What does it mean to live intentionally and how can it change your life?
“For me, living intentionally is about being honest about where we are, where we came from and where we are going,” says Mark Flanagan, LMSW, MPH, MA, a social worker at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.
Living intentionally vs. on autopilot
“For better or worse, about 60 to 70% of our lives are on autopilot,” says Flanagan. “Some routines are good. But it becomes a problem when we don’t prioritize conscious choices.”
For many, keeping busy is a way of dealing with anxiety without really addressing it.
“We’re numbing out with unconscious, maladaptive habits to help us get through the day,” he says. “But often, we’ll see they aren’t yielding the results we thought they would.”
The benefits of living intentionally
When you live on purpose, life becomes more meaningful.
“When we are living intentionally, our actions serve a purpose,” says Flanagan. “We spend our energy more efficiently and wisely; we accomplish our goals more quickly because we are focused.”
Ultimately, he says, you may find more time in your day when you’re actively engaged with how you’re using your time, rather than passively “getting through” the day.
Perhaps you find yourself spending a few hours a day on Facebook or watching Netflix. Maybe this is how you want to spend your time. As long as you are purposely choosing this action, that’s living intentionally. But if your goal is to grow a garden or spend more time with your spouse, spending three hours online each day may not be living intentionally for you.
Living intentionally doesn’t require perfection
Living with intention doesn’t mean overworking yourself to accomplish your goals.
“If you had a tough day and are living intentionally, you won’t feel bad about taking a break at night,” he says. “Give yourself grace. Try to live a little more intentionally than the day before. The focus shouldn’t be on being perfect. I like to use the mantra ‘80% is perfect.’”
Make space to live intentionally
Living with intention takes effort and thought. It’s essential to create space in your schedule to rest and reflect on who you want to be and where you want to go in life.
Consider the following areas of your life:
Ask yourself if you are spending time on activities out of habit or if they are truly benefitting your life. While there will always be tasks you must do that aren’t enjoyable, you may realize that you have more choices than you think.
Create more time in your day
“So many people wish they had an extra day in the week for their priorities, but in reality, we are always going to have obligations and excuses for not doing the things we value,” says Flanagan. “If there’s something that matters to you, you must carve out the time.”
In other words, it’s not about finding an extra hour in your day; it’s about creating an extra hour because you used your time well.
Reflect on what matters to you
It takes effort to determine what matters to you. Start living more intentionally today with the following strategies.
Slow down. Activities like silence, solitude and meditation can give you space to listen to your mind and body. “Our bodies are always integrating information around us,” says Flanagan. “When something is ‘off,’ we will feel discomfort inside ourselves.” The process of slowing down reconnects you to your body and helps you realize why you’re experiencing discomfort.
Journal. Flanagan suggests setting a timer for 15 minutes and, in bullet-point form, journaling a list of what you want out of life or what you value.
Find community. Once you know what you want to do, join a group of likeminded individuals, such as a gym, a spiritual organization or a community group. “Pick your values first, then set up a system around you that supports your intentions,” he says.
Take the risk to live on purpose
“There is risk involved when pursuing a goal,” says Flanagan. “But there’s also a risk in not ‘going for it.’ When we choose not to pursue our goals and dreams, we risk missing fulfillment because we never took the time to find out what we want. We risk missing out on life.”
Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.