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In all of human history, humans have never lived quite like we do today. I often wonder if this is a natural lifestyle and I’m pretty sure it’s not! We’re constantly on and available while simultaneously less connected with each other. We have literally everything at our fingertips, but we’re so unhappy and unhealthy. We are not living in alignment with our values and need to switch towards an intentional life.

I am no exception to this at all.

I’ve tried to make some changes in my life to suit my hopes and dreams. I like to support local businesses, grow some of my own food, and try to buy local produce to supplement what I cannot grow. I buy used furniture, budget, and make my own sourdough. I’m saving up to buy a farmhouse.

how to live an intentional life

In many ways, I would say I’ve “slowed down.”

I’ve switched for a slower, less immediate pace. I try to embrace seasonal living and let my life adjust as the year takes its course. This brings me so much peace and comfort and feels right to me.

It’s taken a lot of growth and reflection to get to this point, and this barely scratches the surface. There are still so many ways I want to grow as a person and my goals are now more inward-focused and less external.

What does it mean to live intentionally?

When I think of living intentionally, I think you need to know who you are and what you value. From that framework, you can set in motion actions and goals for your future.

For example, if you value your local food systems and want to support them, you may decide to make an intentional switch to supporting a local farm, co-op, or farmers market. This will mean you make compromises and have other decisions to make.

Think through the logistics of your intention

  • Do you buy food only within your region or are you okay with eating some seasonal produce from out of area? What will you do when certain crops are not available – do without or adapt to what is in-season?
  • How will you afford the increased expense in local food? Where will you cut your spending elsewhere? Will you offer to work at a local farm in exchange for food? Will you save up for a CSA or try to shop at the market each week?
  • What will you do when your local food system slows down for the winter?

Being intentional means setting an intention. To do that, you need to know what you value and know which actions will support your goal.

What is the biggest roadblock to living an intentional life?

Personally, I think I know my main issue and I suspect it is the same for many others…

We do not know what we want.

In every big decision I made in the past few years, I realize how little I know myself.

  • When planning my wedding, I had a terrible time choosing my dress, decor, and other little details. Nothing resonated with me or said, “YES, this is me!”
  • When trying to furnish our first home, I got stuck figuring out how to decorate. I picked one look I saw on Facebook and started copying it.
  • When I think about the big things in life I want to do, I get stuck trying to figure out what I think I’m supposed to want and what I actually want.

How do you figure out what you want?

Some people are so quick at knowing what they like and dislike. It’s rarely that simple with me. The idea of a “full body yes” can be really helpful. I learned about this idea by listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast interview with Diana Chapman. Here is how to go through that process so you can learn about how your body tells you its cues.

Set an intention when you feel grounded & regulated

You also need to be balanced and aligned to truly know what is right for you. When I’m angry, tired, or drained, my choices usually do not match up with my higher values and focus on basic comfort or soothing.

What if we only did or bought things that gave us a full-body yes? From a consumer standpoint, how do we know we really want something and aren’t just sold on the marketing?

How can we create pauses or systems in our lives that allow us to tap into those inner cues?

Helpful strategies to develop an intentional life

  • Self-Reflection

I’m a big fan of self-reflection. Just check in with what you are feeling and thinking. This awareness will help you get a better sense of what’s actually going on inside.

In mindfulness, we often name intrusive thoughts that arise. Sometimes, I like to practice just looking for and naming my feelings. It’s huge to say, “oh, I feel irritated or tired or over-caffeinated right now.” This can be especially helpful when recognizing why you are saying, doing, or buying something in a moment.

Journals can be great tools to uncover motivations and desires! I’m currently working through this one. It is absolutely stunning and I pair it with a brief meditation each morning.

rituals for transformation journal live an intentional life
  • Radical Self-Acceptance

When I realize what I’m really thinking and feeling, I accept it right away without any shame or judgment. If my feelings are contrary to what I normally think or believe, I say “okay” to it right away and then try to understand.

I’m really trying to work on accepting the cues I get from my body on what I like and want to do without judgment. Sometimes I do not want to do things I think I should want to do. Then I judge and criticize myself for not being kind enough or caring enough or generous enough.

What if we can thank ourselves for giving us cues we can understand instead of judging and blaming ourselves for not fitting into a mold?

  • Time

Learning who you are and what you actually want are very slow processes. It’s a gradual unfolding, especially if you’ve pushed your desires deep down as I have.

It takes me a very long time to get a sense of what I want. I am working through so many fears and limitations that my progress is slow. Identifying potential options is not the same as finding the path or plan that brings joy. Again, listen for the full-body yes (or even a subtle yes).

  • Permission

It’s also about giving yourself permission to think outside of the box. Recently I was going through a really challenging time in my job and felt hopeless because of how I’d locked myself into this position. I told myself I could never change jobs again and that I needed to work in the same field until I retire. This was making my panic and stress even worse. I had to open myself up to thinking about other jobs that didn’t feel so incompatible with who I really am. Is it even possible to make a good living in a job that doesn’t require you to burn yourself out to be successful?

It’s easy to have such small, limited views of what life can contain. I have to intentionally give myself permission to imagine ANYTHING. If there were no barriers, no financial excuses, no people-pleasing impulses…what would I do?

10 Year Plan for an Intentional Life

This connects to another great Tim Ferriss podcast interview with Debbie Millman about creating a 10-year plan. Debbie recommends writing out a highly detailed 10-year plan to set an intention for your future. Get extremely specific: describe the sheets on the bed or the type of car. Read your plan each year and Debbie explains that it often comes true down to even the most specific details.

What if I can’t hear or feel my full body yes because the world I’ve created is too small for me?

What will happen if I give myself complete permission to believe in even my silliest dream?

Getting started before you know who you are

You don’t need to know who you are completely before trying to live an intentional life. Take what you know about yourself at this moment and think about how you would like your life to improve. What are some values that really resonate with you deeply?

Using your priorities and values to live an intentional life

When you truly know who you are, you can identify your values and make a plan.

According to Tiny Buddha, these are the 4 most important things in life:

  • Relationships (family, friends, partner, community)
  • Health (emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, environmental)
  • Purpose (work, education, hobbies, connection to others)
  • Time (work-life balance, time for self, time for others)

Take one of these ideas or another that means a lot to you, and think about what it would mean to work towards that idea in your life.

Prompts for Self-Reflection to Live an Intentional Life

What actions can I take to have more of this in my life?

What current behaviors do I have that undermine this value?

How can I implement these new actions in a sustainable way?

Where can I find others working towards the same goals to help keep me motivated?

It may help you more to write out your answers to these questions. It slows down your thinking and often offers a richer experience than just thinking.

Clarify your intention

Let’s say you want to have more time in your life to focus on your family.

What actions can I take to have more time in my life to focus on my family?

  • Stop staying late at work
  • Set limits when working from home
  • Prioritize family time over work time when possible
  • Schedule won’t-miss family times so work doesn’t take over

What current behaviors do I have that undermine this value?

  • Bringing work home with me
  • Checking my work email on my phone throughout the evening
  • Venting about work to my partner as soon as I get home

How can I implement these new actions in a sustainable way?

  • Leave precisely at clock-out time
  • Disable my work email app or set up blocking software
  • Decide to try letting work irritations go and focusing on family when I get home or talking to a coworker on the drive home
  • Schedule special times for family, like Pizza Night Friday or Sunday Brunch

Where can I find others working towards the same goals to help keep me motivated?

  • Chat with another coworker who may be in a similar situation and help hold each other accountable to leaving at a specific time or ignoring the work email
  • Check in with a friend or your partner about your progress

Pick a word to focus your intention to a point

Depending on your personality, you may only need a small word or phrase, like the word “balance,” to help you stay focused on your intention! Other people may need clear, actionable steps for what to do next.

Personally, I like a bit of both. I look for those specific actions I can take or stop and I like to have a word that evokes the same feeling I’m trying to achieve.

How many intentions should I focus on at once?

This depends on you and how much you want to change! I find some changes are easier to make and others are more demanding. I love to set one major intention at the beginning of each year. That intention becomes my mindset for the year. Throughout the fall, I try to reflect on what went well for me that year and what I want to change.

I tend to do this around the winter solstice as it feels like a natural turning point in the year for me. I actually created a free printable Winter Solstice Reflection Guide to help you with the same process.

Take some time and turn it into a ritual. Light a candle. Make some tea. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket. Tune into yourself.

light a candle set intentional life

How do I know when I’ve picked the right intention?

I try to find one word to encapsulate my goal for the next year and I break apart what it looks like using the questions I posed above. Don’t rush it! Give yourself a couple of weeks to try on and feel your way through different words before you find the right one.

The right word will give you a sense of fullness and completion in your body. It may also give you a feeling of excitement that makes you want to tell it to everyone you know! If the word isn’t exciting to you, it’s probably not a good fit.

You can also frame it from this perspective. Fill in the blank with the word you’re considering:

Imagine if you spent the whole year focusing on _____________. You will commit to making all of your choices based on ____________.

I can tell that some of my past intentions don’t resonate for me as much anymore because it doesn’t feel exciting to consider them in this framework. But what if we used the word pleasure or creativity? The thought of spending my whole year focusing on my own pleasure sounds absolutely wonderful!

Some sample intentions…

  • Balance
  • Community
  • Stewardship
  • Joy
  • Laughter
  • Happiness
  • Pleasure
  • Creativity
  • Connection
  • Friendship
  • Growth
  • Wellness
  • Recovery
  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Healing
  • Abundance
  • Wealth
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Check-in with your limiting beliefs

Lately, I’ve started to realize how slowly I tend to grow because I stymie my own process. I will find a _____ (therapist, naturopath, acupuncturist, etc) that I think will help _____ (emotional, physical, or spirtial health) and decide it’s not worth the effort or the cost. Then I struggle through the same issues again, realizing how much I want to work on them, and go through the “should I? No, it’s not worth it” process again and again. The it’s not worth it actually tells me that I don’t believe that I am worth it.

How many years have I held myself back not believing my own well-being was worth time and money?

Over and over and over again, I HEAR these desires from my inner self asking for me to grow and change and heal and the tiny, worried, anxious part of me says no. I’m still deciding how to transform this focus into an intention, but I can sense that is the direction I am moving.

You may be working through similar limiting beliefs in your own life. Look for these ideas creeping in to sabotage your growth:

  • I am not worth it.
  • I don’t deserve it.
  • Nobody loves me.
  • I don’t matter.
  • Nobody cares about me.
  • I am not good enough.
  • I can’t afford it.

Recognize where these thoughts come from and prepare yourself to counter them so you can achieve your intention.

If my intention is to invest in myself and then the I am not worth it and I can’t afford it show up, the intention will be neutralized. Simply reframe the limiting belief into the positive. I am worth it, or I can afford it, or I do deserve it. Remind yourself every day!

Live your intentional life

Remember that if your intention was easy to achieve, it wouldn’t be worth focusing on for an entire year. Your intention should challenge you to push past your comfort zone. It’s also okay if you need to work on it for multiple years. Any growth is progress!

Did you come up with a word for your year? Share it below to inspire others in their own process!

How can we help you work towards some of your goals next year?

Focus more on your health by meal prepping and cooking from scratch.

Make simple DIY products like that save money.

Start and stick to a budget.

Grow simple crops to eat fresher, healthier produce.

Find simple, intuitive ways to shrink your carbon footprint.

If you’re trying to find ecofriendly products to replace conventional ones, here are our favorites.

However we can help, let us know! Tell us your intention in the comments below!

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  1. My “word” just popped into my head and i don’t know what it means
    (I know the definition but not the application). FINISH. Is God going to finish a season in my life, complete something He has already
    started(Phil 1:6), or….?
    Take care. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and lovely posts

    1. Hi, Gail! Happy New Year! “Finish” is certainly an interesting word and it could be very powerful. Definitely sit with it and see what it is you’re hoping to finish! Sounds like a great one to me. Thanks for reading and being with me!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post, Rachael. I have been working on living a more intentional life for the last few years, and I’m looking forward to adding some of these questions into my practice.


    1. Christine, thank you for visiting and for your sweet comment! I’m so glad this post resonated with you. Isn’t it funny how sometimes one or two questions just strike you and you know they need more digging? I love that subtle cue from our inner voices!

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