Imagine you are at a crossroads in your life. You have been working hard for years, but you feel unfulfilled and unhappy. You have a vague idea of what you want from life, but you don't know how to get there. You feel stuck, confused, and frustrated.
Does this sound familiar?
If so, you are not alone. Many people struggle with finding meaning and direction in their lives. They go through the motions of living, but they don't feel alive. They are reactive, not proactive. They let life happen to them, instead of making it happen for them.
This is not how life is supposed to be.
Life is meant to be lived, with intention.
What is Intentional Living?
Living an intentional life means building your life around your core beliefs and values, and pursuing your purpose and goals with passion and action. It means being mindful and present in every moment, and making conscious choices that align with your vision and desired outcomes. It means taking charge of your life, instead of letting it take charge of you.
Living an intentional life is not easy, but it is rewarding. It can help you:
✔ Find more joy and satisfaction in your daily life
✔ Reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on what matters most
✔ Achieve your goals and dreams faster and easier
✔ Improve your relationships with yourself and others
✔ Make a positive impact on the world around you
But why is living an intentional life so important?
Because the alternative is living a life of misery and despair!
According to the World Health Organization, mental health disorders are a major cause of disability and premature death worldwide. Depression alone affects more than 350 million people each year, and is the leading cause of suicide. Moreover, people with mental health disorders have around 10 to 25 year reduction in life expectancy, and are more likely to suffer from physical illnesses, substance abuse, social isolation, and violence.
These alarming statistics show that many people are living in a state of chronic unhappiness and hopelessness. They are dissatisfied with their lives, their relationships, their work, their health, and their environment. They have lost their sense of purpose, meaning, and direction. They have given up on their dreams, their passions, and their potential.
This breaks my heart.
I know what it feels like to be lost, confused, and unhappy. I also know what it feels like to be inspired, motivated, and fulfilled. I know the difference between living a life of intention and living a life of default.
And I want to share that difference with you.
In this article, I will tell you why living an intentional life is important, and how to start doing it today. You will discover how to identify your values and purpose, how to set goals and take action, how to be mindful and present, and how to evaluate and adjust your progress. And finally, you will also find some tips and strategies for living an intentional life.
Are you ready to live an intentional life?
If yes, then read on.
How to Live Intentionally: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Identify your values and purpose
The first step to living an intentional life is to identify your values and purpose. Your values are the principles that guide your actions and decisions. They reflect what is important to you, what you stand for, and what you believe in. Your purpose is the reason why you exist, the contribution you want to make, and the legacy you want to leave.
Knowing your values and purpose can help you:
✔ Clarify your vision and direction for your life
✔ Align your goals and actions with your true self
✔ Make choices that are consistent and authentic
✔ Express yourself with confidence and conviction
✔ Find meaning and fulfilment in what you do
But how can you discover your core beliefs and values, and define your purpose or "why"?
There are several strategies you can try, such as:
✪ Noticing thoughts: Pay attention to your automatic thoughts, especially when you face a challenge or a dilemma. What do they reveal about your values and beliefs? For example, if you think "I can't do this", what does that say about your self-confidence or self-worth? If you think "This is unfair", what does that say about your sense of justice or equality?
✪ Keeping a diary: It can help to keep a diary for several weeks to record your thoughts and feelings. You can also write down your dreams, aspirations, passions, and interests. Look for patterns and themes that emerge from your entries. What do they tell you about your values and purpose?
✪ Asking questions: Once you notice a pattern in your thoughts, you can start to explore the core beliefs that underlie them. You can ask yourself questions such as: Why do I think this way? Where did this belief come from? Is it true or helpful? Does it serve me or limit me? How does it affect my behaviour and outcomes? What would I rather believe in instead?
✪ Considering the evidence: Sometimes we hold beliefs without evidence, or based on outdated or inaccurate information. It can help to challenge these beliefs by looking for evidence that supports or contradicts them. You can also seek feedback from others who know you well or have a different perspective. You might find that some of your beliefs are not valid or relevant anymore, and need to be replaced or updated.
✪ Understanding assumptions, beliefs and experiences: Another way to identify your values and beliefs is to examine the assumptions, beliefs, and experiences that have shaped your worldview. You can reflect on questions such as: What did I learn from my family, culture, religion, education, or society? How did these influences affect my values and beliefs? Are they still relevant or useful for me today? Do they align with my current goals and aspirations?
✪ Defining what is important to you and why: A simple but powerful way to discover your values is to define what is important to you and why. You can make a list of the things that matter most to you in different areas of your life, such as work, relationships, health, spirituality, etc. Then, for each item on your list, ask yourself why it is important to you. What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? How does it benefit you or others? The answers will reveal your underlying values.
✪ Telling your stories to reveal your north star: Another way to discover your values is to tell stories about yourself that illustrate who you are, what you have done, and what you have learned. You can choose stories that show how you overcame a challenge, achieved a goal, made a difference, or experienced a transformation. As you tell your stories, pay attention to the emotions, lessons, and insights that emerge. What do they tell you about your values and purpose?
✪ Reflecting on stories of powerful childhood experiences: Sometimes our values are formed in childhood by powerful experiences that left a lasting impression on us. You can reflect on stories of such experiences that shaped who you are today. For example, maybe you witnessed an act of kindness or injustice that moved you deeply. Maybe you had a mentor or a role model who inspired you. Maybe you had a hobby or a passion that gave you joy or fulfilment. What did these experiences teach you about yourself and the world?
✪ Use the ‘River of Life’ metaphor exercise: This is a creative way to visualize your life journey and identify the key events, people, and influences that have shaped your values and purpose. You can draw a river on a large piece of paper and mark the significant moments along its course. You can use symbols, colours, words, or images to represent different aspects of your life. For example, you can use rocks for obstacles, bridges for transitions, islands for achievements, forks for choices, etc. As you look at your river of life, ask yourself: What are the common themes or patterns? What are the turning points or milestones? What are the sources of strength or support? What are the lessons or insights?
✪ Identify deep-seated non-negotiables: These are the values that you would never compromise, no matter what. They are the core of your identity and integrity. They are the values that you would defend, fight for, or even die for. To identify your non-negotiables, you can ask yourself: What are the things that I absolutely cannot live without? What are the things that I would never tolerate or accept? What are the things that I would always stand up for or speak out against?
✪ Consider who you admire and why: Another way to discover your values is to think of people who inspire you, either in real life or in fiction. They can be famous figures, historical heroes, fictional characters, or personal acquaintances. Ask yourself: What do I admire about them? What qualities or traits do they have that I respect or aspire to? What values do they embody or express?
✪ Envision an imaginary meeting with close allies: This is a fun way to tap into your subconscious and reveal your values. You can imagine that you are invited to a secret meeting with a group of people who share your vision and mission. They can be anyone you want, from celebrities to superheroes to fictional characters. Ask yourself: Who are these people? Why were they chosen? What do we have in common? What do we want to achieve together?
✪ Peak experiences: Consider a meaningful moment—a peak experience that stands out. What was happening to you? What was going on? What values were you honouring at this time?
✪ Suppressed values: Sometimes we suppress our values because of fear, guilt, shame, or pressure from others. We may deny or hide what is truly important to us, and conform to what is expected of us. To uncover your suppressed values, you can ask yourself: What are the things that I secretly desire or dream of? What are the things that I feel guilty or ashamed of wanting? What are the things that I avoid or ignore because of fear or doubt?
Step 2: Set goals and take action
The second step to living an intentional life is to set goals and take action. Goals are the specific, measurable, and time-bound outcomes that you want to achieve. They are the bridge between your values and purpose, and your reality. Action is the process of taking steps toward your goals, and overcoming any obstacles or challenges along the way.
Setting goals and taking action can help you:
✔ Focus your energy and attention on what matters most
✔ Track your progress and celebrate your achievements
✔ Stay motivated and accountable for your results
✔ Learn from your mistakes and improve your skills
✔ Create positive habits and routines that support your success
But how can you set goals and take action that align with your values and purpose?
There are several strategies you can try, such as:
✪ Using the SMART framework: A SMART goal is an objective-setting methodology in which you craft goals to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. By creating goals that include each of these five criteria points, you’re setting yourself up for success because your goals will be clear, strategic, and most importantly — attainable.
✪ Breaking down your goals into smaller steps: A big goal can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially if it seems far away or unrealistic. To make it more manageable and achievable, you can break it down into smaller steps or milestones that lead up to the final outcome. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, you can start by running a 5K, then a 10K, then a half-marathon, and so on.
✪ Creating an action plan: An action plan is a document that outlines the steps you need to take to achieve your goal. It can include details such as tasks, deadlines, resources, responsibilities, indicators, and contingencies. An action plan can help you organize your activities, prioritize your actions, monitor your progress, and adjust your plan as needed.
✪ Using the 80/20 rule: The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts. This means that you should focus on the most important and impactful actions that will bring you closer to your goal, and eliminate or delegate the less important or trivial ones. This can help you save time, energy, and resources, and avoid distractions or procrastination.
✪ Setting deadlines and reminders: Deadlines are specific dates or times by which you want to complete a task or a goal. Reminders are prompts or cues that help you remember to do something. Both deadlines and reminders can help you stay on track with your action plan, and avoid missing or delaying any steps. You can use tools such as calendars, alarms, apps, or sticky notes to set deadlines and reminders for yourself.
✪ Seeking feedback and support: Feedback is information or advice that you receive from others about your performance or progress. Support is assistance or encouragement that you receive from others to help you achieve your goal. Both feedback and support can help you improve your skills, overcome challenges, learn from mistakes, stay motivated, and celebrate successes. You can seek feedback and support from people such as mentors, coaches, peers, friends, or family.
✪ Reviewing and rewarding yourself: Reviewing is the process of evaluating your actions and outcomes against your goals. Rewarding is the process of giving yourself something positive or enjoyable for achieving a goal or a milestone. Both reviewing and rewarding can help you acknowledge your achievements, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement, and reinforce your motivation.
Step 3: Be mindful and present
The third step to living an intentional life is to be mindful and present. Mindfulness is the state of being aware and attentive to the present moment, without judgment or distraction. Presence is the state of being fully engaged and immersed in the present moment, without worry or regret.
Being mindful and present can help you:
✔ Enjoy and appreciate your life more
✔ Reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on what you can control
✔ Improve your performance and creativity by avoiding multitasking
✔ Enhance your relationships by listening and communicating better
✔ Develop your emotional intelligence and self-awareness
But how can you be mindful and present in your daily life?
There are several strategies you can try, such as:
✪ Practicing mindfulness meditation: This is a type of meditation that helps you become aware and increase your concentration on what you are doing at any given time. You can practice mindfulness meditation by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. You can also use other objects of attention, such as sounds, sensations, or emotions.
✪ Showing gratitude: This is a practice of expressing appreciation for what you have, rather than focusing on what you lack. You can show gratitude by writing down three things you are grateful for every day, thanking someone who helped you, or noticing the beauty and goodness around you. Showing gratitude can help you cultivate a positive mindset and attitude toward life.
✪ Only focusing on one thing at a time: This is a practice of avoiding multitasking and giving your full attention to one task or activity at a time. You can do this by setting priorities, eliminating distractions, and setting boundaries. Focusing on one thing at a time can help you improve your productivity, quality, and satisfaction.
✪ Cultivating unselfconsciousness: This is a practice of letting go of your self-consciousness and inhibitions, and being yourself without worrying about what others think. You can do this by embracing your strengths and weaknesses, expressing your emotions and opinions, or trying something new or fun. Cultivating unselfconsciousness can help you boost your confidence and authenticity.
✪ Practicing savouring: This is a practice of prolonging and intensifying your positive experiences by paying attention to them and relishing them. You can do this by using all your senses, sharing your joy with others, or reminiscing about happy memories. Practicing savouring can help you increase your happiness and well-being.
✪ Focusing on your breath: This is a simple but powerful technique that can help you calm your mind and body, and connect with the present moment. You can do this by taking slow and deep breaths, feeling the air entering and leaving your lungs, or counting your breaths. Focusing on your breath can help you relax, cope with stress, and regulate your emotions.
✪ Finding your flow: This is a state of optimal experience in which you are fully absorbed and engaged in an activity that challenges your skills and abilities. You can find your flow by choosing an activity that you enjoy and are good at, setting clear goals and feedback, and eliminating distractions. Finding your flow can help you enhance your performance, creativity, and learning.
Step 4: Evaluate and adjust your progress
The fourth step to living an intentional life is to evaluate and adjust your progress. Evaluation is the process of assessing how well you are doing in relation to your goals, and what factors are helping or hindering you. Adjustment is the process of making changes or improvements to your plan, based on your evaluation.
Evaluating and adjusting your progress can help you:
✔ Recognize your achievements and celebrate your successes
✔ Identify your strengths and weaknesses and learn from your mistakes
✔ Stay on track with your goals and avoid getting stuck or complacent
✔ Adapt to changing circumstances and overcome new challenges
✔ Optimize your performance and results
But how can you evaluate and adjust your progress effectively?
There are several strategies you can try, such as:
✪ Documenting your progress: An effective method for measuring progress is documenting it. Consider recording your overall goals, tasks, milestones, and deadlines. Then you can use a tool such as a calendar, a planner, a journal, or an app to help you track your progress by checking off tasks as you complete them and milestones as you achieve them. Documenting your progress can help you see how far you have come, how much you have left to do, and what areas need more attention.
✪ Reviewing your progress regularly: A good practice for evaluating progress is reviewing it regularly. Consider setting a schedule for when and how often you will review your progress, such as daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Then you can use a tool such as a checklist, a spreadsheet, a dashboard, or a report to help you review your progress by comparing your actual performance with your expected performance. Reviewing your progress regularly can help you monitor your achievements, spot problems, and make adjustments as needed.
✪ Seeking feedback from others: Another useful method for evaluating progress is seeking feedback from others. Consider asking for feedback from people who are involved in or affected by your goals, such as mentors, coaches, peers, managers, clients, or customers. Then you can use a tool such as a survey, a questionnaire, an interview, or a focus group to help you collect feedback on various aspects of your progress, such as quality, quantity, timeliness, satisfaction, or impact. Seeking feedback from others can help you gain new perspectives, insights, and suggestions for improvement.
✪ Conducting a SWOT analysis: A powerful technique for evaluating progress is conducting a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a framework that helps you analyze your internal and external factors that affect your progress. You can use a tool such as a matrix or a diagram to help you conduct a SWOT analysis by listing and rating the factors under each category. Conducting a SWOT analysis can help you identify your advantages and disadvantages, and the potential risks and benefits for your goals.
Step 5: Tips and strategies for living an intentional life
The final step to living an intentional life is to apply some tips and strategies that can help you maintain and enhance your intentional living. These are some practical and actionable suggestions that can help you be more intentional in everything you do.
Some tips and strategies for living an intentional life are:
✪ Start your day with intention: How you start your day can set the tone for the rest of it. Instead of rushing into your tasks or checking your phone, take some time to be mindful and intentional about your day. You can do this by meditating, praying, journaling, affirming, or visualizing your goals and intentions for the day. This can help you start your day with clarity, focus, and positivity.
✪ Choose your priorities: You can't do everything, so you need to choose what matters most to you. Instead of trying to please everyone or follow the crowd, decide what your top priorities are and stick to them. You can do this by making a list of your most important roles, responsibilities, and goals, and ranking them according to your values and purpose. Then you can allocate your time, energy, and resources accordingly.
✪ Say no to distractions: Distractions are anything that takes your attention away from your intentions. They can be external, such as notifications, emails, calls, or people, or internal, such as thoughts, feelings, or impulses. To live an intentional life, you need to say no to distractions and focus on what matters. You can do this by turning off or silencing your devices, setting boundaries with others, creating a conducive environment, and managing your emotions.
✪ Be present in the moment: Living in the past or the future can rob you of the joy and opportunity of the present. To live an intentional life, you need to be present in the moment and appreciate what you have and what you are doing. You can do this by practicing mindfulness techniques, such as breathing, observing, listening, or savouring. You can also practice gratitude for the people, things, and experiences in your life.
✪ Learn something new every day: Learning is a way of growing and expanding your potential. To live an intentional life, you need to keep learning new things every day that can help you achieve your goals and fulfil your purpose. You can do this by reading books, articles, blogs, or podcasts on topics that interest you or relate to your goals. You can also take courses, workshops, webinars, or seminars that can teach you new skills or knowledge.
✪ Seek inspiration and motivation: Inspiration is a feeling of enthusiasm or excitement that sparks your creativity or action. Motivation is a force that drives you to pursue your goals or intentions. To live an intentional life, you need to seek inspiration and motivation from various sources that can help you stay on track and overcome challenges. You can do this by following people who inspire you, such as mentors, role models, leaders, or influencers. You can also watch videos, listen to music, read quotes, or join communities that motivate you.
✪ Review and reflect regularly: Reviewing and reflecting are ways of evaluating and improving your progress and performance. To live an intentional life, you need to review and reflect regularly on how well you are doing in relation to your goals and intentions. You can do this by using tools such as journals, trackers, dashboards, or reports to measure and document your progress. You can also ask yourself questions such as: What did I do well? What did I learn? What challenges did I face? How can I improve?
Living an intentional life is not a one-time event, but a continuous process of aligning your actions with your values and purpose. It is a way of living that can bring you more happiness, satisfaction, and fulfilment in your life.
I hope this article, at the very least, has encouraged you to think about living an intentional life. By following the steps I have outlined in this article, you can create a life that is meaningful, authentic, and impactful. You can live your life on purpose, not by default.
And so, start today by taking one small step toward living an intentional life. Choose one of the tips or strategies from this article and implement it in your daily routine.
Remember, living an intentional life is not easy, but it is rewarding. And you are not alone. You have me and many others who are on the same path as you.
However, I do understand and appreciate that doing this on your own may feel overwhelming. If that's the case, then feel free to get in touch with me. Through tailored one-on-one consultations, I can help you live a mindful and meaningful life.
Over the years, many people have reached out to me to seek help and guidance. And that is why, I have also designed this tailored Retreat to help people navigate the myriad life stressors and live a fulfilled life. Feel free to check it out below and let me know if you would like to join this.
Whatever you do, don't wait for tomorrow or someday. The time to live an intentional life is now!
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