The power of intentional living

By planetm | March 2, 2022

Start afresh by setting goals and taking control. Leah Larwood explains how to get started

I remember sitting at my kitchen table in December 2020, just days before the new year. My daughter – then five years old – was looking at the calendar and said: “Mummy we have two days left of our lives, and then we start again.” I’ve always enjoyed that idea of starting a new version of life, and a second chance to live more intentionally. Of course, we don’t need the new year to make these changes but there does seem to be an energy of possibility at the beginning of the year, when those around us are in a similar frame of mind, too.

One way to manifest our dream life is by adopting a mindset of intentionality. Intentional living is the art of understanding our own values and making considered choices before we unintentionally live by others’ choices. This can leave us drifting along in a life that doesn’t feel entirely right for us – we live in a busy world, and sometimes it can feel easier to just go with the flow.

Breaking away from the norm

There can be many reasons why we go along, knowingly or unknowingly, with how things are done. We might not be aware we’re doing it or it could be because this is what we were taught by care-givers. Perhaps it helps to keep the peace; maybe you don’t know how to change or where to begin; or it could feel risky changing. But it might also feel exciting and a way to allow more possibilities.

Living intentionally is about choosing a lifestyle that is in accordance to our values, needs and beliefs. Our lifestyles might be based on a combination of spiritual, health, environmental, political or ethical values, and also a need for self-improvement. How we make our choices and decisions is a personal process and for some, going with the flow will be an intentional choice in itself, whilst for others, just drifting down a stream might feel entirely wrong.

Because, quite frankly, now more than ever, it can feel easy to be swept away by social norms and a long list of things that are being asked of us by our workplace, organisations we belong to, the expectations of educational environments, the government and/or other pressures within our friendship groups and even in our own household.

Often, we can also become unaware that we’re being influenced by loved ones, the media, our culture and these other ‘shoulds’, and in all of this, it can be easy to lose ourselves in the noise, until one day we realise that we’re not entirely living a life that feels right for us. However, if we take a moment to step back to ask ourselves: ‘Is this what I really want? Where am I in all of this? Is this beneficial? What if I do things differently?’, then this can be a way to step back from expectations. If we evaluate our own needs, we can take the steps we need to live in tune with our own values and desires.

What do you really want?

That’s effectively what living intentionally is. Being in tune with ourselves, perhaps by using some mindfulness techniques to understand better what we need or how we truly wish to live. It can be helpful to explore our values and dreams so we know specifically what it is we want out of life. Perhaps you want to eat less meat but you’re influenced by the carnivores in your household. Or maybe you don’t actually like living in a city, and crave the countryside but you’ve been going along with it because job prospects are better in the city.

Start to ask ‘what if’ questions to allow a sense of expansiveness and choice: What if we start to make meals which can easily be adapted to suit both vegetarian and meat diets? (Maybe others won’t join in, or maybe they will.) Or what if I take the plunge and go self-employed, establish myself, before moving to the sticks? Or what if I find a completely different job in the country – one that’s more in line with what I love?

Living intentionally can allow us to feel grounded and powerful – a sense that our life is going the best way it possibly can. That’s because we’re aware of our own process and we’re in the driving seat, and we’re empowered by the decisions we make and try to live by. We’re more aware of external influences yet able to step away to a different place that feels right for us, if we need to. Living intentionally is about awareness and exercising our choices and making those decisions a reality, so that we find ourselves in situations where we’re in flow and living a life that feels right in our body.

How to live intentionally

Cultivate awareness:

  • The first stage is really about noticing and bringing awareness to areas of our life where perhaps we’re operating on ‘auto pilot’. Sometimes auto pilot can feel like a pleasant cruise if the habits or behaviours associated are beneficial. However, sometimes it can be turbulent if we fall into unhelpful patterns without realising it. Start by focusing on a few areas of your life to begin with and then expand out to others including: environmental footprint, purchasing decisions, food choices, the company you keep, your political views, your approach to wellbeing, the media you consume, home life, finances, your approach to inner growth and even your role in your household and wider family unit.
  • Notice it all, and without judgment just be aware of how these choices feel in your body and ask yourself: Does this feel right for me? Are these ways of being helpful or beneficial in some way?

Start a 2022 living intentionally diary:

  • Writing down your values, needs and desires at the start of a journal is a helpful way to keep a record of the ways you wish to live. These may change – it could be an evolving piece – but that’s OK. Allow your journal to have movement. Journalling daily about awareness around your needs and values and whether you’ve lived your day intentionally can be a helpful way to bring awareness and to stay intentional.
  • It’s a really mindful way of noticing how you are living your life and whether you’re living in accordance to your values. You may start to notice patterns in your life and see which influences, distractions or individuals might be affecting your decisions and taking you away from what you need.

Staying on track:

  • Asking a partner, friend or family member to join you in living intentionally can be a supportive way to explore this way of being. It’s helpful to find someone who genuinely wants to give it a go. Explaining the process to others can also reinforce the approach in yourself. Living intentionally with others is also a wonderful way to create a support network, which can be a helpful way to stay on track. Why not set a time each week to check in with each other?

Establish boundaries:

  • Reflect on what you need from your year ahead (and beyond) and share some of your hopes with loved ones. Be open and clear about your choices with others, as and when it feels appropriate. Make a list of all of the possible situations where you may feel tested or influenced – situations that might sway you away from what feels right for you.
  • Be firm and clear on what you need and if others don’t respect your boundaries, gently pull them up on it. Always stick to what feels right for you.

Drop into gratitude:

  • Gratitude isn’t just an emotion, it’s an attitude and something we need to cultivate purposefully. It’s an intentional act that recognises the positive aspects in our lives – the things that bring us joy. Developing an attitude of gratitude can really improve our overall appreciation and satisfaction for life.
  • Before you make a decision, take a moment to pause and acknowledge the energy that has gone into getting this far. Drop into a feeling of gratitude for it all, noticing and acknowledging, before you make your next move. Cultivate gratitude around your commitment to intentional living, and for making this important decision to live more in line with your true beliefs.

Discover more

This article first appeared in issue 21 of Planet Mindful magazine. Want to live more mindfully? Check out more mindfulness techniques here.

Join the Planet Mindful community and make a pact to prioritise your self care – try an issue here for just 99p!