It seems like everybody is talking about intentional living lately, but what does it really mean? And why does it even matter?
I’m so glad you asked.
I’m passionate about intentional living, ever since I “discovered it” a decade or so ago, and it changed my life. Here’s the short story:
Like most women, my twenties were busy—I was going to school, building a career, and paying off a mortgage. I was working hard and it was exhausting, but I thought that was normal.
Being tired and overwhelmed is just part of being an adult, right?
Or so I told myself. Deep down, something inside me was screaming “this isn’t right!” but I didn’t have the time or energy to listen. I was too worried about keeping my head above water.
Life on Autopilot (My Story)
Life was “go, go, go” and it felt like I was always behind. I was too busy to investigate that niggling voice, so I shut it down. Instead, I kept my eyes on the prize—everything from new shoes to a new house.
I thought that having and doing more was the secret to finally feeling successful, but was it working? Not really. In truth, I was chasing so many things, but I felt like I was barely getting by. I had no idea what I really wanted or if my many sacrifices were even worth it.
Did I need to own a house? Did I like being married? Why was I working 60 hours a week? What did I want to do with my life?
Who knows! I wasn’t asking these question. Instead, I was just focused on getting through the week: How could I get through another boring day at the office? Did I have enough in the bank to pay the mortgage? When would I get caught up on my sleep?
I daydreamed about being somewhere else or even being someone else, but I never really thought about doing something else. It didn’t feel possible because I felt trapped in my life, and the idea of change made me uncomfortable.
Looking back, this was a clear sign that I needed to take a deeper look—but I didn’t. Instead, it was easier to continue living on autopilot. I made life decisions (both big and small) based on what everyone else was doing, and I let the momentum of these choices drag through life.
Days rolled into weeks, and weeks rolled into years. It felt like life was passing me by … until I learned about intentional living. Here’s what you need to know.
Note that this blog post was originally published in 2016. I have since updated it to include the many lessons I’ve learned since then.
What Is Intentional Living?
INTENTIONAL LIVING IS ABOUT EXAMINING YOUR ‘WHY’
Intentional living is asking yourself why you do things—and then being happy with the answers. Here are just a few questions to consider.
- Why are your friends, your friends?
- Why did you buy [insert your latest purchase]?
- Why did you choose your career/job?
- Why are you with your partner?
- Why are you working late?
Note how your answers make you feel? Do they make sense? Or are they confusing or conflicting? Did you struggle to answer some of these questions?
Living with intention means closely examining your choices in life and, if you’re not happy with what you see, making changes accordingly.
RELATED POST: 7 Questions to Inspire Intentional Living
INTENTIONAL LIVING IS NOT ABOUT HAVING EVERYTHING FIGURED OUT
Intentional living doesn’t mean you have to have your whole life figured out…But it DOES mean having a purpose behind your actions.
Consider the following two statements:
“I’m taking a creative writing class because I want to write the Great American novel before I’m thirty.”
“I’m taking a creative writing class because I feel inspired when I’m exploring my creativity, and I’m considering writing a book one day.”
These are both examples of intentional living—even though the first person probably has a ten-year plan, and the second person is still deciding what to make for dinner!
Know that you can choose to be intentional about your direction without knowing your final destination. No one has everything figured out, and that’s OK. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK too.
Mistakes are how we learn but living with intention means our lessons serve a purpose. We’re choosing to experiment with our lives. It’s messy and scary work, but it’s what moves us forward, in the direction of our dreams. But nothing changes unless you find the courage to take the first step.
How To Live Intentionally
EVERYTHING STARTS WITH YOUR CORE VALUES + VISION
You know that whole ‘direction/destination thing’ you just read? Your core values are the key to choosing your direction. You don’t need to have your whole life figured out, but you DO need to know what matters most to you.
Everyone’s core values are different. Mine include: care for myself, care for my relationships, lifelong learning, and freedom (just to name a few). These values inform my life vision, which in turn, guides my choices.
I reflect on my values and vision every single day. It’s simple really—define what matters to you and then, do whatever you can to align your life accordingly.
If you have no idea what your core values are, start by thinking of moments when you’ve felt proud or happy, and then dig around. Generally, we feel good when we are living and acting in line with our values, and we feel bad when we violate our values. Or if you’re still confused about your values, then this will help.
When you know your core values, you can make sure the life you’re living on the outside matches what your heart is saying on the inside. This is where the magic begins!
NEXT, ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
A huge part of intentional living is accepting that you have the power to change. This is where I was stuck for a very long time. I wasn’t ready to make hard choices. Instead, staying put was easier (at least in the short term).
I told myself things like:
- Life isn’t supposed to be fun.
- This is just the way things are.
- I’m ‘adulting’—this is what it means to be a grown-up.
… And then, I’d use these one-liners as excuses to live an ordinary life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean denying reality. I know that we all face obstacles (some people considerably more than others) and there will always be things beyond our control. Life is undoubtedly hard for many people.
I’ve been there. My father suffered severe brain trauma when I was in my early teens, and my mother struggled to provide him with full-time care, while also supporting us all. There were many days when I came home to eviction notices taped to my front door.
It wasn’t a great situation but what’s worse is that I let these challenges define me—and not in a good way. I had a victim mentality for a long time, and this limited me far more than my financial and family situation.
It took courage to finally acknowledge that there were other options, despite the problems in my life. I just had to be willing to do hard work, face criticism, and make tough choices. I slowly learned that I couldn’t control everything in my life, but this didn’t mean that I was completely powerless—and neither are you.
MAKE SMALL, REPEATED DECISIONS
Intentional living is about making the decision every day to live the life you want most. If you don’t have the resources, like time or money, It’s fine to start small. Sometimes it’s even better that way because consistency and perseverance are what matter most in the long run.
For example, if you want to be an artist, you could make the big decision to go to art school. It’s a lovely opportunity, but please know that this act, on its own, will not change the course of your life or make you an artist.
You become an artist by picking up a paintbrush, or a sketchbook, and making art every day (even if it sucks). You can do this at art school, or you can do it at your kitchen counter while your kids are napping.
Now a word of warning: intentional living is not about perfection. You will fall off the wagon, you will make mistakes, and there will probably be times when you go months without doing the things you love. Life comes in seasons, so be kind to yourself.
In a sense, getting lost and finding a way back to your purpose is part of intentional living. It’s a lifelong practice—with an emphasis on the practice. It’s asking yourself, every day, “What can I do that will point me in the direction of my dreams?”
Intentional living is deciding to go for a run in the morning or to bring a packed lunch. It’s saying ‘no’ to disposable coffee cups and instead, bringing a reusable from home. It’s getting on the floor and spending ten minutes with your children, without distractions.
It’s about tuning out the expectations and the noise and instead, making a conscious decision to elevate your life priorities—even when the world is trying to distract you.
Need ideas to help you begin? Check out 7 Simple Ways To Start Living Intentionally or 4 Creative Exercises to Inspire Intentional Living
THERE ARE NO RIGHT OR WRONG ANSWERS
Intentional living is about being honest and doing what feels right for you. There are no right or wrong answers as long as you’re true to your authentic self.
Don’t compare your life to friends, family, or strangers on the Internet. Stop judging yourself against an arbitrary timeline for success. Instead, consider this your permission slip to create your own schedule.
And remember, mistakes are proof that you’re truly living. A life well-lived is a messy life but in a beautiful way. It won’t always be easy, but it’s better than living on autopilot, merely existing and watching the world from the sidelines.
INTENTIONAL LIVING IS A CONTINUOUS PROCESS
There is a popular urban myth in Australia about the Sydney Harbour Bridge. According to legend, the painters never stop. When they get to one end, they simply go back to the beginning and start all over again.
There is no finish line. Living with intention means being in constant communication with yourself, deciding what’s working (and what’s not), and making small adjustments every day.
It’s hard work but it’s the best kind—creating a life you truly love.
RELATED POST: 10 Intentional Living Books Worth Reading
Free Intentional Living Challenge
If you want to take the next step towards intentional living, then I invite you to join With Intention.
With Intention is a FREE challenge for anyone who is feeling stuck and needs help taking the very first steps towards simple and intentional living.
Over the course of a week, I’ll take you through the pivotal moments of my personal journey towards simple and intentional living. You’ll get four emails with personal stories, the lessons I learned, and simple activities YOU can do to live With Intention.
Over 1,400 people have taken the challenge and started living With Intention. Will you join them? Click here to join (it’s free!) or to find out more.
How do you feel about your ‘why’? Are you ready for a change in direction, or are you happy where you’re going? How are you living with intention today? Let me know in the comments!