Here at The Life Spotters HQ we are all about living intentionally… For me, it is the ONLY way to live your life. But what does it actually mean? In this post, I’ll be addressing what intentional living is, why you need to be doing it and how you can apply intentional living to your day to day life. Interested? Read on…
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Simply put, intentional living means attempting to live in accordance with your values and beliefs. It means living on purpose and actively choosing your path, or at the very least, your direction (because sometimes our path needs a bit of weeding before we can walk on it without stumbling…)
Wait…Living life on purpose? Am I not already doing that? I mean, if living life intentionally means living on purpose, then the opposite of that would be what? Living life accidentally? Who does that??!
Sadly, the truth is that many of us are very much living accidentally:
Many of us don’t even know what our values and beliefs actually are, so how can we even begin to live in alignment with them?
Let me tell you this:
I used to very much enjoy being free and easy-breezy, blown around in the wind, directionless. I was content and even a little bit proud to say I had no particular goals or ambitions, much to my husband’s frustration.
Simon is a born planner. Poor chap wanted to write out a life plan when we were first married, an overall guide to where we wanted to be 5, 10, 25 years down the line… I flat out refused, on the grounds that I felt like I was wishing my life away, and how can anybody know where they are going to be in the future? I was perfectly happy to amble along and smell the roses and just see what turned up, thank you very much.
TOTALLY living accidentally.
And you know what? It’s not even that it’s a bad thing to be that person. To live in the moment and accept whatever adventure comes your way is a beautiful thing – but I can’t in all honestly say that is what I was doing.
I would still get frustrated that things weren’t quite right – I didn’t have the right job, or the right home, the right “stuff”. I tied my happiness to external factors and would dream of when things would all come together perfectly “one day”. Sure, life was good, but one day things would change and then, then we would be truly happy!
Wake up time
Then, during my usual morning routine I was flicking through a book which asked me a question that utterly stumped me:
“What is your purpose in life?”
I don’t know why that question at that time bothered me so much – it isn’t like I’d never considered it before, admittedly maybe in more of a vague, conceptual kind of way, but bother me it did. It ate away at me and got under my skin until I was forced to admit that I had absolutely no idea what my purpose was, and for the first time in my life, that made me uncomfortable.
Face your truth
I began to explore the possibility that maybe my life did need purpose. Maybe I did want more, maybe I did deserve more…maybe I even needed (gulp…) a plan.
I wanted to live intentionally, I wanted to live in accordance with my purpose…I just didn’t know what it was yet.
Slowly but surely I began to question everything. What I was doing, where I was going, whether or not that was what I wanted. To be honest, I still wasn’t sure…I was still mostly happy drifting, but I was beginning to see that things needed to change. Then a chance conversation that changed everything took place. During this conversation I was told:
“The thing is we none of us really have choices, that’s what we all need to learn…do you think I’d be doing this job if there was another choice? This isn’t what I want, this is just how life is.”
It was like coming out into the sunshine after years in the darkness. Blinking and stunned, I could see for the first time what I had been missing all along:
I do have a choice!
If you take nothing else away from our time together, let it be this one, glorious truth…You have a choice! It is yours and yours alone to make.
The moment you realise that you are in the driving seat, that you have the control of your own life, that you make the choices, then nothing is ever quite the same again. This right here is the reason you need to be living life intentionally. Your life, your way.
We all have a choice
It’s your story, it belongs to you and no one else, and it’s still being written! The best bit is you don’t even need to decide exactly how it ends…Remember those epic ‘Choose your own adventure’ books? That is your story! You get to choose which path you follow whenever you reach a fork in the road.
You can change your mind or your direction, there are no wrong answers, it’s your choice…choose to live your life in a way that aligns to your purpose, choose to live intentionally!
Your Purpose – The heartbeat of an intentional life.
It’s important to bear in mind that when I talk about your ‘purpose’, I don’t mean your career. That is what you do, not what you are (although your career can absolutely form part of your overall purpose if it is one you feel strongly about.) Also, I’m not necessarily talking about a what-are-you-even-on-this-earth-for/how-can-you-make-the-world-a-better-place/end-poverty-and-hunger/what-good-are-you kind of purpose, but more, asking yourself from a place of love, how you can serve yourself? What purpose do you find within?
If, like me all those years ago, the question of your life’s purpose has thrown you into an existential crisis then don’t despair – I’ve been there and can hold your hand through this one! It actually comes back to those core values and beliefs we mentioned earlier, and it’s these two things combined which make up your purpose.
Your beliefs are what make you who you are. The things which you are passionate about and know to be true for you at your very core. Your beliefs might include things like:
- Believing family/friends/your cat comes first
- Believing there is some form of God/energy/higher power
- Believing in animal/human rights
- Believing you can make a difference
- Believing you should always tell the truth
Your values support these. They are how you demonstrate your beliefs. For example:
- You choose to live in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way because you believe in protecting the planet
- You choose to live with integrity and sincerity because you believe honesty is the best policy
- You choose to help those less fortunate than you because you believe everyone deserves a chance
- You choose to wear awesome green cowboy boots because you believe you are a badass
(Ok, maybe not that last one, I don’t know…I do totally rock those boots…)
I loved this analogy from Patricia Hancock in her article on authentic living :
“Your values are what help you live out your beliefs. They are the value-pillars on the belief-house! Keeping everything in place and keeping your beliefs safe and sound.”
When you take the time to reflect on what your true beliefs and values are you will start to find yourself. You will get to know yourself a little better, you will stand a little taller and feel a little braver. You will be able to look at your overall values, begin to recognise what is your truth and see what needs to be done to live a life which is true to you.
Your purpose is how you bring all this together with intention.
You might find you only need to make a couple of tiny adjustments to your current lifestyle in order to live a more purposeful, intentional life.
On the other hand, you might find you need a complete life overhaul. Maybe you need to change careers or leave a bad relationship. Maybe you have wandered so far off your path you need to start over and carve a new one.
Wherever you are, whatever you desire, you can start living in alignment with that purpose right now.
So consider, what is important to you?
Here are some ideas to get you started, pick any that strike a chord with you and see if you can craft a sentence or two around them which will form the start of your purpose.
- (insert word of your choice here…)
You also might like to take a look at my article on how to write a personal mission statement, or as I prefer to call it, a ‘Muchness Manifesto’. This is an excellent way to explore your core values and beliefs.
Be kind to yourself – if you don’t know exactly where you want to end up, try to just get a feel for which direction you want to head, that is enough for now. It will become clearer to you as you weed that path! (And remember that moving intentionally in the right direction is better than not moving at all.)
Be organised, but flexible.
Decide how you want to live ahead of time and plan it.
Yes, plan it… I am a convert. These days I plan hard. I know exactly where I want to be today, in 5 years, 10 years, 25 years down the line, but with wiggle room of course…because nothing is set in stone.
I think the key for me was in realising that just because I made a plan, it didn’t mean I’d failed if it didn’t come to pass. Sometimes things change. It’s ok to change your mind later, but come up with a plan for how you feel today, and then live with that plan in mind.
It really helps to plan backwards:
Work out your end goal and work back from there, making a note of all the things you need to do to get where you want to be.
Once you have a feel for what your best life could look like, you need to actively pursue it.
Life isn’t something that just happens around you or to you. You are in the driving seat remember? You have to actively do the thing.
If you want to take your life in a different direction and are beginning to form an idea of which way that is, then research the heck out of it, find out how to make it happen, put yourself in the right places, talk to the right people…
Be proactive in all your choices. It’s the difference between making conscious choices which will positively impact your life, and just getting through the week.
Ask questions. If you aren’t happy with the answers, then do something about it.
- Is this right for me at this time?
- Is this helping me stay on my true path, or diverting me from it?
- Do I really believe this?
- Am I just doing this because it is what is expected of me?
Beware of self-limiting beliefs! When you first set out on your intentional living journey, you might find you have a hard time extracting yourself from what I like to call “the swamp of conformity.”
You may well find yourself fighting against years and years of old behaviour patterns and negativity, be that from yourself, your social circle, your family, or society as a whole. We are all told from an early age that we can’t do this or that, that things must be done a certain way, for a certain reason, and we try to fit in, do as we’re told, plod along and well… we get stuck in the swamp.
It’s not always easy deciding to live life on your own terms, and you might be surprised how many people react negatively towards your new found confidence and direction in life. You may need to be quite firm with yourself (or them!)…but persevere, and get through that swamp, because it’s so worth it:
You were not born to conform – be extraordinary!
See if you can recognise the triggers which keep you small, or divert you from what makes you happy. The more you do this, the easier it will become to get out of the swamp.
Trust yourself and remember to be determined, be deliberate and be decisive!
Related reading: 2 Years to Change your Life Challenge!
Living intentionally day to day
Intentional living isn’t just about lofty ideals. It’s a lifestyle, a thought process which can, indeed should, be applied to all areas of your life.
Living intentionally across all areas of your life means you are always in some way or other living in alignment with your values. Some will be grand, and some not so much, but the details count! You can make big changes to your life, you can make a difference, but it’s often the little things that mean the most.
The little things
Going back to our earlier example, let’s say you care deeply about the environment and want to live in a more eco-friendly way. There are many ways to make a big impact and live a more sustainable life, but it can be overwhelming to know where to start. So in the beginning, just commit to walking or cycling to work a couple of times a week instead of driving or make up a zero-waste kit to take out with you whenever you leave the house. These are small and easy steps you can make along your environmentally friendly path, and once you’ve started, it becomes easier to see how you can build on that.
The goal is to create small actionable steps which will help you be intentional in your everyday choices.
If your purpose is the heartbeat of an intentional life, then slowing down is the skeleton:
Slowing down provides all the support and strength you need, it shelters and protects, giving you a framework to hold you steady.
Being present is essential to living intentionally, and it’s hard to be present when you are always rushing, so slow. it. down!
When you pause you can take stock, check in with yourself and see if you are living in alignment with your goals. Slow, conscious living will help you to be more intentional in your choices and give you the breathing space to separate what is important from what isn’t.
Here are just a few things you could try to help you slow down and be present:
- Meditate. Regular meditation will support you in so many ways and is particularly good at helping you join the dots, so to speak. When you make meditation a regular part of your routine you can really strengthen your relationship with yourself, helping you to live more mindfully and stay connected to your core values.
- Do some yoga stretches. Like meditation, yoga is extremely beneficial for you in many ways. Many yoga practices are like a moving meditation in themselves, increasing your awareness of your physical self, unblocking stagnant energy and just generally toning and strengthening your body.
- Notice the details. Really pay attention to the little things – the warmth of your bed and feel of your sheets when you wake up, the smell of your coffee, the flavour of your food.
- Listen. When you are having a conversation with somebody, pay attention to how much of the talking you are doing…You might be surprised. So often we don’t actively listen to others when they speak but rather, we hear their words and then apply them to our own experience. We do this to show that we relate, that we can empathise with them because we may well have been through a similar thing. But everyone’s experience is different and unique to them, and sometimes they just need to be heard. The next time you are listening to someone, really listen.
- Make time for life in your life! Don’t forget during the planning and creating of your dream existence that life is happening right now. You can (you MUST!) enjoy the life you have while you are working on any goals you have. If you are always thinking about the next project then you are not in the present moment. Sometimes you gotta just kick back and relax!
You may want to check out these posts for further ideas:
OK, so hopefully, you now have a feel for how to live your life with intention, but let’s have a quick recap of the key points:
- We all have a choice. Ultimately this is all you need to remember! You are in charge of your life. Live it your way.
- Your purpose is the heartbeat of intentional living. Your beliefs and core values will lead you to your purpose. Live in accordance with what is true for you.
- Live purposefully, not accidentally. Be deliberate, be determined, be decisive! Get organised, know where you’re going and what you need to do to get there. Recognise that for whatever reason, your plans may change, and that’s OK. Be proactive – it isn’t enough to just think about it. You have to do the thing!
- Beware the swamp of conformity. Don’t get bogged down, be extraordinary! Maybe your awesomeness will even shine as a beacon to lead others from the swamp…
- The little things matter. Remember to apply intentional living to ALL areas of your life, not just the grand ones. Be a Life Spotter – there is always an opportunity to be intentional!
- Slow is good. Stay present to stay on track.
- Life is happening NOW. Please don’t waste it! Go… and live it, with intention!