WHAT IS INTENTIONAL LIVING? A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CREATING A MEANINGFUL LIFE
What is intentional living and why does it matter? If you’re feeling unsettled, frustrated, like something is missing or life isn’t turning out quite how you expected, then this article is for you. This is a beginner’s guide to creating a meaningful life with more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
WHAT WE’LL COVER
- What is intentional living?
- What are the benefits of intentional living?
- How can you live more intentionally?
- Intentional living, decluttering and the minimalist lifestyle
- How to be intentional every day
- Practical examples of intentional living
- What intentional living is not
- Intentional living resources
WHY INTENTIONAL LIVING?
Yet again my head hit the pillow after a busy day. Just in the last few hours, I’d had a work deadline to meet, kids to collect from school and take to their after-school club, then rush home to make dinner (fingers crossed I had the ingredients I needed), then a quick run around the house doing housework, a load of laundry, answer some work emails for tomorrow then kids to bed, myself to bed and try to switch off for sleep. Tomorrow I’d be doing it all again, rinse and repeat.
Sounds like a pretty typical family week day afternoon but what I didn’t tell you was that in between running to and fro, my brain was racing with a million things I needed to do or had forgotten to do. I had that little voice calling me to find time for a long bath, or a coffee in the local cafe with just myself and a slice of cake for some peace and quiet company.
I also didn’t tell you that after dropping my kids to their club, I sat in the car and cried. I was exhausted from being here, there and everywhere – in body and brain. I was up at the crack of dawn every day but ready to drop by 9pm, fuelled by chocolate and caffeine in the meantime to keep me in my different personas at work and at home but nothing worked to help me find ‘me’.
I was moving too fast, spinning those plates and afraid that if I stopped, everything would come crashing down around me. I was tired, eating the wrong things and not paying attention to my mental health.
I couldn’t stop until the day I had no choice but to stop. This was the day when my busy life caught up with me and my body said enough. That was the day that I had to be signed off work and what became the catalyst for a more intentional life.
I wanted different, more out of life but not more in the conventional sense. I was searching for peace, happiness, ease, less stress, more freedom and more time.
The reason why I wasn’t finding what I was looking for is that I was looking in the wrong place.
- A bigger salary that came with more work hours and responsibilities
- A fuller diary because blank space meant I was boring, without friends and lacking in excitement, vision and opportunity
- A life keeping up with everyone else because I was too preoccupied with what everyone would think if I tried to do something different.
Well, I found what I was looking for in the end and it’s given me all those things in life that I’d been missing out on because I was too busy looking for them in the wrong place.
If you feel you’re out of touch with what you want in life, then perhaps this article might inspire you to try something different…
1. WHAT IS INTENTIONAL LIVING?
In today’s busy world, much of our path in life seems to be dictated to us. We’re encouraged to be more, buy more, have more, do more.
Our brains and schedules fill up as quickly as our To Do lists.
Life becomes an endless and draining cycle of ticking things of those lists, hurrying from one activity to another, draining our bank accounts as we succumb to a tempting new pair of shoes, new car or just one more toy for our kids.
We don’t have time to pause, reflect and think whether how we’re filling our days and our lives is in alignment with what we want out of life – our own core values and priorities.
Those values and priorities seem to just get written for us by whatever is shouting the loudest from our To Do list.
Intentional living is a lifestyle encouraging you to identify your priorities and values and live in alignment with them every day. It’s perhaps a fluffy way of saying that you get clear on what you want out of life and you go for it!
However, that’s easier said than done when you have lots of things to do, lots of people relying on you and not a lot of time to stop and catch your breath!
Further reading: 5 decisions that inspired my intentional life – In this article I share my own reasons for seeking out an intentional life and how I began to go about it. If you’re fed up of living a life that feels off and you want to live true to yourself instead, maybe this article will encourage you.
2. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF INTENTIONAL LIVING?
I think, these days, living a life of intention matters more than ever before.
Wherever we turn, we’re bombarded by messages for more.
- At home we’re told that we need more stuff to make us happy, that success is measured by the size of our home or how many cars in our driveway.
- At work we’re encouraged to stay late to show we’re keen but at the expense of a healthy work-life balance and quality time for ourselves and family.
- For ourselves, we’re enticed to sign up for gym memberships that we can’t afford, buy the latest fashion trends that we’ll wear once or twice and then discard or lose weight because our bodies aren’t ‘good enough’ right now.
Once we have success and more stuff to feed that success, then we’re led to believe that we’ll be happier, more content and fulfilled. We’ll have a great life.
But, is this always the case? I’m not so sure…
There’s a growing movement that firmly believes more isn’t always better and, instead, that less is more. Less stuff in your home, your heart and your head that weighs you down.
Which in turn means more room for love, laughter, happiness and appreciating the intrinsic value of the simpler things in life which often bring the most joy and fulfilment – because we’re more aligned with what’s truly important and matters to us (not to everyone else).
And, of course, more clarity and focus on living the life you’d like, instead of a life that’s dictated to you.
“Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.”Richie Norton
3. HOW CAN YOU LIVE MORE INTENTIONALLY?
So, how do you go about identifying what truly matters to you instead of the stuff that just clutters, distracts and provides empty padding to your life?
Here are some questions which you might like to reflect upon:
- What makes you truly happy in life? What drives you to get out of bed each morning, what do you really look forward to doing in your day, what lifts you up and makes you smile?
- How do you spend your time? Is it a varied mix of things you need to do (work or school, for example) and leisure time to spend as you wish? Or is your diary crammed full, you rush around from morning to evening, always busy but achieving nothing?
- Do you have any goals or dreams? Do you know where you’d like to be in 5 years’ time (or even next month?!). Take a step up the career ladder, learn a new skill, have a better work-life balance or less debt? If so, do you know how you’re going to make these things happen?
In these examples we looked at what makes you happy, how you spend your time and your future plans. I’m sure you can think of many others!
Living an intentional life is about being aware of the answers to these questions (and more that I haven’t asked you) and ensuring that, as far as possible, your life is on a trajectory that helps you prioritise what matters to you.
a) Understanding your core values
The questions I asked you above were to help you explore what a happier, more fulfilling life would look like to you.
If your days are anything like mine used to be, I could just about get my head around deciding what was for dinner or what TV series I’d want to watch that evening, let alone ask and answer BIG questions on my purpose and direction in life.
I just didn’t have the bandwidth or mental energy to address them. In truth, I was probably scared that I’d find out my direction in life was so far off from what I wanted it to be. For many reasons, it was easier not to ask those BIG and difficult questions.
However, by asking what makes you happy, your goals, what legacy you’d like to leave behind and even describing your perfect day, you’re doing a vital thing. You’re understanding your core values.
- What is important to you?
- What is your mission in life?
- What contribution do you want to make?
- What makes you unhappy, uncomfortable and stressed out?
- What do you want to do with your life?
- What makes life meaningful?
BIG questions right? But important ones if you want to live true to yourself. These are your core values and living intentionally is living a life that honours your core values.
b) Daily decisions
Core values feel and are big. So, how do you make big things happen?
Well, how do you eat an elephant? As the saying goes, it’s one bite at a time.
The same is true for an intentional life.
Intentional living is a daily habit and series of small actions, repeated often that build up over time to paint the bigger picture of your life. Doing something once won’t change things, but to use the quote by Gretchen Rubin, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
An intentional life doesn’t just happen. Every day you’ll be faced with choices, decisions and distractions that will push and pull you in different ways. However, through a series of small, baby actions that will probably become second nature over time, you can find a way to build a life of purpose, direction and meaning that aligns with those core values I talked about above.
Step 1 is to identify those core values for you in your own life.
Step 2 is to make daily decisions that align with those core values.
- Instead of staying late at work every night, decide you’ll spend a couple of nights a week with your partner and kids.
- Instead of wanting a bigger wardrobe, have fun building a simple wardrobe that makes you feel great in the body you’re in right now (and maybe spending less money in the process).
- Instead of buying more stuff because it’s in the sales, buy yourself tickets for a day out and make memories you can treasure.
These are just some examples of how your daily actions might align with your core values.
4. INTENTIONAL LIVING, DECLUTTERING AND THE MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE
Intentional living can, but doesn’t always, mean you have to declutter your home and shift to a more minimalist lifestyle.
Having less clutter and being aware of what you let in and keep out are all key components but, to me, an intentional life is more sweeping and broad.
An intentional life is about your clutter and stuff but it’s also about your self-care, your hopes and wishes for the future, getting the most out of life and being mindful and present in your here and now.
To learn more about decluttering and the minimalist lifestyle, you might like to read the next two articles:
5. HOW TO BE INTENTIONAL EVERY DAY
My site is all about practical tips to simplify life so, in the article below, I’d like to offer you some small, practical tips you could try today to help you live intentionally every day.
Many of them are about clearing the excess, raising your awareness, developing boundaries and curating a life based on the things that really matter to you. They could be to do with your time management, self-care, mindset, personal routines, spending habits or even knowing when to come away from social media!
Further reading: 14 ways to be intentional every day
6. PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF INTENTIONAL LIVING
If you’d like to find out more about living intentionally and how you can embrace intentional living in your own life, here are a list of articles and resources which you may find helpful.
- How to Shop with Intention – For those who aspire to a simpler, clutter-free and intentional life but still love to hit the shops every now and then, here’s a helpful little guide to shopping with intention. An intentional life doesn’t mean you never spend money or go shopping, but it does mean you avoid those impulse buys and purchase more wisely.
- 7 ways to be intentional with your time – Your time is precious and arguably one of your most limited resources. Intentional living is very much about using your time purposefully, getting organised, being productive, slowing down and giving yourself more free time.
- Essential mindsets to help you get more out of life – Your thoughts shape your actions and decisions. “You cannot have a positive life and a negative life.” (Joyce Meyer). In this article we explore some important thought patterns to help you show up for your life and make it meaningful including acceptance, gratitude, trust, appreciation and taking ownership of your life path.
- 6 self-care habits for your daily routine – Making time for and looking after yourself is how you show up for this precious life of yours. If time is tight and you always put yourself at the bottom of the priority list, this article is for you.
- 24 habits for your daily routine – Harness the power of habits to do small actions repeatedly over time to bring about big change and progress. Try these positive habits for your home and life to support you in the best way possible.
- How to enjoy the little things in life – Big things do happen but for most of us, it’s the simple joys of our every day life that overall build a happy life. In this article I share some tips on how to slow down and notice the little things that we’d normally be moving too fast to notice.
- How to set boundaries in life – Boundaries are your invisible, personal force-field. Sweeping statements of intent to determine what you will and won’t accept in life. In this article you can get a free worksheet to help you set boundaries in your own life.
- How and why to slow down sometimes – Life is not a race and there are no medals for passing the finishing line first. Instead, let’s explore the value in stepping away from the fast lane so you can notice the journey of your life.
- How to use social media mindfully – I use social media but I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love that it provides information and inspiration but it’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of comparison and a distorted view of reality. An intentional life needs work so perhaps it would be better to work on our own lives instead of living vicariously through the feeds of others.
7. WHAT INTENTIONAL LIVING IS NOT
In this article I’ve tried to share my interpretation of what intentional living is and what it means to me, but I couldn’t finish without talking a little about what intentional living is not!
Intentional living is NOT:
- A magic wand to make everything better – Your problems will hopefully feel more manageable and you might even be able to solve a few by keeping focused and making things simpler, but it won’t make everything easy. Life always comes with ups and downs.
- An instant fix – Intentional living isn’t a plaster over a wound. It takes time for you to get used to thinking and doing things differently and for the momentum to build.
- Doing or feeling things because you ‘should’ do or feel them – Intentional living requires courage and conviction to make changes and go against the grain of what you think you ‘should’ do. As one of my readers highlighted in a recent blog post comment on another article, our ‘shoulds’ need to be decluttered. Do things your way, because you believe them to be right, not because you ‘should’ be doing better, ‘should’ be doing more or ‘should’ be feeling this or that.
- About big, bold action – Small changes, subtle shifts and persistence can bring about all the change you need.
- A case of once and you’re done – Intentional living requires ongoing maintenance. Life throws many temptations, opportunities and challenges at us. Sometimes we’re taken off guard and say ‘yes,’ when really we wanted to say ‘no’. Always be vigilant, ask yourself ‘why’ and keep reminding yourself of what’s really important to you.
- The same for everyone – We all have different priorities and motivations in life. Your life will look different to mine so our choices, decisions and actions will differ according to our priorities. An intentional life comes in many different shapes and sizes.
- A case for perfection – Lastly, intentional living is not about trying to achieve perfection or never making a wrong choice. Instead, it’s about learning more about ourselves and the life we’d like to create to support us best.
8. RESOURCES FOR INTENTIONAL LIVING
If you’d like to explore intentional living and how to get the most out of your life, here are some other articles and resources which you might find helpful:
- Gratitude Practice: How to Use Gratitude to Improve Your Life – Every morning I find the time to write a gratitude list. It only takes a few minutes to brainstorm 5-10 things I’m really grateful for in my life but it sets me up for the day and helps me clarify and focus on my priorities. Check out this post on how to create a regular gratitude practice to improve your life.
- A Beginner’s Guide to Slow Living – The world is a busy and complicated place. In this article we share some tips on how to find more peace and calm in your daily life with a beginner’s guide to slow living.
- How to Stop Caring About What Other People Think of You – It’s good to be aware of the impact we have on others but sometimes that gets in the way of us pursuing a meaningful, simple and intentional life. If you worry too much about how others react to your choices and decisions, here are some tips on how to stop caring about what other people think of you.
- Journaling Tips for Beginners to Encourage a Meaningful Life – Journaling is a wonderful way of exploring your thoughts and feelings. In this article I’m sharing some helpful journaling tips for beginners and 30 beginner’s journal prompts to encourage a meaningful life.
- Simplify Your Life – My popular short course to help you define your priorities, understand how less can be more and practical ways you can get started simplifying your life right now!
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
I hope this information has been helpful to you. For more articles on Intentional Living, hop over to the Intentional Living archives.
What does an intentional life mean to you? Do you check in with yourself regularly? Ask yourself questions, revisit your priorities and goals, even just reflect on the day you’ve just had? Do you listen to what comes up for you or are you too busy? I’d love to hear from you if you have anything to add or share. Please leave a comment below.
If you have any questions, please drop me an email at he[email protected] and I’d be happy to help!
DON’T MISS OUT!
I’m Antonia and on this blog I share practical inspiration to simplify your home, time and life. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest! You can also subscribe to Balance Through Simplicity and receive regular simplicity tips straight to your inbox for free. Make sure you never miss an article plus you’ll get a copy of my free Declutter Starter Kit as a welcome gift!