Today I want to talk about some (hopefully) practical, simple ways you can make that change and implement a sense of intentionality into your life.
First of all, I believe you are the best person to analyze and change your own life. You are the best person to look at your life and routine and know what needs to change.
But I’m going to list a just a few things that come to my mind, some of which I personally need to work on, that are probably universal enough to be adapted to your own life as well. I’ve listed five points here, but there are countless other ways to be intentional in our lives that I’m sure we can come up with as we go about our daily lives.
Second, as a Christian, I think one of the goals of intentionality should be to view ourselves and the world from God’s perspective. If we see things through God’s eyes, that allows us to rise above the mundane, unimportant, temporal stuff we usually fill our minds with, and take on a higher, unaffected heart and mindset of love and compassion.
What are some simple, daily ways that you can be intentional?
Relaxation. Being intentional can be as simple as thinking about your breathing and releasing tension. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m all tensed up until I actually think about it and deliberately relax those muscles. Same with breathing. I’ve often caught myself taking shallow, quick breaths that are doing little for my overall mental and physical health.
So the simple action here is think about your physical habits and consciously change and improve them. This might mean setting an alarm to remind yourself to stand up and stretch or to take several deep breaths in the middle of your work period. Anything it takes.
Have genuine interactions with other people. I’m going to assume you are a generally polite person. Or, at least, you try to be considerate of other people. I do. Maybe you open doors for people or pick up the old lady’s mail that she dropped. Maybe you even buy lunch for the homeless man sitting at the corner of your work place.
But do you really think about why you do those benevolent actions? Is it more of an instinctual thing, something ingrained so deeply in you that you can’t help but react in a certain way?
So many of us have been raised from a young age to help those less fortunate than ourselves, to assist the elderly, weak, and helpless around us. But being taught that all our lives can cause those actions to turn into something we do just because it’s the thing to do, because it’s the socially-acceptable response to perceived hardship and suffering.
But if we do something primarily because it’s expected of us, or people would look down on us otherwise, or we’d feel like a terrible, useless member of society if we didn’t, is that really why we should help people? That turns a potentially loving action into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.
I’m not saying you should stop helping the little old ladies in your life. I’m saying you should start thinking about why you do it and deliberately seeing that individual person as the loved, precious creation they are.
And this applies to any interaction with another person, whether helping them or not. Cultivate real, genuine love and compassion for each person you meet.
I love to live in this zone; it’s like my happy place. It’s a nice, quiet, private place where my mind retreats from the rest of the world (as much as possible) and thinks about life.
It’s where I have my epic existential discussions and create my next book plot and muse over the nuances of theology and obscure sci-fi lore. It’s also where I think about what I need to do tomorrow and plan out play-by-play conversations I might have with my coworkers.
I may live in this zone at any moment of any day. Getting ready for bed, driving to work, while I’m at work, eating meals, washing dishes. Probably most of you reading this have your own personalized version of the zone.
Basically, when I’m in the zone, I’m not fully living in the moment. When I’m in the zone, I’m not present mentally because I’m either far away on another planet of thought or I’m thinking about something that hasn’t happened yet.
Part of this is simply my personality, which is naturally very introspective, and that’s not a problem in itself. In fact, the ability to access this mental zone and shut out the outer world is critical for many reasons relating to mental health and creativity.
But when time moves on and I’m still continuously, interminably thinking about the future or about random psychology facts, I’m never truly experiencing the present. It’s like I’m living the future in the present, or I’m in an entirely alternate realm altogether.
When I really think about it (no pun intended), I’m sort of missing out on life. The real-time, vivid, here-and-now life.
I don’t want to live my life without really experiencing it. I’m sure nobody does. So how do you fully experience life?
Well, here is my unprofessional, common sensical advice:
I think the answer lies in becoming more self-aware and mindful of the world around us and our personal connection to it.
First, focus on what’s coming through your five senses. Don’t just consider the overall perspective, or the logical conclusions of what you sense; notice the little details that you see, smell, hear, feel, or taste.
As they say, stop and smell the roses for a bit. Like, literally smell the roses (or the sweet peas, or the pine trees) in your backyard or the park. Turn the radio off and take in the beauty around you as you drive. Chew a little slower and savor the subtle flavors in your food instead of inhaling it.
But don’t stop at the details. Look at the big picture in relation to the little things. Let your awareness expand slowly so that your senses are enveloped by the larger world and you start to sense connections between the details and the greater whole, how the individual elements fit in with the grander, intangible view of the world.
And, especially, expand your awareness to yourself and how you relate to the world and your community in general. Remember that we each have a piece to contribute to the puzzle of life, and without our unique strengths of support, kindness, and compassion added to the lives around us, that puzzle won’t be complete.
Once you can do that, I think you will start to fully experience every aspect of your world.
If this sounds sort of like new-age mumbo-jumbo, it’s not meant to be. Like I said in my previous post, this is simply about gathering the information provided by your inner and outer senses, and creating from it a life that is as full and meaningful as possible.
[I also wrote an entire blog post on living in the moment here.]
Choose gratitude. Do you see every breath, every ray of sunshine, every warm smile, every seeming “coincidence” as a thing to treasure and be thankful for? Learn to look at every part of life as a gift, something not to be taken for granted. I think that a deep awareness of life like I talked about above will naturally lead to a greater sense of gratitude and thankfulness directed outside of ourselves, toward our Creator and Sustainer.
Without God’s inexorable love, compassion, and sustaining power in the world, life as we know it would be nonexistent. I want to always be mindful of that and let my words, thoughts, and actions reflect that knowledge.
Learn to say no. This is purposely vague. I know from personal experience there are a lot of areas in life that are hard to say no to and only we know what those are and what we need to do about them.
. . .The friend asking you for a favor for the forty-third time this week . . . the coworker repeatedly taking advantage of your generous tendencies . . . the Mint Oreos staring at you from the pantry shelf . . . the anxiety or fear that threatens to crop up at every turn in your life . . .
Even though it can be obvious what needs to change looking at someone else’s life, it’s not always so clear when it comes to our own lives. We don’t always recognize those areas in which we desperately need to put our foot down and say no, for our own personal, mental, and emotional well-being.
This is where critical thinking and self-analysis comes in. Start to mentally go over every aspect of your life and carefully and objectively consider yourself and your life from every angle. It also might be helpful to ask a trusted friend or family member to add their outside perspective on what needs to change in your life and how you can start to say no in specific situations.
And that’s it for now. Being intentional is something I’m still working on, but it has really helped me just to write it all out here. So I hope this post has given you some ideas or inspiration as well for how to begin the transformation into a life of intentionality.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think about these five ways to be intentional, and if you have any other ones to add, in the comments below.
Please feel free to like and share this post on social media if you enjoyed it and want to make a wise, intentional choice in your life. Okay, that was a little guilt-trippy. But still, please feel free to do that. And comment, and all that good stuff.
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