Do you ever find that you drive home, and when you get there, you can’t remember the road you drove?
Or do you leave the house and lock the door without thinking about it, only to wonder after you have left, if you did lock up?
Many of our actions and behaviours are automated. This is the brain’s way of being more efficient and conserving energy.
But the downside of this is that we can become so automatic in our behaviour that we just go through the motions without actually living.
The price we pay is that we waste our lives away. Conversely, intentional living makes every day count.
What is intentional living?
If you look at a definition of the meaning of intention you will see that it means:
“On purpose, with a plan, the determination to act in a certain way”
Just like minimalism, intentional living is not set in stone and it looks different for different people.
At the core of it, intentional living is about living purposefully and making sure that your values and your actions align so that you can live a satisfying life leading to your goals.
Understand your values
It follows that in order to be truly intentional, you will need to understand and honour your core values.
Your core values can be explained as the things which are most important to you.
They influence your decisions and play a role in how fulfilled you feel with your life. We feel disconnected and unhappy when our actions and the choices we make in our daily lives are not in alignment with our values.
When you know what your values are, it helps you to make better decisions and lead a happier life.
How to practice intentional living
Here are 3 ways in which you can be more intentional in your life and your choices.
1. Simplify your environment
We are distracted by clutter and interruptions, and even if it doesn’t bother you, it does affect your productivity and efficiency.
Research shows that people who are used to distractions and being interrupted may develop ways of working faster. However, it comes at the cost of having a higher workload and increased stress.
The clutter which causes disruption is not only physical clutter but also emotional and mental clutter. In addition, digital clutter, a new baby on the block, is a huge time thief.
We get lost in the data that is available online and we become overwhelmed by the choices presented to us.
When you are overwhelmed by choice, usually the response is to not choose at all.
This means that you are not intentional in your life but that someone else is actually deciding for you how you should lead your life.
2. Practice gratitude
When you have a mindset that is full of gratitude for everything and everyone that is in your life, you lift
The reticular activating system (RAS) in our brain is responsible for deciding what is important and what should be filtered out.
Imagine if your brain couldn’t do that. We would go crazy with all of the information that we receive at any time. Also, how would we know what to focus on?
So your RAS helps you by making filters for the things that you focus on, to make sure that all the necessary information gets in. And it decides on what is necessary based on your thinking.
That’s why when you pay attention to something you start seeing it everywhere. You pay attention to a red car and then you start noticing that there are so many red cars on the road.
Or in a crowded room, you can shut out the conversations but you pick up when someone calls your name.
It works with gratitude too.
By practicing gratitude you become aware of even more things to be grateful for.
The more you have to be grateful for, the more grateful you become…you get the picture.
3. Develop healthy habits
Our habitual daily actions determine the outcome of our lives. These habitual actions become routines, and they form our days and shape our experiences.
Most habits are actions that start small and are occasional.
When we continue to repeat them over a period of time, they become hardwired into our brains and create new neural pathways.
This is what I was talking about at the beginning of this post. Our brains create neural pathways so that we can do things without the brain having to expend energy on thinking and deciding about them.
Intentional living goes hand in hand with being intentional in our actions. We can consciously create and build habits that support our goals, our happiness, and our overall well-being.
The way to start new habits is to attach them to existing habits.
Let’s say you want to start drinking a glass of lemon water every morning. Link this new habit to something you already do. So, go drink your glass of water as soon as you’ve been to the toilet.
As with most things, if you say “I will do it later”, chances are that you will forget.
The main thing to keep in mind when trying to break a bad habit is that nature does not like voids.
That is why we often fail when we try to “stop” doing something.
Stopping an action creates a void that needs to be filled. That makes the old habit sticky and difficult to break. Instead of stopping something, try starting something new instead.
Intentional living is not at the end of the road
You don’t arrive there suddenly one day, instead, it is the little actions you take every day that creates an intentional lifestyle.
The world and our lives are alive.
We are constantly growing, evolving and changing.
It is inevitable that change happens. What does not have to be inevitable, is that this change happens WITHOUT our participation.
To me, that is what intentional living is truly about.
To be in charge of our feelings, our choices and our thoughts so that we behave in ways that bring us closer to our purpose and the things which are important to us throughout our lives.