Are you tired of drifting through your daily life? Being intentional is a remedy for that uneasy, aimless feeling we’ve all been struggling with for the past few years (or longer).
Intentionality has become a buzzword usually spoken alongside things like “manifestation journal” and “practicing gratitude”. It sounds more like a complicated fad than a practical way to live.
Thankfully, you don’t need a special notebook or a morning meditation session to live intentionally.
Being intentional is both a mindset and a skill that gives purpose to your actions. It can mean the difference between wondering where the week went, and feeling confident that it was a week well spent.
With the help of a few simple habits, you can grow your ability to be intentional–and transform the way you live each day.
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What does being intentional mean?
Being intentional is when you make deliberate choices that lead to a specific result in the future.
When you’re living intentionally, it means your actions–both big and small–are working to carry you towards an outcome you desire.
That outcome could be anything from retiring early to getting eight hours of sleep a night. It also includes non-tangible outcomes like reducing daily anxiety or strengthening relationships with loved ones.
Being intentional sounds like a two-step process. But in reality, it’s three.
First, you need to have a clear vision of what you’re working towards.
When you visualize the destination, the journey becomes easier.
Second, you need to understand why you’re working towards that vision.
It’s this “why” that keeps you moving towards the end goal when things get tough. This is the step that people new to intentional living often forget, and why so many fail to reach the end result they wanted.
Third, you need to connect your actions back to your vision.
When you hear the word “actions”, you may think of big choices like changing jobs or starting a new hobby.
But the little choices we make each day–the food we buy at the grocery store, or whether we read a book or watch tv in our free time–play a key part in shaping our future.
This is where the intentional mindset becomes a way of living. In fact, it’s an important part of living a simple life and an eco-friendly one.
If I didn’t make conscious choices to seek out meatless recipes or sustainable products, I’d never get any closer to my goal of a low impact life.
You don’t need to attach yourself to a lifestyle label to be intentional. Rather, intentionality is a tool to help you follow the tenants of your ideal way of living.
Examples of being intentional
Philosophy is great, but what does it being intentional actually look like in practice?
Let’s say your goal is to own your own home.
You’d start by visualizing not just your dream home, but also the way you’d live in it, care for it, and make memories in it.
Once you have that initial clear picture in your mind, consider what is motivating your desire to own a home. Is it where you want to raise a family? Does home ownership give you a sense of safety and security?
Connecting your future goals to your personal values doesn’t just keep you on track. It can sharpen your vision of what exactly that future should look like.
In the case of buying a house where you can raise a family, it’s not enough to have a house with enough bedrooms. You’ll also want to focus on the quality of local schools, the yard space, and probably the presence of a bathtub.
With all of that in mind, you’re ready to begin your journey towards that future one step at a time.
Assuming you need to save for a downpayment, you’ll need to be intentional about your spending. That might mean cutting down on delivery and cooking more meals at home, or deciding to stop shopping for clothes you don’t need.
You’ll also want to educate yourself on the ins and outs of buying and owning a home, which means being intentional about how you spend your free time.
These are just some of the purposeful actions you’ll take to reach your goal. And to help you along the way, you’ll form habits that will help you be more intentional every day.
How can I be more intentional every day?
Set yourself up for success
The best way to meet your goals is to create an environment where you can succeed.
That means practicing self-care, such as getting enough sleep every night or listening to calming music when you’re stressed.
It also involves adding things to your life that will make things easier. If your goal is to write a novel, create a dedicated space where you can comfortably work instead of writing at the dining table.
Most importantly, it means eliminating distractions and triggers that can cause you to fail.
For example, my focus this year is to get my body back to a healthy weight. Knowing that food delivery is my downfall, I deleted the delivery apps off my phone to prevent any late-night slip-ups.
It also forced me to proactively plan my meals, as I can’t rely on delivery to save the day when I’m feeling lazy or run out of food.
Pause to ask “why”
So much of our lives are spent on autopilot. We move from habit to habit without questioning why we’re doing what we’re doing.
I used to come home from work and watch the same old reruns of Food Network or HGTV shows for an hour or two every day. It didn’t add anything to my life–it was just a comfortable habit I did without fail.
Had I not questioned why I was watching TV when I could be doing something that actually brought me joy or moved me towards my goals, I’d never be where I am today.
By taking a moment to ask why you’re about to do something, whether it’s buying a new shirt or queuing up another Netflix series, you give yourself the space to decide if it’s worth your time and resources.
Those brief pauses are essential to being intentional every day rather than occasionally.
Swap your to-do list for a must-do list
This is my latest way of being intentional, and I wish I’d done it sooner.
I used to keep a long list of to-dos for every day. I was certain that every item was essential.
So when I inevitably failed to complete one of those tasks, I felt like I’d failed that day. And what’s worse, I’d push the incomplete task to the next day, which would make it even harder to get everything done.
Eventually, I realized this way of working was unsustainable. That’s when I re-evaluated all the tasks on my to-do list and decided whether or not they were actually necessary.
I used to vacuum our downstairs every single day. Was that a nice-to-do, or a must-do? My mother may think it’s a must, but for me, it was too often.
This process was extremely helpful for work. Instead of crowding my day with 20 tasks, I only put the absolute must-dos on my list. Anything beyond that was a “bonus” accomplishment.
It totally reframed my mindset around what really matters and how to intentionally spend my time.
Spend your free time on you
Free time is a fleeting thing. Blink–and the weekend is over.
This is especially true if you have children or own a home, when there’s always a classmate’s birthday party or a “quick project” that turns into a three-hour stint at Home Depot.
It may seem like there’s never enough hours in the day to do what you really want to do. But for the vast majority of people, that’s simply not true.
Instead, we’ve convinced ourselves that “me time” is selfish or indulgent or lazy.
The real truth is that spending all of your time in service to something else–work, family, pets, home–will lead to burnout and eventually resentment.
An intentional life need not be a self-centered one. But it should be one that gives you fulfillment. And that can only happen if you take time to do things you love, whether it be painting, gaming, or even taking a long, luxurious soak in the tub.
Break free from the scroll cycle
Americans and Brits spend nearly five hours a day on their smartphones, and it’s killing our ability to think critically and be productive.
Let’s be honest: how much of your screen time is spent scrolling through social media and viral videos? Probably more than you’d like (or even realize).
There’s a reason it’s hard to break free from the scroll cycle. TikTok, Instagram, and even news sites are expertly designed to keep you on their platform for as long as possible.
Thankfully, there are a few apps that can force you to put down your phone and regain your free time.
Freedom lets you temporarily block apps and websites so you can focus more, while Off The Grid locks your phone for a set time and sends auto-replies to messages letting people know you’re away (though you can whitelist certain contacts and make calls).
Check in with yourself regularly
Have you ever found yourself woofing down a chocolate bar after a stressful day, even though you vowed this would be the year you’d eat healthier?
When we aren’t in touch with our minds and bodies, we become reactive instead of proactive. And that’s the opposite of being intentional.
By doing a few daily self check-ins–also known as mindfulness–you can stop living on autopilot and start connecting your actions to your big goals.
Check-ins are also great for stopping negative self-talk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set out to accomplish something, only to have the little voice in my head whisper all the reasons it won’t work or doesn’t really matter.
We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to trying new things. But we also have the power to replace self-sabotaging with self-cheerleading.
Keep a “journal”
I put “journal” in quotes because it doesn’t need to be a traditional, long-form diary. It can be as simple as bullet points in a digital note app or a small notebook you keep on the table.
I recently started an unstructured bullet journal, and it’s been immensely helpful with living intentionally.
Instead of following the bullet journal system for task management, I use my Yop and Tom dotted notebook for short daily reflections, habit tracking, and recording my intentions for the upcoming month and week.
It’s also been a wonderful creative outlet. Decorating my pages with pretty washi tape, stickers, and (poorly done) hand lettering is a nice way to decompress and do something that’s just for me.
I hope these tips on being intentional help you refocus your priorities. Check out these posts for more useful tips: