Intentional living may sound lofty, complicated, or just plain confusing. But it’s a way of life that you can build with some reflection and small shifts.
You’ve likely heard about living an intentional life. Maybe you caught the words in a conversation, or saw them plastered in an ad.
It seems like intentional living is everywhere these days. But what does it really mean to be intentional? What does it look like to do things with intention? And perhaps most important, is intentional living available to everyone?
It is — anyone can lead an intentional, purpose-filled life. The key is to identify what that personally means for you — and make small but still significant shifts and conscious choices to build it.
Intentional living means building your life around your core beliefs and values, says Shelley Meche’tte, a certified life purpose and confidence coach in Los Angeles, and author of the book “70 Days of Happy.”
What might intentional living look like day-to-day?
According to Meche’tte, it looks like not acting on impulse or merely existing. Rather, it’s about “commanding your day,” she says.
For example, living with intention could mean more values-based actions like:
- taking a long walk with your spouse because movement and quality time are priorities
- making sure your favorite activities make it into your schedule to prioritize self-care
- going back to church on Sundays when fostering your relationship with God and your community is important to you
Living with intention, and based on your core beliefs, has many mental health benefits.
For starters, intentional living can lower your stress. One reason is that you stop “weighing the pros and cons of every decision, which causes us so much anxiety,” says Genevieve Piturro, a coach and speaker in Irvington, New York, who helps others find their true purpose.
Instead, you’re guided by your North Star, notes Piturro — again, a compass made from your own beliefs and values.
Research also bears out the benefits of living with intention.
For example, in this 2021 study, participants recorded their distress, well-being, and values-based actions every day for 21 days. Taking more values-based actions was linked to lower daily distress and greater daily well-being.
Beyond that, several science-backed treatments use intentional living — such as living according to your values — to treat conditions like depression.
According to Lisa Olivera, a therapist in Oakland, California, and author of the book “Already Enough: A Path to Self-Acceptance,” living with intention:
- creates a sense of agency in our lives
- gives us access to our own power
- supports us in feeling more present, in tune, and capable
An intentional life brings meaning, profound satisfaction, and fulfillment because you’re living in a way that’s true to who you are.
While intentional living is powerful, it’s not always joyful, peaceful, or easy. Sometimes, it can be challenging and even awkward — especially in the beginning.
As New York art therapist Jackie Tassiello notes, you might realize that the values and traditions you learned from your family, culture, or society no longer resonate with you — and that “can be tough to navigate.”
Also, says Tassiello, as you get closer to the core of what matters to you, you could lean away from activities and relationships that numbed or distracted you and toward new, healthier patterns. And at first, that can feel foreign and uncomfortable.
But remember that many worthwhile things can be tough sometimes. The key is to keep going, reminding yourself that you’re building a life that aligns with your deepest principles. A life with intention.
There are many ways to live and be intentional. Like intentional living itself, the key is to find what resonates most with you.
Consider trying these tips and spending some time reflecting on your own ideas. These could help you be intentional in everything you do.
Tune out the noise
Today’s world is filled with distractions that can easily pull you away from your values and intentions. Try not to let social media, other people, or anything else dictate your innermost desires.
Try to pause, and identify the biggest distractions in your life, and consider limiting or letting them go altogether.
Identify your values
Naming your values is the foundation of living an intentional life. Answering these questions can help you get some clarity on what’s vital to you:
- From morning to night, what does an ideal day look like for you?
- Why are these things so important?
- What are the activities that bring you fulfillment? Meaning? Contentment?
- What do these activities have in common?
- What do you wish you had more of? Less of?
- What upsets you?
- What inspires you?
You can read more about discovering your values here.
Set a morning intention
To bring those big values down to the day to day, try setting an intention every morning.
Your intention may be a few words or a sentence. It may serve as a reminder of how you’d like to behave and the choices you’d like to make this day.
You can make your intention-setting part of a larger morning ritual that includes a brief meditation practice and giving thanks. Or, you can simply close your eyes, put your hands over your heart, and recite your intention before getting out of bed.
Here’s the thing about living an intentional life: You don’t need to overhaul your entire life, or start from scratch. You can infuse intentionality into activities you’re already doing and actions you’re already taking, says Olivera.
Here’s how, she says:
- When cooking dinner, try using your five senses to notice the smells, tastes, textures, sights, and sounds.
- When doing chores, consider connecting to why you’re doing them, such as “to create a more peaceful home” or “to care for myself.”
- When moving your body, you can note how you’d like to feel, such as “I’m going for a walk because I want to feel grounded and calm,” “I’m doing yoga because I want to feel connected to my body,” “I’m swimming because I want to feel nourished by movement.”
Create small shifts
When you know what’s important to you, you can make the best choices for yourself on a daily basis — even in the seemingly smallest of acts.
Olivera shared these examples:
- Try not to use social media when you realize it only revs you up before bedtime.
- Create a slow morning ritual that reconnects you to yourself, versus rushing out of bed.
- Have a weekly call with a friend to grow your friendship.
Create a vision board
According to Piturro, “your vision board is the place you’ll see your dreams in pictures and words, emotionally connect to your goals, and begin to manifest them in your life.”
She suggests focusing your board on these six areas:
- love life
- words or phrases that empower you to build the life you’d like, such as “family first,” “abundance,” or “the golden rule rules”
When looking for images, consider these questions, says Piturro:
- What brings you joy in each category?
- What makes your heart feel full, or even makes you want to dance around?
There’s no rush. So, you can take your time creating your board and sign it when you’re done.
Recount your intentions
“At bedtime, replay the ways you contributed to living with purpose that day,” suggests Piturro. You could simply recite these in your mind, or jot them down in a journal.
For example, if one of your values is being a compassionate person, maybe you helped a friend who’s going through a rough patch.
You could do this mentally or in a journal to keep track of how much you’re doing things with intention each day.
Give yourself a break
Living with intention also means being patient and compassionate with yourself and leaving room to make mistakes, says Tassiello.
Try to use kind self-talk that validates your emotional experience and sounds more like a good friend — and less like a judge.
It also can help to listen to meditations that guide you in being kinder to yourself, especially when self-compassion feels out of reach.
Intentional living comes from living out your values. This means taking actions and making decisions that are important to you and true to who you are.
Intentional living also becomes “an everyday practice that we might fall in and out of, knowing we can always start again in any moment,” says Olivera.
An intentional life brings joy and lowers stress. But sometimes, particularly when you’re making some changes, it can be difficult — especially if your current intentions don’t line up with what you’ve learned in your early life.
Remind yourself that it’s totally natural to feel a range of emotions while on an intentional living path. After all, you’re a human being doing the best you can.
If you’d like extra support on living an intentional life, check out Psych Central’s tool for finding a therapist or consider working with a life coach.