Four Keys to Intentional Living
Intentional living is one of those phrases that sounds like a new-agey mantra that doesn’t really mean anything. I mean, really: does anyone *not* live intentionally?
So many of us go through life on a path someone else has laid out for us. We are so busy just doing the things we do to get through the day that we don’t really think about it. Intentional living, however, is about giving the actions of our lives the thoughtful consideration, they deserve.
Know your values
The key to living intentionally is knowing your values.
Sounds easy, right? But how many of us really dig deep to think about what we truly value?
If thinking about your values is a little scary, try these prompts:
- What is the reason you get up in the morning?
- How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
- What do you most treasure in life?
The answers to these questions will give you some ideas about what you value. When you can align your decisions with your values, you can live with intention.
My family is a little unconventional. My husband and I both work from home for companies that we own. We have curated a life where we value time together and with our kids above everything else.
This means that we’ve chosen to miss out on some things that society says are really important. I traded my job title of “assistant professor of humanities” for “health coach.” While many people see this as a huge step backwards, changing careers gave me a more flexible work schedule. It has allowed me to put my family first while still having work I find meaningful.
My husband has limited his income potential in the short term because he would rather work freelance as a consultant than full-time. This trade off allows him to coach soccer for our middle schooler and more easily limit his out of office-hours obligations. It does mean, however, that we drive practically ancient cars. Thankfully neither of us care about the social cache we’ve given up by not having a new car every 3 (or 5 or even 10) years.
While we’ve traded job titles and bigger paychecks, we also have been able to put family first. Our summers include a four-week stay with my in-laws on Cape Cod. This intense family time has become an annual touchpoint for us and our kids.
This lifestyle works for my family. But let me be clear: it is perfectly okay if you make different decisions!
Chances are, your values do not align completely with mine. That’s the beauty of being individuals! What living intentionally does require, however, is that you’re able to articulate what really motivates you and gives you a sense of your authentic self. And then you make decisions based on your values.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your life. And you certainly don’t owe anyone a justification. If you’re living intentionally in accordance with your values, that’s all that matters.
Why is it that women find saying no so difficult? Perhaps it is due to our nature that wants to tend and befriend. We are great community organizers and coalition builders. We like to be part of groups larger than ourselves. As such, we are quick to agree when someone asks us to help.
The problem is, however, that when we do not use discretion regarding how we spend our time and energy, we find ourselves being pulled away from what we really want to do. It makes it hard to live intentionally if we are constantly helping other people with their agendas.
When we learn to spend our time and energy as frugally as our money, it is easier to say no.
But because so many of us have the reflex to say YES to everything, we need to practice saying no. The first step is to give yourself a buffer of time by saying, “Let me think about it and get back to you.”
Practice saying it! Out loud! In front of the mirror!
What “let me think about it and get back to you” says is that you are giving yourself the time and space to make sure that the request aligns with your values. You honor your own life’s intention by giving yourself this pause and reflection.
As human beings, we are creatures of habit. It is pretty shocking when we stop to think about all the things we do every day without even really thinking about it. Whether it’s driving to work or packing school lunches, there are routines in our lives that operate fully on autopilot.
While it’s fantastic we don’t have to devote a lot of brains pace to these daily tasks, it also means that it’s easy for us to slip into complacency. Living life with intention means we need to reevaluate our lives on a regular basis.
- Is this job still working for me?
- Does my kid even still like playing soccer?
- Am I the only member of my family responsible for chores that other people could be helping with?
- Is there a better, more efficient way for me to get my errands done?
- What do I do regularly that brings me joy?
- How do I feel on a daily basis? Am I living in a way that aligns with my values?
When we stop to ask ourselves questions like this, we give ourselves the opportunity to make meaningful changes.
Change Paths when necessary
When reevaluating your life choices, you may decide that you need to make a change. Sometimes this change is small—like trying a new route when commuting. Other times the change is big—going back to school, deciding to stay home with kids, or setting an audacious personal goal.
All too often in this Pinterest-influenced world, we can be led to believe that everything is perfect for everyone but ourselves.
If you’re finding it difficult to let go of something that is no longer working for you, reach out to a friend you admire. Ask them to tell you their story. I’m fairly confident that you’ll hear a tale of a life journey that was not a straight path. Most people have to make adjustments—or change directions altogether—on their way to “success.”
Changing paths is not failure. It can be an admission that you are more loyal to yourself and your values than to someone else’s expectations. It is perfectly acceptable—applaudable, even—to admit when something isn’t working and adjust as necessary. Have the courage to make those decisions.
I also offer the idea that perhaps the journey is more important than the destination. When we’re living life fully engaged with what is going on around us, and it nurtures us well, the journey has its own richness.