You groggily push back the covers, already thinking about coffee to get your day started, all while avoiding that sinking “is this all there is?” feeling. Sound all too familiar? I’ve had that freaky sinking feeling before too. It led me down a path that had me asking, “what is intentional living?”
The first time I experienced this was about a month after I graduated college. I had made my “official” debut into the world of adulting. Up until this point, I had only dabbled in it from the safety of my parents house. But there I was, newly graduated, newly married, and newly living in a city that was states away from my family and friends.
Looking back, I kinda chuckle at my young and tragic attempts to do and be all I thought was the epitome of a “have it all together” adult.
I had always had my stuff together in college but now I was fighting so hard to keep that appearance up, it was resulting in something a therapist could make a living off of.
I had become sad, lost, and a little scared of my future when I stumbled upon the idea of intentional living and it pretty much changed everything for me. A similar feeling might be what has led you to seek a more intentional life too.
What if I told you life doesn’t have to feel this way? Are you ready to wake up each day at peace with how you spend your time and where you are headed in life? In this post, I’m sharing how to go from fearing the future to living an intentional lifestyle you can feel good about.
What does it mean to live intentionally?
If you had asked me this question when I was first starting out on my own journey to living an intentional lifestyle I would have given you some generic answer like “it’s about being more intentional in every area of your life.”
But let’s be honest, that answer does no one here any good because while on a surface level it’s accurate, I don’t think it fully embodies the spirit of intentional living.
Let’s get a little deeper, shall we?
So what does it mean to be intentional?
Living an intentional life is about stepping out of autopilot, bringing awareness to your actions, and making thoughtful decisions based on what is important to you.
It’s about intentionally cultivating more of what you value and intentionally saying no to the things you don’t.
It’s a mindset, a focus, an action, a way of being.
Having the mindset of recognizing what’s important to you and what’s not. It’s slowing down and stepping off the racing track of life that so many people jump on. It’s becoming aware of your personal values in life and living accordingly.
When we live with intention, we shift our focus from everything, to the things that we value. It’s simplifying; weeding out the extra noise of what you don’t value so you can better see the things you do value.
When we focus on our values and cultivate more of them in our lives, and less of what we don’t value, we enhance our lives.
Intentional living is a way of living your life so that you are better able to
cultivate and enjoy the moments that matter to you.
We tend to get so bogged down and overwhelmed with doing everything that seems important that sometimes we forget to slow down and figure out what is actually important to us personally.
The spirit of intentional living is thinking, focusing, and acting in a way that helps you live your life to the greatest potential of what you envision for yourself.
Living Intentionally is not…
Just as it’s important to identify what intentional living is, I think it’s important to identify what it’s not. Mostly because as with anything, some people get so focused on trying to succeed, that they can over do it.
I have been that person on many occasions. I’ve gone all in on something, almost to a fault, and in doing so, caused myself the exact frustration I set out to fix.
What is intentional living not?
Intentional living is not completely abandoning the things you don’t value. The truth is, there are many things I don’t value that are still necessary for life. From a big scheme of things kind of view, I don’t necessarily value things like having to do dishes and laundry but I do value the way it keeps my house feeling clean.
Intentional living is not just about minimalism. Often when one comes up, so does the other. The two definitely go hand in hand but you can be intentional about something you value like spending more time talking on the phone with your grandmother without ever having to minimize your belongings. Having said that, when you are living an intentional life, you’re going to be more conscientious about what you bring into your life.
Intentional living is not the same for everyone. Not everyone values the same thing. Living intentionally looks different for every single person. The point is to figure out what that is for you.
Intentional living is not an all or nothing. Life happens. Some days, certain things I value fall to the wayside for a day or two or week. It doesn’t mean I’ve ruined my plan to live intentionally. I just focused on what mattered in the moment.
Intentional living is not meant to make life harder. The whole idea behind living intentionally is simplifying your life down to what matters most to you. If living intentionally is stressing you out, it’s time to re-examine your path. It should enhance joy; not stress.
How to live intentionally…
Living with intentionality is a simple but not always easy. It’s a habit that takes time to cultivate but creates massive impact. I always suggest starting with just one or two areas of life. You don’t have to completely transform your entire life overnight.
In fact, I think trying to focus on having an intentional life fully overnight is a frustrating situation just waiting to happen. It’s equivalent to the New Year’s resolutions we plan that almost always fail within a week. New Year’s resolutions are almost always attempts to live more intentionally, right? So why is it we often give those up so quickly? Because we go all or nothing.
But an intentional lifestyle isn’t an all or nothing kind of thing. It’s literally a lifestyle change and those take time. So plan to build a good foundation. This is one area where “slow and steady wins the race” definitely applies. Here’s my best tips for figuring out what your best intentional lifestyle looks like.
5 Tips to Start Your Intentional living Journey
1) Do a life audit
When you face the reality of where you are and come to peace with it, you are empowering yourself to actually be intentional about where you want to go.
2) Know where you want to go
Once you know your starting and end points, you have the starting pieces to figure out what path and tools you need to get there.
3) Create a Plan for Getting There
Pick the top one or two areas that would have the greatest impact to start with. Figure out what will help you make changes in the areas you’ve picked and focus on changing just those things to begin with.
4) Stay Aware of Your Autopilot
When you choose to be more intentional in a specific area of life, you’re going to notice that at first you are good about it but over time you begin to slip back into autopilot mode. It’s that mode where you do things out of habit because it’s the path of least resistance.
Most of the things we do and decisions we make are done on autopilot. Roughly 96% of them. In a recent British study, 47% of people admitted that they say “yes” to something they would rather say “no” to, four times a day. (source)
Because the purpose behind autopilot is to use up less energy, it takes a lot of energy to make intentional lifestyle changes. Which is exactly why I suggest just focusing on one or two areas at a time. It’s a lot easier and less exhausting to stay aware of one thing than it is everything.
5) Give yourself time
Take it day by day, mess up, learn, forgive yourself, adjust, keep going. It requires grace and patience with ourselves when we’re literally changing the way our brains and habits have been wired.
As you go, you’ll become more skilled at figuring out what it means to be intentional in your life. Don’t give up in the beginning when things feel a little rocky.
If you want some extra help figuring out how to start your own intentional living path check out the 7 Simple Days: Kick Start Your Simple + Intentional Living Journey.
Other Common Questions
– What does it mean to be an intentional person?
When you choose to be an intentional person, you’re making a commitment to a life of conscientiousness. Instead of living your life off the cuff and getting frustrated at the results it creates, you carefully weigh decisions you are presented with and are intentional with your actions.
A simple practice that can help you do this is pausing to ask “why?” and “what?” As in, “what will be the outcome with each of these options?” and “why is this important to me?”
When you can connect your what (action) with a strong why (values) you become an intentional person.
– What Areas of Life Can I be Intentional About?
You can be intentional about every single area of your life. I haven’t found a situation in life yet that can’t be met with intentionality. If you need help thinking about this in big picture terms, I categorize life into these 8 areas.
1- Health (eating habits, exercise, and affecting lifestyle choices)
2 – Finances (Income, budgeting and management skills, debt, mindset)
3 – Personal (self growth and care: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual)
4 – Career (making money, work/life balance, skill set, advancement ambitions)
5 – Relationships (romantic, family, friends)
6 – Self- Care (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual)
7 – Home Life (atmosphere, physical space, and organization)
8 – Extra Curricular (free time, fun, vacations, hobbies, volunteering, hanging out with friends, etc)
Keep in mind though that every area will have multiple levels and situations that are relevant only to you and your individual values.
– How do I know if I’m living intentionally?
There are so many levels of intentionality. They can differ from making one small decision a day to an everyday lifestyle.
Only you can really know if you are being intentional in your life. But I would say that if you are in a place where you’ve chosen to make even just one intentional decision a day for right now, then you are on your way there.
– How can I be intentional with words?
Have you ever found yourself saying something or using an old cliche out of habit that you didn’t actually believe or want to be repeating? In recent years, as I’ve worked to be more intentional in changing my thoughts and therefore my words, I’ve had this happen many times.
If you want to be more intentional with your words, the first step is being aware and catching yourself anytime you say something you don’t want to be saying. Then replace it with what you do want to say instead.
You can also ask someone close to you to help you catch yourself. For instance, I used to ask “what’s wrong?” all the time. As if things only went bad. I told my husband Josh that I realized this isn’t at all what I wanted to put into the world and asked him to help me catch it.
Anytime a situation came up when something was going on, I started asking, “what happened?” instead.
If I didn’t catch myself, Josh would. Then, if I said “what’s wrong?” out loud, I would correct myself and say, “I mean, what happened?”
It takes some practice but has completely altered my thoughts and words.
– What are intentional choices?
Intentional choices are the choices you make based on your values and the potential impact they will have in your life. Our brains auto filter most decisions to help prevent decision fatigue. In doing so, our habitual choices create the reality of our lives.
You can create a more intentional life by being more conscientious with intentional choices. When we pause to consider the outcome of our decisions to make the best one we can alter our lives.
This is really the foundation of creating an intentional life for yourself. It all starts with being aware of the choices you are making on a daily basis.
– I struggle to stick to an intentional living plan, do you have any suggestions?
The primary idea behind intentional living is all about doing more of what you value. When you know what is important to you and why it is important, we are often far more passionate about pursuing those things.
If you find you are struggling to stick to your values then you may want to re-examine what your values are and why they are important to you.
I recently took this Values + Vision course which took me through a deep dive of what I wanted and why it was important in life. It’s an especially helpful resource if you struggle with establishing your values.
– How do I get someone to start living more intentionally with me?
Because living intentionally is about personal values, you can’t force or trick someone into intentional living. It never goes the way you hope it will. The best thing you can do is live your own life with intention and persuade through example.
– The idea of intentional living feels overwhelming to me but everyone else goes nuts for it. What am I doing wrong?
Life throws a lot at us and when we’re deep in the middle of the mess, doing the work to get can feel daunting. Think about it like standing in the middle of a room that is so messy you can’t see the floor.
If I said clean and organize the entire thing, you’d probably feel instant panic. But if I said, “we’re going to get this cleaned up but let’s not overwhelm ourselves today. Why don’t you organize that one shelf? And tomorrow we’ll organize another one.” Focusing on the one shelf suddenly feels doable and like progress.
Don’t think about it as a life overhaul. Just start where you are. Pick one little bitty thing to be more intentional about today. Tomorrow pick the next little thing. The next day, say “no” to something you don’t want to do. One little decision at a time will go a long way.
I think you well know that life can be big and crazy and hard at times, but it doesn’t have to be pointless, meaningless, or built on the expectations of others. You now have some of my best tips for going from wandering to being enabled to take the power of your life back!
My greatest hope is that you will find some pause, space, and appreciation through intentional living. It’s time to take that first step towards figuring out what your intentional living path looks like!
Want a little help getting started?
Check out 7 Simple Days: Kick Start Your Simple + Intentional Living Journey from my friend Jennifer!
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