Having a routine is great—and yet, oftentimes we can find ourselves going about our entire day without even thinking about most of the things we do. If the majority of your life is spent operating on auto-pilot, that begs the question: Are you really creating the life that you want to be living?
So many times, we stick to the way we’ve always done things just because that’s what we know. In reality, we may be different people than we were when we first chose to do it that way, or to be friends with that person, or to accept that career path. Or you could be making choices based on what you think you’re supposed to do and not what you actually want to do.
Living with intention is the antidote for all of this. Learning how to live intentionally takes awareness and a regular commitment to show up, look at what you see in your life, and be honest with yourself.
What Does It Mean to Live Life Intentionally?
Living with intention is somewhat subjective, in that the way you think about and apply it will vary depending on your values and circumstances. In general, you can think about intention as being mindful or present with yourself as you make choices or have experiences, with the end goal being to remain true to your values and what matters to you.
Here are two examples of what intention means to different people:
Sarah Normandin, MSW, a therapist and coach, thinks of intention as living in a way that is “authentic to my own experiences, aspirations, and goals. Rather than living up to others’ expectations, it means living a life aligned with my own values. Living intentionally is letting go of all the things our minds tell us we need to do in order to prove that we’re good enough—and then doing the things we would do if we already knew that we were.”
For Kristina Gonzalez Sander, founder of In Bold Company, living intentionally “feels like a sense of peace and ease. It looks like making purposeful decisions and creating boundaries. Not living for others, but for myself. Over the past couple of years, I’ve become more intentional about what I put in my body, how I spend money, and how I spend my time. I better understand myself and what I want.”
No matter your definition, intention applies to all areas of your life, whether that’s the way you manage your money, the jobs you pursue, the people you spend time with, where you travel, and more.
Why Live Intentionally? What Are the Benefits?
Taking the time to make intentional choices and evaluate the path you’re on offers myriad benefits. Here is a handful:
- Clarity around the choices you’re making
- Increased confidence and sense of ownership in your life
- Excitement for the future
- Optimism regarding your goals and the path you’re on to meet them
- More enjoyment and pleasure from your daily life
- More alignment between who you are and your core values
- A sense of empowerment when it comes to making future decisions
How to Live Intentionally: 11 Tips to Try
As with most things, living with intention is a lifelong journey. If you’re new to thinking about how to live more intentionally, try out a few of these tips and see what happens from there. The important part is that you’re bringing thought and awareness to your life; there is no wrong way to start doing that.
1. Identify Your Core Values
You may have noticed we’ve mentioned values a few times, and that’s no accident. Your values guide what intentional decision-making looks like for you. “You should be prioritizing your core values and principles and putting them into action on a daily basis,” says life and transition coach Ivana Robinson.
For Robinson, living with intention means building a life she doesn’t have to vacation from. She spends time every day focused on designing a life that she loves and enjoys.
2. Make a Pie Chart of Your Life
One way to see if you’re on track with your values is to create a pie chart, with segments representing each major area of life, such as:
- Health and wellness
- Anything else that matters to you!
As you look at each piece of the pie, think about what you’re happy with in that area. Are there areas that you feel are neglected as compared to others? This can help you start to think of ways to become more balanced and see the areas you need to focus on.
3. Get to Know Yourself With Compassion
A big part of living intentionally for Gonzalez Sander was getting to know herself and using compassion to dig deeper to discover what motivated and excited her. She asked herself questions like:
- What do I value?
- What do I care about?
- What do I not care about?
- What do I do because others do it?
As you ask these questions, Gonzalez Sander recommends listening to yourself with compassion, rather than judgement. This will help you learn more about yourself without becoming overwhelmed.
4. Realize There Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time To Prioritize What You Want
For songwriter and musician Micah McKee, prioritizing art is non-negotiable—and he believes you should start sooner rather than later: “Living intentionally for me is creating the art that feels the most meaningful and urgent to me and my community. In my life, I’ve prioritized my artistic goals instead of keeping them on the back burner until it’s convenient to do so. Once you start chipping away at your obstacles, your path will be laid out before you—and sooner than you think.”
5. Declutter Your Belongings
Intention extends to the things you own as well. Take a look around your home. Are you holding onto things because you’ve had them for a long time? Are there things you can sell or donate? Sometimes clearing physical space by decluttering can help change our energy for the better and allow us to see other areas we need to cull.
6. Surround Yourself With Support and Let Go of Negative Relationships
Jennie Berger, co-founder of High Vibe Collective, believes that having a supportive circle around you is critical. “You’re only as good as your weakest link,” she points out. “At some point, I really understood that just because someone is in your life or you’ve known them for a long time doesn’t mean you have to remain friends. If they aren’t good for you, let them go.”
Robinson agrees, saying, “I only surround myself with people who truly want me to win.”
7. Consider the Tradeoffs You Can Make
If you realize you aren’t in alignment with where you want to be, you may have to evaluate what you can cut back on or where you can make a shift. For Normandin, that looked like reducing expenses so that she could enjoy free time and not feel pressured to constantly work. She’s also opted for a small, affordable condo rather than a large house. “I don’t think my choices will be the same as everyone else’s, but the point is to honor what feels good to me,” she states.
8. Get Organized With Your Time and Money
You’ll be better able to make intentional decisions about your time and money if you’re first organized and aware of how you spend those resources. Examine your schedule or map out the way you spend most of your days. Are you still committing your time to things that no longer interest you? Are there parts of that that seem especially chaotic or inefficient? Can you become more organized and free up time to use elsewhere?
Likewise, look at your spending habits and check whether they match up with your stated values. If you value charity, for example, are you able to set up any giving initiatives? If you value experiences over things, does your spending reflect that?
9. Listen to Your Gut
You’re the only one who knows what you want and what will make you happy. Trust your instincts if they’re leading you in a certain direction. “Developing a relationship with my intuition was a big turning point for me,” Normandin says. “I realized that no matter what stories my mind was telling, my gut was usually (sometimes annoyingly) honest.”
10. Start Small and Embrace the Challenges Along the Way
Berger recommends taking things one day at a time. If you find something small you want to change and make an effort to do so, other things usually start falling into place. And try not to be afraid of challenges that come up along the way; trust that you’ll learn from them as you go. “There’s a quote about how if something doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you,” Berger notes. “That’s stuck with me a lot, especially over the last year.”
11. Remember That Living Intentionally Takes Time
Remember that figuring out how to live more intentionally won’t happen all at once. If you feel overwhelmed, think about the positive: It’s amazing that you have the ability and agency to improve your life, whenever you decide. It’s incredible that you get to wake up every day and make new choices, regardless of the ones you’ve made in the past.
Living intentionally doesn’t happen overnight. You can, however, take small steps now and continue to check in as you go to make sure you’re always being true to yourself, your values, and the life you hope to lead.
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