Intentional living means living with purpose and enjoying your journey along the way.
Ever get to the end of the week and wonder where it all went? It’s so easy to live on autopilot, reacting to everything around you.
Intentional living helps you take back control of your life. It helps you find your enough.
Let’s start with a definition.
What is Intentional Living?
Intentional living means designing a life that aligns with your deeply held core values. It’s a process, not an end state. The world constantly pushes you to overcomplicate your life and add more and more, but when you focus on your core values, you can simplify.
You can focus on what means the most to you. You give yourself the freedom to ignore the noise. You’re no longer concerned with missing out because when you’re living in line with your values, you already have what you need.
Intentional living requires you to pay attention to the choices you make in your life and to make those choices in line with your values. Through conscious decisions, you build a lifestyle that honors your core values.
In personal finance, it means realizing that you are in control and that the day-to-day financial decisions you make will shape your life. Being intentional helps you manage your money in line with your values.
For example, suppose financial freedom is a top value. In that case, you can resist the temptation to buy yet another gadget that you don’t need. Or it could give you the extra burst of energy you need to work on that side gig even when you don’t feel like it.
No one can tell you, nor should they tell you what your ideal lifestyle is. It’s up to you to determine. But how?
Let’s move on to the first step.
Determine What Your Core Values Are (Not What You Think They Should Be)
Intentional living is all about your core values, not what other people tell you they should be. Write out a list of your values to identify what they are and how you’ll prioritize them.
If this isn’t something that you’ve thought much about, Carnegie Mellon University has a list of values to jump-start your thinking.
Lists like this can help, but it’s only the starting point. And be careful not to use values lists like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Think of it more like choosing from the menu of a fancy restaurant. Remember that if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Choose only your core values.
Here are a few ideas for exploring your core values further.
Start with Finding Your “Why”
Look at your life and ask why you make the choices you do. What was your motivation, and what does that say about your values?
Be honest with yourself. What was your real motivation versus what you think your motivation should be? Are you listening to yourself, or is this what society tells you should be your motivation? Question the default scripts that society hands you.
Keep asking “why?”
The video below by Simon Sinek, the author of Find Your Why, explains the importance of determining your why. He approaches it from a small business owner’s perspective, but what he says is relevant for intentional living.
Try Journaling as a Method to Discover What You Really Think
Writing for a set time every day and allowing yourself the freedom to write down whatever shows up may uncover values you didn’t realize were important. You may discover values that were shoved aside for other priorities in your life.
You could also try “self-discovery” journaling prompts, which provide lists of questions for you to answer. These can help you reveal aspects of yourself that you may not have identified before.
You could write about your ideal day. What would that look like? The more details you write about, the more insight it could provide.
- What type of work would you do?
- Where are you doing your work?
- Who are you with?
- What do you do for fun?
You could try freewriting or stream-of-consciousness writing. This is where you write down everything and anything that bubbles up in your mind. It starts with the superficial, like “what do I need to do today?” but if you keep going, you get past the mental gatekeepers and into a deeper part of yourself.
You might be surprised at what you write and at the new things you learn about yourself through journaling. Living intentionally means being fully aware, and journaling can be an excellent tool for this.
Even if it doesn’t end up illuminating your values, journaling provides other benefits like relieving stress, so it’s worth trying.
All you need is a notebook, a pen, and some quiet time for yourself.
Ask Yourself—What Did You Value as a Child?
What were your values before society’s expectations came crashing down on you?
How did you spend your time?
What did you want to be when you grew up, and why? Do you still feel that way?
Asking yourself these questions might lead you to the values you’ve forgotten were important to you.
For me, a forgotten value was creativity—expressed through stories. As a kid, I loved to read fiction. Later, in college, my favorite courses were in literature. I loved the symbolism and the psychological explorations that the stories provided.
Instead, I ended up with a business degree and a finance career. Because of… life.
But when it came time to reassess my career and decide what I wanted to do next, this time, you bet creativity is a focus.
So, ask yourself, what is it you wanted to do when you were a kid, and how does that reflect your values?
Realize Your Values May Change Over Time
Some values remain constant in our lives. But as we grow as people, we change, and what we value may change as well. That’s why intentional living is a process, not an end state. It requires you to be thoughtful and conscious.
Here’s an example of a value shift I’ve recently experienced. When I was younger, “achievement” was a top value. I was competitive and wanted to be “the best” in everything I did. I had a perfectionist, fixed mindset to go with it.
But when I last did a values exercise, it surprised me when “achievement” didn’t make the cut. Not that it isn’t important, it’s just not a top value anymore.
“Learning” as a value had become a higher priority. And when you learn new skills, you need to practice them. You need to be okay with doing poorly in the beginning when you practice—otherwise, you won’t make progress.
So “achievement” had to fall in importance to make room for “learning.”
6 Ways Towards Intentional Living (and to Create More Meaning in Your Life in the Process)
Once you’ve done the work to figure out your core values, you can work towards a life that reflects those values.
Here are six ways to create your intentional life.
1. Act Mindfully
Intentional living means turning off the autopilot. Not trudging through your days, mostly unaware of what you are doing and why. Not living passively, bossed around by your emotion-of-the-moment.
Instead, it means taking charge of your life and critically examining what you believe to be true. Is it? Is it true for you?
Acting mindfully is paying attention to whether you are living in line with your values.
An example is if “connection” is a core value, but you’re shy. If you live on autopilot, you’ll let your fear of “putting yourself out there” stop you. You’ll passively allow fear to control you.
However, if you act mindfully, you are aware that it’s fear preventing you from connecting with others. This awareness helps you take action despite the fear, knowing that you’ll honor the value of “connection” in the process.
2. Accept Personal Responsibility
Hold yourself accountable for your life. It’s oh so easy, encouraged even, to blame everyone and everything else for anything we don’t like in our lives. But when you place blame or make excuses instead of taking action, it feels good at the moment, but you give up your power.
Take back your power by accepting personal responsibility for your life. Even if something isn’t your fault, take responsibility for how you react. Do you spend your time being upset and complaining? Or do you do something about it?
You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you react. Action, not excuses, will move you past the constant obstacles life throws in your path.
3. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
Yeah, I know, almost impossible to do. But try anyway. Comparing yourself to anyone else is a waste of time.
Intentional living means living in a way that honors your values. It’s not a contest.
However, you might “try-on” the behavior of someone who expresses a value you want to bring into your life. For instance, if you wanted to be more generous, you could look for a person in your life who is generous and watch what they do. But don’t compare yourself to them.
4. Slow Down
This may be one of the most challenging things to do on this list. The pace of modern life is all about hurrying. Instead, slow down, and give yourself time to think.
Pause. Reflect. Consider.
Doing this prevents you from spending money in ways you’ll regret later. It’s easy to mindlessly take out that credit card for the latest desire of the moment. Slowing down and reflecting on what you’re doing can get that card back in your wallet and save you money.
5. Make Choices or Decisions Aligned with Your Values
Again, make sure you make choices based on your values. This can be tough, as you may not even notice the advertising messages or cultural rules swirling around you. It’s easy to internalize them without realizing it.
Ask yourself if a choice helps you live in line with your values, or does it move you away from them?
How you spend your money is a perfect example of this. Is how you spend your money in alignment with your values?
For example, if health is a core value, use that as a filter for what you put in your shopping cart next time you’re at the grocery store. Instead of being enticed by the colorful, fun packaging of junk food, you’ll be able to leave it on the shelf. (Okay, let’s be realistic, at least most of it.)
Making choices aligned with your values is how you live an intentional life.
6. Create Goals in Line with Your Values
Goals that are out of alignment with your values are more likely to fail. It comes back to knowing your “why.” Why do you want to achieve this goal? What is the underlying value(s) this goal is based on?
Value-based goals are focused on what’s important to you, providing motivation and energy. They move you towards the life you want to live.
Intentional Living is a Process, Not One and Done
You will go off course. That’s where mindfulness comes in handy, to identify when that happens and get you back on your path.
Intentional living is like meditation. Meditation is the process of following your breath. Every time you get distracted, you need to recognize that you got distracted, then calmly put your mind back on following your breath.
Over and over. Without judgment and without getting upset that yet once again, you’re thinking about what’s for supper.
The goal isn’t perfection. The goal is to simply notice when your thoughts go off-track and to bring them back again.
It’s the same with intentional living. The goal isn’t (and couldn’t be) perfection. It’s noticing when you are off-track and then bring your life back on track to living your highest life.
That’s how you create a life that’s in alignment with your deepest values—an intentional life.