or another, single people or married people, young or old, etc. It really can be used by anyone interested in living with purpose and creating their best life. Whatever that may look like to them!
My personal journey of Intentional Living
This is really a practice near and dear to my heart. I’ve always been kind of a deep thinker and an old soul at heart. In some ways, I have practiced Intentional Living for a long time but I just wasn’t aware this was actually a way of life. I would focus on one area or another of my life but wasn’t really looking at my life as a whole at any one given time. Once I started to become aware of and practice Intentional Living it started to really help me in so many ways and I’ve never looked back.
Loss is was really woke me up to this journey of Intentional Living.
Sorry to sound morbid here but I really started to focus on Intentional Living once I lost loved ones in my life. As a kid, I never really thought about those kinds of things. Life in my mind would go on forever and by doing so I took it for granted sometimes.
Once I experienced loss in my life, I started to really reflect on my own life and life in general and realize how very precious it is. I came to the realization of how limited our time here on earth really is. It also got me thinking. How did I want to spend my life?
The people that I lost over the years all left in very different ways. Some died way before their time while others lived to past 100. A few battled health conditions which gave them (and all those who loved them) time to come to accept, as best they could, with the given situation and time to say goodbye. Others died very suddenly and unexpectedly and there was no time to prepare for the loss. Each circumstance was different and it really made me think about their lives and how they lived it.
Being Grateful for memories
It also made me very grateful for the time and the memories I had with the loved ones I lost. In retrospect, those memories were so very precious. Sometimes that wasn’t clear until after someone was gone. I also sometimes thought about their lives and how they spent it or any hurt that they may have caused me intentionally or unintentionally. Were they really conscious about the time they had? What were their regrets?
No one really knows how long their journey here will be so its important to start living in the present and living more intentionally while we still can. We really start to think of what is important and prioritize our lives now. We have no time to lose!
Life is a series of choices
Life is a series of choices. Although we can not control all the circumstances that happen to us in life we do have the power to control how we react to them. We also can’t control what happened in the past but we can make consistent deliberate changes to our lives moving forward. Making different choices different decisions that will allow us to live the life we want to live. It also not just letting life happen to you.
“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.” – Anne Dillard
Now that we have defined what it means to live intentionally, how can you start applying this to your life?
15 Steps to Intentional Living
Here are ten steps to start living an Intentional Life:
1. Give yourself room to think and reflect
In order to start living more intentionally, you are going to have to give yourself time to think and reflect. All the subsequent steps listed here will depend on you giving yourself time to contemplate your life. It’s amazing how easy it is to not do this in today’s world. There are so many distractions and other things to do but it is essential to give yourself time to quiet your mind and think.
Exercises: For me, the best way to give myself time to think and reflect is by starting a meditation practice. I am the type that goes, goes, goes and my mind never shuts off. By implementing mediation I finally gave my mind a much-needed break. It started helping me too by being less stressed which made my outlook more positive and allowed me to be open to new things. Also, just giving yourself actual time set aside to think and brainstorm is a very effective way of giving yourself time to think and be quiet. You could take a walk or just sit quietly. The last way that worked for me was to write about it. I write about my thoughts, dreams, fears, inspirations, and everything in my Bullet Journal. You can find out more about my Bullet Journal practice here.
2. Define Your Values, Beliefs, and Priorities
The next step in starting to live an Intentional Life is defining your beliefs, core beliefs, and priorities. What type of things do you truly believe in? Family values, religious beliefs, healthy living, living with integrity, honesty, concern for the environment, community, or charity. Think about the principles of life that you would like to live by and that really matters to you and figure out ways you can practice them more into your life.
Also, think about your priorities in life. Do you want to be a wonderful parent, spouse, sibling? What in your life is really meaningful to you? It is necessary to define all of these in order to consciously try to incorporate them into your life.
3. Define your Purpose
We are all here on this earth or some sort of purpose. Purpose is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” Purpose can also be defined as the reason why you are here. How can you use your unique talents and passion contribute to the world? What is the message you want to convey to the world? You are going to really have to dig deep to define this.
Exercise: One exercise that might help determine what your purpose is thinking about what things really tugs at your heartstrings. What causes really break your heart? Is it poverty, child abuse, overcoming alcoholism, women’s rights, animal rights, advocating a healthy lifestyle, childhood obesity, being a great parent, bringing humor to the world, fitness, making the world more beautiful? It can literally be anything. It’s about thinking what role can you play to contribute to and give back to the world, the community, or humanity as a whole. Think about your God-given talents and what the whispers in your heart are telling you to do as a way of giving back.
4. Get Organized
I know this may sound like a strange concept to encompass into Intentional Living, however, I feel it is very important to really cut out the clutter and get organized in every way. By doing this you give yourself the gift of efficiency and productivity. You create space within you for both physically and mentally for other things. You start to feel more in control of your life and time and it leaves you more time and energy to evaluate your life more closely and decide how you want to live it.
For me getting organized was both a combination of organizing and decluttering my physical space (my home) and also using a system that made my everyday stuff more manageable made me feel more in control of my days. It really helped me to gain clarity and examine my life more closely. In another article, I wrote more in depth of how I did this by implementing a Bullet Journal into my daily routine. This truly was a gamechanger for me on many levels. You can read more about my Bullet Journal journey here and how it helped me get my life in order. If Bullet Journaling is not for you then try to find an organizational system that would work for you. There are so many, many out there.
5. Take inventory of each area of your life
To truly live an intentional life you really have to do a lot of self-examination and self-reflection. You have to really look closely at each area of your life and be honest with yourself about how fulfilled you are in each area. Some areas of life can be relationships, career, money/finances, love, school, health, time, etc.
Exercise: Sit down and really think about are you happy with every aspect of your life? What can you improve? One way to analyze is by writing down each area of your life and rating it from 1-10 (worst to best). By doing this you can really identify which areas you are happy with and which ones need improvement.
6. Picture the end of your life – what would you regret?
It came to my mind the idea about at the end of people’s lives what they regret. What if you picture yourself at the end of your life the way you are currently living it – what would your regrets be? There are many who believe that our spiritual journey continues (I happen to believe this, too). But that discussion is for another article. What people reflected on at the end of their life and what they regretted. I started to think about how I was living my life and if continued to live in this way at the end of my life what would I regret? It got me thinking and it also lit a fire under me to start really evaluating my life and analyzing it. I didn’t want to waste any more time.
7. Let go of the past
Often people have difficulty letting go of the past because the past is what is familiar to them – it’s what they know. They tend to hold on to it because it’s easier to do that than to face the uncertainty of change. It also somehow gives them the false belief that in doing this somehow they are getting back at those that hurt them. this couldn’t be further from the truth.
By holding on to the past you are just hurting yourself by constantly reliving it.
Letting go of the past was one of the most difficult parts of my Intentional Living journey. I tend to be one of those people who really hold on to everything and obsess about it year after year. I realized though by holding on to everything, I am really only hurting myself and holding myself back from my own growth. By holding on so dearly to the past I was not allowing myself to heal from past judgments and hurts (whether real or perceived). It’s certainly not hurting any of the people that hurt me – I was only hurting myself.
It is also keeping me chained to that image of myself instead of allowing me to see myself as what I want to become. I am allowing past judgments and hurts rule my reality and not allowing myself to I am not allowing myself to make room for a different and better future. In holding on to the past I am keeping my own self hostage there.
Start thinking about your habits. Identify how you react to things and what your emotional triggers are. Try to become aware of these things first and then try to make consistent positive changes to not fall into the same patterns.
Also, another exercise for healing is to write letters to people you feel have wronged you. Really let it out and express everything you feel in your heart about it. You do not have to give the letter to anyone. You can burn it or just hang on to it. Just get it out on paper to get it out of your heart and move on. This can be very healing and freeing.
8. Visualize your future
The next step is to really try to visualize your future. Think about what you really want in all areas of your life. Look at the analysis that you did in step four. How do you want to picture yourself in all areas of your life?
For this step just giving myself time to sit and let my mind wander and imagine myself in different ways. Also, doing a vision board helps get an actual, physical thing out into the world of how you want to manifest your life to be.
9. Set Goals
Remember those different areas of life that we reviewed in step 4? Take your list out and try think of goals to achieve especially in the areas of life where you have the most improvement to make. You can also make just general life goals or things that you would like to achieve.
Now and this is a must – write those goals down! When I actually write my goals down I pretty much always accomplish them. I don’t know what the magic is of actually taking a pen to paper but it works.
I have different lists of tasks and goals that I have written down from the past and it always amazes me that even if it takes me a little longer than planned those goals and tasks are actually achieved.
Once the big goals are identified then break it down into small tasks. This is really the workhorse of goal setting. Take small, actionable steps every single day towards your goals.
In my experience chipping away at something always got me eventually where I wanted to go. In today’s life, we are all so busy and may not have the opportunity to make big changes all at once or take huge risks. Over time these will accumulate and that is how real change is made.
10. Minimize distractions
In today’s busy world it’s so easy to get distracted and waste a lot of time on the unimportant stuff. There are distractions on TV, on the internet, on your cell phone, and all around you. Pretty much everywhere you turn there is something else vying for your attention. The first step in trying to limit distractions is to start to be aware of them. This could be accomplished by tracking your habits for a while to records where your time is being spent.
In my life, I realized how much time I was spending on social media. I would spend five minutes here or there checking Facebook and Instagram but five minutes many times over the course of the day can add up! Try to see where your free time is being spent. It’s okay to spend some time on social media but when I realized how much time was being spent on it then I also realized that instead of using that time to pursue my own dreams I was wasting on keeping tabs on the dreams of others.
11. Drown out the Negative Voices
Another thing to try to keep at bay is the negative influences around you. Negative ideas and people can be very exhausting, demotivating, and draining. Not having support can make pursuing your dreams very difficult. I’ve been there. Although it may be difficult you can still pursue your dreams. If you tend to have negative (or at least unsupportive) forces around you, first of all, I’m sorry. That’s not easy!
The piece of advice that helped me the most is something called “delicate detachment. ” This is where you emotionally disengage from negative voices. In other words, if you get negative feedback from someone then you make a habit of not internalizing it. You let it go. It may take some practice but with time gets easier and easier. This has been a life-saving practice for me personally.
12. Practice Gratitude
An extremely important part of living an Intentional Life is practicing gratitude. Every one of us has something to be grateful for. By practicing gratitude we are seeing the cup as half full rather than half empty. This keeps our vibrations high and opens us up more to attract positive things in our lives. Like attracts like so keep it positive and be grateful for everything good in your life. You can be grateful for your family, friends, a roof over your head, even simple things like a beautiful sunset, a pretty flower, fresh air, or a compliment from a stranger that made you feel good. Even with all of its challenges life is a beautiful thing so be sure to find something every day to be grateful for.
Try to create a “Gratitude List.” You can do this on any piece of paper or within a journal of any kind. Each day, write at least one thing that you are grateful for.
13. Follow your passions
Passions are what truly give you joy in life. It’s the things that even if you were not paid you would do them. Try to follow the things that you love in life because it is those things that make life worth living. Also, it puts your vibration at a higher level because you are automatically exuding joy when you do them. Also, by following your passions and doing things that you love you inspire others to do the same. You may not be able to be passionate about every single thing in your life but try to incorporate things that give you joy into your life as much as possible. Whether they be hobbies or career choices by following your passions you will bring much happiness and joy into your life.
14. Find a way to give back
You know that whole exercise that we did to define our purpose. This is where we get to put it into action. Another important part of living intentionally is finding a way to give back. We want to be conscious about how we live but part of being conscious about our lives is realizing that we are part of a bigger picture. We are not islands but interconnected beings that need each other. Part of living intentionally is realizing that it’s not only about you. This also helps with our gratitude practice. Try to give back to the community in any way that fits with you – whether it be being active in your local church or religious organization, volunteering to help the homeless, serving within your community in some way, or just helping the family.
The last way to live an intentional life is to implement exercise into your daily routine. Any physical activity that you enjoy doing can count for exercise – walking, running, gardening, working out, strength training. This is as much for your body as your mind. You just have to be moving your body in some way. Health is one of the backbones of Intentional Living because the healthier we are the better quality of life we can live and the better we can serve.
Exercise: Find something that you love to do. For me, it’s Zumba, Barre, and running. I also do some weight training and yoga classes. By finding an activity that you love you are more likely to stick with it and really practice it in your everyday life. It becomes a joy and an outlet, not a burden. If sports are your thing – go for it. Find a team or a pick-up game to join. If you like doing aerobics then find somewhere where you can attend classes. Even if you don’t like exercise just getting out there and walking is good. The options are endless!