With the stresses and responsibilities of daily life, it can be easy to fall into the trap of living life on autopilot.
So often, we get stuck in routines of doing things we don’t want to do, which ultimately lays the foundation for a life where we will one day look back and wonder how we got to where we are – and not in a good way.
We will suddenly wake up in the middle of a reality we do not recognize, in a life that does not represent our interests or desires, and getting back on track will require a lot of undoing.
How can we avoid falling into this trap? The answer is simple: we must live intentionally. But what does it mean to live intentionally? Let’s find out below.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE INTENTIONALLY?
Living life intentionally, at its core, means making sure you are not living your life accidentally.
It means taking stock of the things that are in your life – your friends, your work, the way you spend your free time, and even your money – and asking yourself why those people, places, and things are major investments of your time and resources.
If you find it difficult to come up with your why – for example, why you spend so much time with that particular friend, or why you get up each day to go to a job that doesn’t fulfill you – then it is time to take a closer look at the life you’ve built and start building it in a way that better contributes to your happiness and sense of personal fulfillment.
Put simply, living life intentionally means that you are in control of your choices, and not vice versa.
It means that you are not a slave to the requirements and responsibilities of your everyday life and that you are not going through the motions of what is ultimately an existence that isn’t bringing you closer to the best version of yourself.
If you’re reading this and feeling like it describes the way you’ve been living lately, don’t worry!
It is not too late to take back control of your life and begin living intentionally.
But you probably have lots of questions about what to do and how to get started. We’ve got those curiosities covered below:
HOW TO START LIVING INTENTIONALLY
As you begin reflecting on your life with the goal of making it more intentional, consider the following questions:
Who are your closest friends, and what do you like about them?
On what expenses or purchases do you spend most of your paycheck?
Why did you choose your career or current job, and what do you like about going to work?
Why are you with your current partner?
How do you typically spend the time when you are not at work?
Take the time to answer these questions honestly, and pay special attention to how the answers make you feel.
Do the answers make sense, or do you find them confusing or conflicting?
Do your answers make you feel happy or upset?
Did you struggle to come up with answers to some of the questions?
Don’t worry, living intentionally doesn’t mean having everything figured out at all times.
What it does mean is always having questions like these at the forefront of your mind as you make decisions and as you go through life, so that you are able to recognize when something in your life doesn’t fit your vision for where you want to go and get back on track quickly.
Perhaps you took your current job because it was the only thing available when you were looking, and now it’s ten years later and you’re having trouble thinking of what you like about going to work.
Or maybe your group of friends was great five years ago, but you’ve grown apart and just keep hanging out together by default even though you no longer have anything in common, and you found yourself stumped by the question of what you like about them.
Regardless of your answers to the above questions and which ones may have challenged you the most, this is not about getting down on yourself.
It is about recognizing the areas where you are living life on autopilot and where you are living life accidentally rather than intentionally.
Only after recognizing these areas can you truly begin making changes for the better.
CREATING AN INTENTIONAL LIFE
Now that you’ve identified the potential problem areas in which you have not been living life with intention, you can work toward creating a plan for intentional living. So what does this look like?
Ultimately, creating an intentional life means working to surround yourself with people, places, and things that push you toward growth and personal fulfillment.
If you have identified that the people in your life – be it, friends, relationships, or perhaps both – are not helping you to become the person you want to be, it may be time to have difficult conversations with your friends or your partner.
Depending on your exact circumstances, it may even be time to start making new friends or to end your current relationship.
If in being totally honest with yourself, you decided that you are working a job you hate for the sole purpose of earning a paycheck, it may be time to take steps toward a different career path.
You were not meant to go to a job you hate for forty years and wait until retirement to be happy – that is not intentional living.
You were made to experience happiness and fulfillment in the present as well as in the future.
Now, not everyone can up and quit their job on the spot, so that may not be the right solution for you, regardless of how motivated you might be feeling.
It might be best to take time to reflect on what your dream job or career looks like – what kind of hours do you work?
What do you spend your days doing?
What specific elements do you love about this career path you are imagining? Then take manageable steps toward that career.
Create a five-year plan, or a three-year plan, or a one year plan – whichever feels most reasonable given your current circumstances.
If you’re 23 and in your first job, you may be able to put in your two weeks notice right after reading this article.
But if you’re older and supporting a family, you may need to take smaller steps that won’t have a negative impact on those who depend on your income.
The first step toward creating an intentional life is to spend some time alone, in a place where you feel comfortable and relaxed, and ask yourself the following questions:
What qualities are important to me in a close friend?
What qualities are important to me in a partner?
What are my interests and dreams?
What does my ideal job or career look like?
How do I want to spend my free time?
What do I like most about myself, and how would I describe the person I want to be?
Take the time to really dive into the answers to these questions.
Don’t just answer them quickly – close your eyes and envision them.
Let the answers play out in your mind as you think about your ideal life. Write down notes about what you come up with.
When you’re finished, write down tangible action steps you can take today or within the next few months that will help get you closer – even if it’s only a small step closer – to where you want to be.
Depending on your goals, your action steps might look something like the following:
Look at home or apartment listings in the area I would love to move to
Have an honest conversation with my partner about where our relationship is headed
Enroll in the class or degree program I’ve been putting off
Set up a meeting with my boss to discuss the raise I feel I deserve
Set aside $50 per paycheck to begin saving for my dream vacation
No matter what your goals are, there are small steps you can take right now to get you started.
It doesn’t matter how small your steps are – what matters is that you are about to begin living more intentionally and create the life you desire.
Once you start, you might even find that you’re reaching your goals faster than you expected.
SEVEN STEPS FOR LIVING INTENTIONALLY
No matter how big your goals are, and no matter how far from them you think you are currently, there are steps you can take to begin living more intentionally today.
When you see the little pieces falling into place, you will begin to feel motivated, and before you know it, the big pieces will start falling into place as well.
To recap, here are seven steps you can take to begin living your life more intentionally today.
1- Set aside time to reflect on the current state of your life.
2- Think about each area of your life – work, family, romance, friends, etc. – and ask yourself how you got to where you are and whether you are happy with your current circumstances (use the questions above if you need help getting started).
3- Always be honest with yourself. Sometimes the answers will be difficult to face, but you will only make progress if you reflect on your life honestly.
4- Identify problem areas where your circumstances do not match your vision for growth and personal fulfillment. Write them down if it helps you to see them on paper.
5- Imagine your ideal life, from big-picture items down to the small details. Use the second set of questions above to help you get started, and go from there.
6- Turn your goals into tangible action steps that can be taken today or this month.
No matter how big or distant your goals feel, there is always something you can do today to put you on the right track.
7- Check in with yourself often. Living intentionally is not a one-time exercise.
In order to truly live your life with intent, you will want to check in with yourself often to make sure the decisions you’re making each day – the opportunities you are saying yes and no to – match your vision for yourself and your life.
Living intentionally is not a once and done exercise – it is a lifestyle. But thankfully, it is something that can quickly become a habit once you get into the right mindset.
Remember that your life is yours, and you are in control of your choices. Now it’s time to go forth and create the life you wish to live. What does that look like?