Intentional living: How to stop abandoning yourself and live a more authentic life

intentional living

You may have heard the phrase “living with intention” or “intentional living” bandied around lately. But what does it mean, really?

At its essence, intentional living means doing more of what you want and less of what you don’t want.

You will find fancier explanations on the internet, but if you drill down, that’s a good working definition.

Are you doing more of what you want than what you don’t want? If so, you are living an intentional life.

Let’s examine three strategies that will help you live a more intentional life.

Notice it’s not about doing only what you want, but more of it. If, on balance, you derive satisfaction from your life events, you are living an intentional life.

1. Understand your values

In order to live a more intentional life, you must know what matters to you. If you are not clear on what you value, you will be tossed to and fro, rather than standing firm on your beliefs.

To live a more intentional life, you must know what matters to you. Click To Tweet

For example, if relationship with God is your highest value, your life will reflect that. You might decide not to schedule things on Sunday because you go to church.

Intentional living requires sacrifice. For example, many children’s sports leagues schedule games and practices on Sundays.

You and your family would miss out on those because you value God more than sports.

I once heard a mother in the schoolyard boast about telling her kids never to do anything they don’t want to do.

Now, it’s important to teach children about boundaries. Very important, in fact, because their safety depends on it.

However, coaching your kids to do only what they enjoy imprints them with a spirit of hedonism. Hedonism says the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain are the only goals that matter in life.

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Intentional living says instead, “I take care of my own needs while also caring for the needs of others. I accept my responsibilities and balance them with my unique longings.”

For example, most kids don’t like homework, but they do it because it’s required to succeed in their classes. They study for tests even though it’s unpleasant because they want the reward of a good grade.

On a deeper level, they’ll take time out to bring homework to a sick friend, or visit them in hospital. They spend time helping at a homeless shelter rather than doing something more “fun” with their friends.

2. Set good boundaries

If you never learned how to set boundaries, you might suffer from people pleasing. You were raised to put others’ needs ahead of your own. So, standing up for yourself feels wrong and selfish.

Intentional living requires letting go of that mindset. Examine why you say yes to things you don’t want to do.

Are you motivated by fear of rejection or disappointing someone? These are external rather than internal drivers.

External motivation is not always bad, but it’s worth asking whether it is the main one in your life and how that’s working for you.

If you feel depleted and unsatisfied with life, that’s a good sign you are in self-abandonment mode.

If you feel depleted and unsatisfied with life, that's a good sign you are in self-abandonment mode. Click To Tweet

If you’re turning to wine or other artificial soothers to help you feel better, that’s another sign you’re living without intention.

Here are two questions to ask yourself any time you’re unsure if you’re abandoning yourself this way.

i) “For what reason am I making this decision?” If the answer involves guilt, shame, fear, or other negative emotions, you might be in abandonment mode.

ii) “If I were the only person on earth, would I still want to do this?” This question removes other people’s influence from your decision-making, so you can determine how you really feel.

If you’re a conflict-avoidant person, it seems easier to say yes to things. You’ll suffer for a short time to keep the relationship, or avoid disappointing someone.

You’ll do it simply to sidestep an uncomfortable conversation.

But this mindset ensures you suffer and over-give in the long term. It never puts your relationships to the test.

Boundaries in relationships help you discern whether someone takes an interest in your needs, or only wants you around for what you can do for them.

Refusing to set boundaries is tantamount to pushing your head in the sand. You ignore reality and nothing changes, moves forward, or grows. Especially not you.

3. Recognize your unique needs

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? A highly sensitive person? Your unique personality will influence what you need and how you relate to the world.

If you’re a person who requires solitude, let people know. Don’t feel pressured to say yes to every social event just because it fits into your calendar.

Pencil alone time into that calendar before you schedule anything else.

On the flip side if you require variety and stimulation, take care of those needs, too. Spend time on hobbies that feed your passions, and projects that fulfill you.

If doing less makes you feel bored, then incorporate more exciting ventures into your life.

People don’t know what you need until you tell them. And if you’ve lived a life for others, you may need time to discover your unique personality.

if you've lived a life for others, you need time to discover your unique personality. Click To Tweet

You’ve buried your desires for so long, you have trouble remembering what they are.

In this self-discovery phase, you’ll spend more time journaling and writing down your likes and dislikes.

You might decide to vacation alone if that’s feasible for you. Or go on a retreat with like-minded women.

Feed your longing for creativity with some art projects. Take a class. Read books that inspire you.

Spend more time with God. He made you and knows exactly what you need.

When you learn about yourself this way, you’ll stop doing too many things you don’t want to do.

Your have-tos will seem far less burdensome when you take care of your want-tos as well.

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