When’s the last time you thought to yourself, “Wait, how did I even end up in this situation?”
Over the years I’ve felt this way a number of times: while in a toxic relationship, when on the brink of burnout from a thankless job, or when over-committed to things that I didn’t even want to do.
This is not a new phenomenon. But in a world where we’re constantly pushed to produce or consume, it’s harder than ever to get quiet enough to find the signal in the noise and notice when things are feeling off.
And sometimes, when you’ve been living on autopilot for too long, it’s easy to forget that you have choices. You can choose to let the world steer you or you can steer yourself. You might not be able to control all of your circumstances, but you can choose to live by your values and make room for what matters. This is intentional living.
Living intentionally is not about perfection or achieving goals just for the sake of achieving. It’s not about comparison or living by some random timeline or set of milestones prescribed by society. It’s about holding space for consistent growth and change while living with the clarity and confidence to chart your own course. You don’t need a destination, all you need is a direction and a desire to enjoy the journey.
Inside the Intentional Living Guide:
What is intentional living?
Put simply, living with intention means that your daily actions and choices align with your values and beliefs. When you live with intention you design a life that’s meaningful and fulfilling. Instead of making choices based on what everyone else is doing, you’ll have a clear inner compass pointing you toward your own north star. Imagine having more clarity, joy, and peace in your life knowing that you’re living a life that’s true to who you are, and progressing toward the things that matter most.
Designing an intentional life is not about following a checklist of things to do or not do. It’s a lifestyle choice made possible by a consistent practice of reflecting on what matters, realigning your priorities, and recommitting to doing what’s most essential for a true and beautiful life.
Get clear on your values
Have you ever wondered why you don’t fit in somewhere, or why you’re drawn to another city or country, or why you have the political views you do, or why some relationships work and others don’t? A lot of it has to do with your personal values, and identifying these values is the first step to living with intention.
Your values are your guiding principles. They represent what’s most important to you in life and the standard you aim to live by. They shape your moral compass and what you believe is right, good, and worthy in the world. Some examples are: family, creativity, connection, honesty, service, etc.
Personal values are just that—personal—and are different for everyone. Your values may also differ from the cultural or societal values that surround you. Getting clear on how your personal values are similar or different from your surroundings brings greater self-awareness and helps you understand the world around you.
These questions will help you figure out your values:
- Imagine that everything in your life is inside of a box—family, work, home, achievements, hobbies, spirituality…everything. You dump the box out and can only put five things back inside. What are they? Why?
- What would make your 90-year-old self proud and fulfilled? Why?
- What makes you furious? Why?
- What were the best decisions you’ve ever made? The worst? Why?
- If you had one week to live, how would you spend it? Why
You’ll notice a trend here: Intentional living starts with asking why. Answering “why” reveals your values. When your choices align with your values, you’re able to live a life by design, not by default.
Remember, personal values can change as you open yourself to new experiences and mature through life. That’s why it’s important to have a consistent practice of checking-in with yourself and evaluating your priorities.
Make a life inventory list
After defining your values, the next step toward an intentional life is to take an honest and thorough look at how you’re living your life right now.
We’ve become so used to living lives influenced by the world around us that it’s easy to dismiss how much of our daily activities might not actually be aligned with our values.
Write a list of everything that’s an investment of your time and energy; things like responsibilities, commitments, and relationships. You want to end up with a complete picture of everything that takes up space in your life.
How many of these things arrived in your life to benefit other peoples’ priorities at a detriment to your own—or simply because it’s what you thought you were supposed to do?
Which of these things make you feel free, true, empowered, joyful, or otherwise positive? These are the time and energy investments that pay dividends in meaning, joy, and fulfillment. And most likely, they’re aligned with your values.
Prioritize what’s essential
Your values aren’t destinations themselves; they determine the direction you want to go. That’s why it’s important to also have a vision for your life with dreams, goals, and intentions to work toward. Knowing your values will help you determine what your vision is and how to get there in a way that feels good to you.
Once you know what you’re aiming for, you can determine what time and energy investments are essential and what’s not.
Let’s talk about what “essential” means in the context of intentional living. Essential activities are, as Greg McKeown explains in Essentialism, “about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at [y]our highest point of contribution.”
For example, if you value connection and envision a life where quality time with loved ones takes center stage, then essential actions might be setting work boundaries, taking family vacations, or having dinner together every night.
Now look at your life inventory list and scan it for the things that are truly essential. As McKeown explains, you want to uncover the “vital few” from the “trivial many.” The 80/20 rule can help you figure this out.
Let’s be honest: It’s hard to deem a few things in your life as truly essential. It’s even harder to reduce the rest. This means you will have trade-offs. You will have to learn to say no. You will have to remember to choose a few really great things over many good things. You might feel like you’re letting people down or missing opportunities. You will need to create boundaries. Just remember: if you don’t prioritize your life, everyone else will.
If you find it hard to create boundaries, let me suggest a mindset shift. Instead of thinking of boundaries restrictive, think of them as holding space for more of what matters. More freedom, more impact, more time with the people you love.
As McKeown puts it, “when we don’t set clear boundaries in our lives we can end up imprisoned by the limits others have set for us. When we have clear boundaries, on the other hand, we are free to select from the whole area—or the whole range of options—that we have deliberately chosen to explore.”
A few tips for creating boundaries:
Build-in time buffers. Studies show that people underestimate the time it takes to do something by as much as 50%, even if they’ve done it before. Try doubling the time you allot for a task to give yourself a more accurate representation of your time commitments plus some breathing room.
Set “general rules” that say no for you. Tim Ferriss shared a good example of this. He gets a ton of requests to write book blurbs (aka a book endorsement) for authors. He neither has the time or desire to write the vast majority of these blurbs so he set a general rule that he doesn’t do them for anyone. Period. This eliminates the need to say no to each individual.
Communicate clear expectations. Know your deal breakers, your limits, and your desires, and clearly share them with others as early as possible.
Don’t make other peoples’ problems your own. This may sound harsh at first, but it doesn’t mean to never help anyone. Rather, be mindful of when you’re enabling someone by solving their problem for them instead of holding space for them to solve it themselves. This will benefit both of you.
Setting boundaries can feel awkward, selfish, or harsh at first. Give yourself grace and know that what might feel a little challenging now will pay off big time when you’ve designed an intentional life.
Design an intentional life
Just like any new habit or lifestyle change, living intentionally takes practice. It’s more than filling out a planner, making resolutions, or setting a word for the year. It’s a system for making the best choices for you and requires a regular routine of reflecting and resetting to stay aligned with your values.
If you’d like to make designing your life a habit, the Reset Kits will help you create a consistent practice of living with intention and self-care every season.