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Intentional Living – 20 Tips to improve your life

Break the chains and re-discover your true nature

loving couple daydreaming by the ocean

Intentional living sounds quite dreamy, especially when we are stuck in a rut and overwhelmed, juggling multiple tasks at a time and trying to get to the end of our to-do list that seems to get longer at the end of the day. So how do we improve the quality of our lives? And what is all this fuss about the intentional way of living? And what does that even mean to put it simply? In this article, I will share my observations and what I found important while trying to figure out how to improve my life to be happier, calmer and more effective while managing my daily tasks.

What is intentional living, and why it matters?

Intentional living is an ideal way of life for every man, woman and child; conscious and with purpose, based on our values, talents, and goals that are unique to every single one of us. 

Intentional living is the opposite of living on auto-pilot. And living on auto-pilot is living unconsciously, meaning that we accept what life throws at us and do what we are expected to do without questioning whether it is important or adds value to our lives. And the more tasks we handle, the more come in. 

Then we suddenly realise that we don’t have enough time to spare for our hobbies or things we enjoy doing. And if we do find the time, somehow we feel guilty. 

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

Living on auto-pilot is quite common as we have so many demands from life and try to do so much and consequently end up burned out and have nothing or not much to show for it. We instinctively know that something is off and expect more from life, but find it nearly impossible to change things.

Some of us might have a clear set of goals in life, but some of us do not. To live intentionally, however, we need to have a clear direction in life – to understand what we want to do when we grow up. And some of us still try to figure it out at the age of 30, 40 or else. 

I am sure that everyone is doing the best they can. Well, most of the time. And I think there is nothing wrong with thinking about one’s life purpose at any age. That is indeed fundamentally important. And I believe that it is possible to change your life for the better at any age.

So what do we do to see a durable change? Firstly, we must take full responsibility and ownership of our life and set a clear direction which is hard to achieve. It is also often very uncomfortable, especially if you cannot get enough support from your inner circle of friends and family. But it is fundamentally important to do some deep soul-searching and then experiment. Little by little, create a life that is meaningful and that you want to experience. Experimenting is a key to progress.

If you are starting, I suggest taking small steps and building up. Living intentionally is a skill you can train. The more you practice it, the better you will get. 

Here are 20 tips to start living a more intentional life straight away:

1. Take your time to reflect on your core values and Ikigai (you probably heard about this fancy Japanese term for purpose in life or reason for living). Set time and find a calm environment where you can stay alone without interruptions and reflect, reflect, reflect. Evaluate what you value most in life. Is it spending time with your friends/family? Your intimate relationship? Science/research or exploring? You get the picture.

2. Carve time every day (at the beginning, do the best you can manage, even if it’s just a few minutes) to dedicate to the things you value the most. Do not be too hard on yourself if you fail, as there is no need to aim for perfection. It is normal to feel the pull of your habitual daily flow. Contrast it by facing every day with a clear mind and unshakeable determination. Continue fighting for all that is important to you. Show up for yourself the way you show up for everyone else. Do it every day.

artist painting in calm environment

3. Start each day with a mindfulness exercise to set up an intention for your day. You can try different techniques to see what works best for you: morning meditation, tapping, affirmations, etc. Decide what you want to achieve that day, e.g. be more present and manage your emotions better, do something you’ve been putting off for a while, or have lunch with a friend you missed dearly. It can be as little or as big as you like but get into a habit of making a decision every morning and following through. 

Then stretch this mindfulness exercise into your day. Be aware that things don’t always go as planned, so practice a habit to stop and reflect. You will start to recognise what is holding you back and why and eventually how to cope and change things. But get into a habit of stopping, breathing, looking around, and observing everything around you and inside you (your emotions: joy, anger, fear, love; and physical reactions caused by those emotions: rapid heartbeat, short breath, hot flashes, sweat, etc.). Engage all five senses: smell, taste, touch, vision, and sound.

4. Do not judge. Not yourself and not the others. Take a position of silent observer, be curious, wonder. Bring back the child inside you. Nudge yourself every time you feel the urge to label someone or something. That includes complaining. Stop it and avoid people and social situations that are fuelled by complaining. Please don’t waste your time and energy, as it’s not worth it. 

5. Accept the life situation that you are in. See it as it is, not better and not worse. This is an important skill to learn in life. Step back and scrutinise a given situation or problem from different perspectives. Incidentally, most issues are not as bad as they seem initially, and solutions are not as complicated or time-consuming as you imagine them to be. Sometimes you don’t even need to take any action. In either case, do your best not to judge – observe and accept. That will help you take full ownership and responsibility for your life. Notice and accept the emotions that arise, then notice how those emotions eventually subside. And they always do remember that. Look for ways to make yourself feel better and more grounded. A day in nature or an afternoon with a good book can do wonders. 

6. Be positive and proactive, don’t dwell on problems. Remember that what you focus on expands, so constantly thinking about a problem will only bring in more negative self-talk and painful memories to support a negative state you find yourself in. Instead, learn to take a problem solver approach. Think about what you can do right now to deal with a problem you have at hand. That marginalises and stops a given problem from growing. If a friend would ask your advice on the same problem you face, what would you suggest he do? Then do it. 

woman with a planner

7. Living intentionally will not create a problem-free and 100% fruitful life. Life will always throw challenges at you, and you will have bad days, but you will get better at handling them more effectively. Your job as an intentional human being is to set healthy boundaries and rituals that support your core values and keep you sane. 

It is a myth that you need to get a bit better than you were yesterday every single day, do not put this pressure on you. You might have different energy levels, feel ill, or maybe you didn’t get enough sleep or else. Then the difficulty of issues you face is not the same every day either. So you will need to choose your battles every day and do the best you can that day.

8. Practice saying NO. This one alone will have an immense impact on your life. Say “no thank you” to a new cool gadget that you will use once maybe, to that new pretty dress that you have no occasions to wear, to a request that you don’t want to take on or don’t have time, whether it comes from a friend or a colleague. You might also say NO to a dinner party if you don’t feel like socialising that evening… You get the picture. Set clear boundaries to protect your time and well-being. Consider that most of the time, you can do that without offending or hurting other people: use a white lie if necessary. 

9. Remember that your day-to-day life is all about making decisions. You are constantly making decisions even if you are not aware. We get used to certain behaviours, which then form patterns and become automatic without us needing to give much thought or consideration. However, making the same decisions again and again generates the same results. So to change the results, we need to become conscious and in tune with our true selves. Then make better decisions and better choices. Eventually, that will lead to a better quality of life. 

10. Become aware of your bad habits and lifestyle flaws. Prioritise your health and well-being. Be mindful of what and how you eat, sleep, relax, play, and habitually talk about, and what you put on your skin! You only have one body for which spare parts are not easily obtained. Learn to take good care of yourself and your loved ones. There is always room for improvement.

healthy salad bowl with homemade dressing

At the same time, address the flaws and replace bad habits with good ones. I know it is difficult, but worth the shot. Do some soul-searching to help you understand why you have developed those bad habits. You might get some insight to help you move forward faster. But be prepared – it takes time and effort to form new habits.

11. Let go of comparing yourself and your life to others. We are all different and have different bodies, talents, experiences, interests, needs, heartaches, etc. Embrace that, embrace yourself and your life, and be grateful. Prioritise what is important and makes sense to YOU as a conscious human being. Life is a journey, a very personal one. Own it and be proud. You are the only person who can set rules and decide whether you are winning or losing in your life. Failure is a decision that only you can take. Or refuse to take. Consider that if you keep getting up after every fall or setback and move forward, you can never be beaten at your life game. 

12. Journal. Journaling is a fantastic tool to unwind and clear your mind. And it can be done almost anywhere or anytime you feel the need. No need for rigid rules. It’s not true that you must journal every morning or every evening, or every day for that matter. If you are not the type of person that enjoys journaling practice, know that you will get benefits even if you journal just now and then.

I do regular brain dumps as a journaling ritual. A brain dump is the number one thing I choose to do when feeling overwhelmed. I would list everything that bothers me, tasks that need to get done, and any problems nudging me. Once everything is out on paper, the mind goes silent. It does not last long but gives me enough time to see everything from different perspectives. The result? Everything seems much simpler and more manageable.

You can also include a little gratitude practice while journaling. It helps so much to feel better instantly when you are feeling down. Just let yourself feel gratitude. Barely writing things down will not do the trick. 

13. Create a consistent morning and evening routine that works for you and not against you. Be realistic about the time you have at hand and your energy levels. Don’t worry about them being perfect. I very much doubt that one exists. I would say that routines are rather personal but might change frequently depending on your age, needs and goals. Or seasons. Decide about the few most important things you need to do every morning and every evening, then build your routine from there.

For the morning routine, I would suggest including a mindfulness exercise to set the intention and tone for your day. 

And for the evening routine, evaluate how your day went and what you can learn from it. And also do whatever makes you feel calm and grounded.

relaxing evening with dry brush and candles

14. Create a social circle that supports you and acts as a protective net in case you need help or just a friendly chat. Invest in that kind of relationship. And on the other hand, avoid people who are too negative or drain you out. And whenever it is impossible to steer clear from them, limit contact as much as possible. Set boundaries and find excuses when necessary.

15. Limit your screen time. Become a mindful social media consumer. Quit mindless scrolling and unsubscribe from channels and pages that do not bring value to your life and are just pure waste of time and mental energy. Do follow people that inspire you or bring value to your life. Get rid of unnecessary apps. Reduce TV time. Ideally, aim to switch off all screens after sundown. Prioritise reading a book or spending quality time with your family or loved ones instead. 

16. Embrace the point of view that quantity is not better than quality when it comes to the things you do in your day-to-day life. Mindlessly completing as many tasks as possible will only lead to exhaustion and no satisfaction. Instead, give your attention and energy to what is important to you and aligns with your goals. Focus. Delegate some tasks if possible. Discard everything that is not important and not urgent. Again, choose your battles, do what’s important and urgent first, and then focus on other important tasks that move you closer to your goals. 

17. Ask “why” often. Especially yourself (why did you react in a certain way, why did you buy that item, why you chose the job that you are currently in, etc.). Practice this with other people around you. You will know yourself much better and deepen your relationships with people around you.

18. Your home is your castle. Declutter and organise in a way that is easy to maintain and clean. You should be able to rest and replenish there, not have a second work shift per day. Involve other family members and let go of control. Create a welcoming and soothing environment, but let go of perfection. 

Be intentional about what you keep and what you bring into your home. Ask yourself if an item adds value or is a burden. Keep it if it brings value. And if an item is a burden, repurpose it when possible. Donate or discard the rest.

minimalist clutter free Scandinavian style living room

19. Be consistent. Consistency is the key to intentional living. And it is not always easy, so start baby steps if you need to, but take those steps every day, and it will get easier. 

Your happiness and life are in your hands. Make an effort to take control and responsibility. No one else can make you happy and solve all your problems. And believe me, no one will. 

20. And lastly, don’t worry if you haven’t it all figured out. You can be sure that almost no one has!

Just focus on what is important NOW and carry on. Life changes, we change, and our priorities and goals change. So we need to adjust, and we can. Any time and every time we need. Remember that you are the one who sets goals and rules in your life, so decide what you want to do next, get out there and enjoy the journey.

small suitcase with capsule travel essentials
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