How To Be More Intentional In Every Area of Your Life

Becoming more intentional takes a plan, effort, and some sacrifice. But the end result — being more deliberate in your actions — is worth it.

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Chances are, you have a list of goals: reading more, getting to the gym in the morning, playing more with your kids. That stuff might be happening to some degree, but your worry isn’t about consistency. You want to be more present and, most importantly, intentional and you can’t seem to ever capture that feeling. It’s not a huge surprise. With your spouse, kids, friends, family, work, you’re being pulled in multiple directions every day.

“It’s enough to keep all the balls in the air,” says Art Markman, vice provost and professor of psychology at University of Texas and author of Bring Your Brain to Work. “It’s hard to be intentional when you’re just trying to keep stuff from breaking.”

Hard, but not impossible. You can be clearer about why you’re doing something, but you can’t think or wish your way to success. Becoming more intentional takes a plan, effort, and some sacrifice. The good news is that it doesn’t require a redesign of your entire life, just selected spots.

If you want to be more intentional, here’s how to get there.

How To Start Being More Intentional

If you want to be more intentional, you first need to figure out what you want to be more intentional about. It sounds simple, but often the target is off under the guise doing what you think you should do. One way to figure out your true goal is to assess the last six months for weaknesses. If you look back and think, “I don’t remember much about that,” it’s a sign that area needs shoring up.

But you also want something that hits your gut. With each item, ask, “Why is this important?” and “How important are those reasons?” You need them to be big, because you’re making a change and that’s exciting at first, then hard. When the inevitable challenge hits, you want to be able to refer back to your motivation and push through rather than revert to safety and say, “Done.”

“You have to decide that something’s more important than your fears, anxieties, insecurities, and bad habits,” says Peter Pearson, relationship expert and co-founder of The Couples Institute.

Ultimately, you’re zeroing in on two-to-three want-tos. Intentionality isn’t and can’t be 24/7. If you thought about every routine, like driving to work or brushing your teeth, that’s all you’d be thinking about. You need the autopilot-ness of repetitive activities to daydream, problem-solve and give attention to higher priority issues.

“We need time for the mind to wander,” Markman says.

The Need to Let Go

Once you have your list, remember that whatever you choose to bring on means you have to give something up. If you want to hit the gym early, you can’t stay up late. If you want to move up a level in competition, you will lose more often. If you want a closer relationship with your spouse, you have to stop criticizing them, Pearson says.

It’s a loss, and acknowledging such is a huge hurdle to clear. Success is bolstered by having a plan of how you’re going to make your goal happen. It helps to examine your environment and eliminate low-hanging distractions, like easy access to cell phones and remotes, and make what you need easily accessible, like gym clothes by your bed.

And then write your intent down. Putting it on paper gives it structure and makes it more of a commitment. You want it to be big and prominently displayed for two reasons. It’s a reminder to do it, and once done, you can look at the paper and it gives you a shot a dopamine, furthering the new habit, since, “I did what I set out to do,” says Trevor Cote, licensed clinical sports psychologist in Boston.

Don’t Go Too Hard, Too Quickly

People get big eyes and want to finish the job in the first week. But it’s an unsustainable pace. You want to start with around 30 minutes each time, if that much, for your new endeavor. It allows you to acclimate, especially if with anything physical. Go too hard and you invite injuries, and when you’re forced to stop, it’s that much hard to start again, Cote says.

Of course, you want results, but this is your thing, and you’re not in a race to finish by a certain date. It means being patient. It takes about six weeks to establish a new habit, and along the way, you’ll tweak and adjust. You also need to be forgiving, since you’ll have great days and below average ones. The former are fuel. The latter can be crushing, so it’s good if you can say, “It happens. I’ll get back at it tomorrow.”

It’s better if you can examine what didn’t work and course correct, so if it’s an avoidable mistake, you actually avoid it the next time and “use that to my advantage,” Cote says.

Remember: This Is Supposed To Be Fun

Intentionality isn’t just about being focused. It’s about having fun, because that makes you as present as anything and you only have so much time in your day. And how you go about making things fun is up to you. Look to pair up activities. You love music and want to cook more? Bring the speaker into the kitchen. If investing in a great pair of sneakers makes you excited to use them, and you can swing it, buy them.

Or look at it as a chance to make shared experiences. You might not hate raking or shoveling, but it holds little charm. But if you can get your kids to help you, even if you have to pay them, it’s an investment with potential big returns. The work gets done faster and you’re out there together, open to whatever might happen in that moment.

“People often frame a lot of things that are good for them as obligations or chores,” Markman says. “They assume that the outcome is the thing that matters most. But, if we can learn to enjoy the process of getting to the outcome, that is a much better, and more fun, way to live.”

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