Which statement best describes your life?
- I drift through life without direction, never really knowing what I should be doing.
- I’ve always done what I’m supposed to do (finish school, get a job, get married, get a promotion, have 2.2 kids…), but I’m not sure why I’m doing it.
- I know where I’m at in life, and I’m happy with where I am and where I’m going.
If you answered A or B, you might wish to bring more intention to your life choices.
When you move through life with intention, you can create a life full of meaning, purpose, and direction.
Living with intention is not about chasing goals or following a specific template of achievement. In fact, it’s the opposite of following a checklist for success.
Rather than obeying an external set of values that prescribes the right way to live, people who live with intention are in tune with their own sense of self, their own values, and their own vision of a successful, fulfilling life.
They take ownership of their time and their life’s direction.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to embrace your family’s traditional cultural values or reject them. Or if you wish to take time off to be with your children or aim for a successful and fulfilling business.
What matters is that you understand and acknowledge your choices and are an active participant in your own life and its direction.
It’s important to note that an intentional life is not about constant achievement.
There may be periods in your life when the most important thing you can do is slow down and smell the roses.
When it comes to living well, knowing when to slow down is every bit as important as knowing when to speed up.
If you are ready to start being intentional about your life, the first step is to examine who you are, what you believe in, and what you need to do to create the most fulfilling, meaningful life you can.
Discovering Who You Really Are
The key to living life with intention is first to understand who you are. Mallika Chopra, author of Living with Intent, My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy, says that in order to understand yourself, you must answer three questions: Who am I? What do I want? How can I serve?
By answering these three questions, you will understand who you are, what is most important to you, and how you can best fulfill your unique purpose in the world.
Once you understand the answers to these three questions, it’s possible to design a life that supports your values, goals, dreams, and authentic self.
To find your answers to these questions, you must slow down and look inward.
Here are some methods that can help you look inwards and reflect on what you want out of life:
Take Some Time for Yourself
If you are always busy doing something for your business, your family, or your dog, it’s time to stop and take some time for yourself.
Go away for the weekend, spend an afternoon at the park, or just lock the bathroom door and indulge in a long, hot soak in the tub.
Do whatever you need to do to slow down and think about who you are, what you want to achieve, and how you can best give back to the universe.
If you need more guidance in exploring aspects of yourself, take a look at the questionnaire center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness project.
These free questionnaires (registration is required) help you understand aspects of your own personality.
Too often, we get trapped in our heads, thinking about the same problems and worries again and again.
Journaling can break this spiral by getting our stress, worry, trauma, fear, and whatever else might be keeping us up at night, out of our heads and onto the page.
Through this process, we can learn more about who we really are, what we want, what we are scared of, and how to break through those roadblocks.
Journaling is so powerful that research shows that even a single journaling session can help improve your wellbeing.
To begin a journal, simply carve out 20 minutes a day to write down your thoughts.
Your spelling, grammar, and handwriting don’t matter!
All that matters is that you start. If you need more detailed instructions, read psychologist James Pennebaker’s book, Opening Up by Writing it Down.
Buddhist monks have practiced meditation for thousands of years, and today, modern neuroscience is proving the benefits of this ancient practice.
Meditation helps reduce negative thoughts, boost mood, lower stress, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and improve attention, concentration, and wellbeing.
If you are looking to get in touch with who you truly are, what you value, and how you wish to live, meditation can help.
Meditation helps you turn off autopilot and tune in to the present moment.
It lets you ignore the negative chatter in your brain and separate passing desires and anxieties from genuine needs.
Studies show that meditation starts to show benefits in a little as a week or two of daily 10-minute sessions.
To get started, all you need to do is sit quietly and focus on the sensation of your breath coming in and flowing out of your body.
Every time your thoughts start to wander, gently guide them back to your breath.
There are many guided meditation apps available for your smartphone if you prefer to follow someone’s voice.
Calm and Headspace are two of the more popular ones.
Also, many free meditation videos are available on YouTube.
Read The Mind Illuminated by neuroscientist and meditation master John Yates for more information about meditation and how it can help you.
For a more spiritual take on meditation, read The Miracle of Mindfulness by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.
Hire a Life Coach
If you do your best thinking in conversation with others, life coaching may be for you.
A life coach will guide you through a series of exercises to help you understand what you want out of life and help you create a plan to get there.
Perhaps most importantly, they will hold you accountable for following through with your plan.
If you find it difficult to motivate yourself, even though you know more is possible for your life, life coaching may be the push you need.
If you’d like to explore it further, the International Coaching Federation has a list of accredited coaches across the country.
The next step is to outline specific goals to help you achieve your most meaningful life once you have gotten in touch with who you are and what you want out of life.
Determining Your Life Goals
If you know what you want, what you value, and what you wish to achieve in the world, you have the starting points of an intentional life.
The next step is to transform these insights into clear goals.
As the saying goes, “Goals are dreams with deadlines.”
By creating goals to help you move your life in the direction you want it to go, and breaking down those goals into small, actionable steps, you’ll create a template for the life you wish to live.
To start mapping out your goals, write down your vision for the next few years for the key areas of your life:
- Learning – What do you want to learn about, whether for work or personal interest?
- Career – What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you want to change your career? What are the steps you need to take to get there?
- Personal life – Do you want to make friends, meet a partner, start a family, or just spend more time with your loved ones?
- Personal goals – Do you want to travel, learn a language, climb a mountain, or just read books more often?
- Health goals – Are you taking good care of yourself? Do you need to eat better, exercise more, or carve out more time for rest?
Once you have a vision for each area, pick a few priorities to work on and create precise, measurable goals for each.
Of course, your vision for each area doesn’t have to include change – if things are going well for you, your vision might continue as things are.
As you work toward your goals, be sure to track your progress.
Also, check-in overtime to make sure your goals are still serving you.
Your goals will change over time, and that’s ok.
Living with Intention When It Comes to Family, Health, and Finance
Regardless of your other goals, all humans need to pay attention to their relationships with family and friends, their health, and their finances.
Your Family and Friends
Humans are social animals, and loneliness is as dangerous to our health as smoking.
No matter what else might be going on in your life, it’s important to nurture close relationships with your family (or chosen family) and friends.
Whatever else you do with your life, make time to reach out to the people who are close to you.
If you don’t have enough people who matter to you, join a club, team, or volunteer group and start making friends.
No matter what your other life goals are, they will be easier to achieve if you stay in good health.
By being intentional in what you eat, how you move, and how you take care of yourself, you can stay healthy and have the energy to spare for whatever else you wish to achieve.
While books, magazines, social media, and the internet are filled with elaborate and complicated prescriptions for exercises, diets, and “life hacks” to reach optimum fitness, looking after your health doesn’t need to be complicated.
The five most significant things you can do to optimize your health are: get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat well, see your doctor regularly, and build strong relationships with your friends and family.
Get Enough Sleep
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night; children and teens need more.
Even though we all know how much better we feel when we’re all caught up on sleep, it’s all too easy to sit browsing the internet, watching late-night Netflix, or fighting through a few more scrolls on Insta.
If you make only one intentional change in your life, let it be prioritizing a good night’s sleep.
A chronic lack of sleep contributes to serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease increases your risk of mood disorders and lowers your productivity.
Even missing just an hour or two of sleep can lower your ability to drive a car as much as driving after a drink or two.
To start improving your sleep habits, set a bedtime alarm to nine hours before you have to wake up. When it goes off, got straight to bed.
Many people find bedtime rituals such as drinking herbal tea, practicing deep breathing, reading a soothing book, taking a warm bath, or smelling calming essential oils help them drift off to sleep.
Exercise Your Body
Exercise is the closest thing there is to the fountain of youth.
Exercise helps keep you young, boosts your memory and cognitive abilities, and improves almost all physical and mental health symptoms.
Yet, only around 20% of Americans get the minimum recommended amount of exercise each week, which is equal to a 20- to 30-minute walk per day, or 150 minutes per week of brisk movement.
If you aren’t getting this much movement in each week, start today.
Adding even a little movement to your week will make everything else you are trying to do that much easier.
Get Regular Check-Ups
Regular check-ups are an essential step in looking after your health.
Through regular check-ups, your doctor can monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other necessary health measures, keep your vaccines up to date, and spot potential health problems early.
Be sure to visit your doctor at least once a year.
Eat Healthy Food
Just as cars run on gasoline, we run on the food we eat. Eating quality fuel will help you get it done no matter what you wish to accomplish in the world.
Eating well boosts your health, mood, brainpower, energy, and appearance, and helps ward off most serious diseases.
In fact, research suggests that as many as one in five deaths globally could be prevented by improving what people eat.
Get Your Finances in Order
It’s hard to live an intentional life if you don’t know what’s in your bank account, or if your debt is out of control.
A key element of living an intentional life is getting and keeping your finances in order.
For many people, finances can be intimidating, but they don’t have to be. If you can handle some basic math, you already have all the skills you need.
Here are some tips to help you get your finances under control:
Track your spending. Without knowing where your money goes, it’s hard to make a budget you can stick to.
Once you can see where your money goes, it’s easier to see where you can cut back.
Make a budget. Once you have an idea where your money goes, it’s time to make a budget. Simply write down all the charges you can’t change (rent, phone bill, utilities, etc.), and decide how much you can spend on the rest.
Plan for the future. Part of living an intentional life is thinking through how you want to live and taking concrete steps to get there.
Plan for the worst-case scenario. You might not want to think about what will happen if you or a loved one gets hurt, has an accident, or passes away.
Yet, death is inevitable, and illness and accidents can happen at any time.
It might not be fun, but it’s essential to make a will and to keep your insurance (health, life, and property) up to date.
No matter how old you are or how small your estate is, a bit of pre-planning on your end is the kindest thing you can do for your family if something should happen to you.
Summarizing this all up
When you live with intention, you can take control of how you spend your time, what you strive for, and how you connect with what is most valuable to you.
It takes work to think through your wants, needs, values, and goals, but once you have, you can seize what is most important in every moment.