The term “intentional living” is fuzzy. What does it actually mean to live with intention?
I look at it as a process of conscious decision-making that ties life decisions (big and small) to personal values. The more we can point ourselves toward our own “North Star” (a.k.a. life direction) or something we deem as important to us and our happiness, the more we’re living with intention.
So how to do figure out a life direction?
Honestly, I don’t have a clear answer on this one. Sometimes life directions are clear and focused. But other times they’re chosen based on what we think we want or worse – what other people think we should be doing (<- hello, that’s me). I believe that the best way to create a life-direction is to work from your personal values, so let’s start there.
How do you define your personal values?
I love this process because it’s really easy! Here’s a list of personal value statements. Simply run through the list and check off the ones that resonate with you. Don’t overthink it – just put a check beside the ones that make you feel good. Once you have a short list, go through it again with some time to think through what each selection means to you. If something doesn’t have a visceral fit, just drop it. I don’t think there’s a magic number of values to hold, but personally, I have three and they’re easy to remember.
How do you use your personal values to make decisions?
This is a conscious habit that needs to be cultivated intentionally (<–yay, here’s your first lesson in intentional living). Most of our decision-making functions are operated through the basal ganglia which is our brain’s center of automation. It knows when to make left and right turns as you drive your car to work. You don’t need to think about it. But there are other decisions that require a lot of thought – like how to respond to a crabby person or how to focus your next career move – that can be aligned to those values you chose.
My Values, My Choices
I deeply value independence, freedom, and beauty. These values drive everything from my career choices to the people I hang out with. They also help me navigate decisions around spending, saving, earning and living. For example, because I value freedom and independence so deeply, it makes sense for me to embrace minimalism, keep my spending habits under control and live well within my means. In doing so, I have a pretty robust “fuck you fund” that enables me to say no to work I don’t want to do. That’s a big deal for me and so my money choices are always (well, almost always) made with intention. But I Still Mess Up.
I’m not immune to the temptation to shop or the Nordstrom Semi-Annual Sale. Very often I’ll buy things because that urge to splurge is deeply ingrained in me. But once I have those items in my hand I always have this nagging voice that asks – is this blouse more important than my freedom? The answer is inevitably no and the item gets returned (unless it’s super cute in which case, all bets are off).
I value beauty because it inspires me. The beauty I see in others is what connects me to them. The beauty I cultivate within myself includes everything from the way I design my home to how I treat people and myself. It’s also what keeps me accountable in the gym. It’s all connected to how I want to see the world and myself in it.
The Biggest Intentional Decision I’ve Ever Made
My deep commitment to independence drove my decision to not have children. I have a so much respect for parents, but independence is compromised with the choice to start a family, so for me this decision was a no-brainer. I would encourage anyone struggling with the idea of whether or not to start a family to think through the decision from the perspective of personal values. While lifestyle preferences can change over time, values are often rooted deeply in who we are and what we want out of life. They can change, for sure, but I’ve held tight to mine for a long time.
I Still Work at Aligning My Decisions to My Values
This is a practice and I’m often falling short of my values when I make decisions – particularly around work. I tend to bite off more than I can chew, accept projects that limit my time and location flexibility and generally say “yes” to far too much. I’m also a people pleaser, so yes tends to be my default answer, even when whatever I’m committing to is an impediment to my time and freedom. Sure, this is something we all do for our friends and family, but I tend to over-index on the yes word.
How to Practice Intentional Decision-Making
Start by knowing your values very clearly. Ask yourself what they are every day – this will help you keep them top of mind. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to spend a few seconds reflecting on them. Also, slow down when responding to requests (<- yes you, my fellow people pleaser). Practice saying “let me get back to you” or “I’ll check my calendar”. Give yourself space and grace to think about what you’re committing to. If it doesn’t align with your values then the most intentional thing you can do is say no (nicely, of course). Think about upcoming big decisions you need to make – big purchases, job changes, how to spend time off, who to spend it with – make sure you’re thinking about these things before you have to make a decision. Remember, your life is made up of your choices – make them intentionally.
Want to explore intentional living a little further? Here are some great reads to get you started….
- An Intentional Life: A Life-Giving Invitation to Uncover Your Passions and Unlock Your Purpose
- An Intentional Life: Five Foundations of Authenticity & Purpose
- A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living
Was this helpful? Drop a comment and let me know what your values are!