Do you want to just pay bills and die? Probably not.
So then, what do you want to do? What do you want out of life?
That’s the big question — what is your purpose?
These are questions that are answered through the process of intentional living.
WHAT IS INTENTIONAL LIVING?
Intentional living means choosing to live in a way that is in alignment with your purpose in life. Intentional living takes you from where you are not to where you want to go. It’s the roadmap that helps you navigate life.
Intentional living means valuing life so much that you decide how you want to live ahead of time. This will allow you to make the best decisions you know how to and minimize your regrets.
Intentional living does not mean having a rigid, inflexible plan that you have to stick to. Because most of us know that things can change in the blink of an eye. But for the times that life isn’t changing and throwing us curve balls – for the times that we can choose and have control – intentional living is the best way of life that can help us do that.
HOW TO LIVE INTENTIONALLY
I believe that living intentionally can help you be happier and have fewer regrets. To live intentionally, you need to follow the process I’ve listed below.
For each step, apply the action to one of the life categories (or all of them). Focus on the areas of your life that you want to work on the most, but don’t leave any neglected for too long.
The main life categories are:
- Health (e.g.: eating, exercising)
- Relationships (e.g.: spouse, kids, coworkers, people)
- Finance (e.g.: money)
- Career (e.g.: job, business)
- Personal / Spiritual Development (e.g.: religion, meditation)
- Recreation (e.g.: fun, play, hobbies, sports)
- Environment (e.g.: home, organization)
- Service (e.g.: volunteering)
You can also add a final category that is your “Overall Life” category, that encompasses all of these specific categories.
Pro tip — I highly recommend creating an Intentional Living binder where you write down the answers to each of these steps and update the answers periodically. You will only get done what you write down!
Okay, here are the steps to living intentionally. Note that I include an example in each step, and seeing as this is Financegirl and all, I am sticking with the finance category all the way through for the examples, but you should apply each step to every life category.
1. Create Visions for Each Area of Your Life
Create a vision for each of the categories of your life. A vision is a desired future with a deeply rooted reason for that desired future.
Example: To have financial freedom [desired future] to provide a better life for my kids than I had [deeply rooted reason].
- Related: Visions vs. Goals
2. Take Inventory of Each Area of Your Life
Take inventory of each of the categories of your life. Write down what you’ve done in the past in each area and where you think you stand today. Be brutally honest and completely authentic here. You’re only hurting yourself by fudging your reality. Also, document whether where you are to this point is where you want to be for that category. This will help you decide what to focus on.
Example: Net worth is $20,000, no emergency fund, no estate plan or life insurance in place, retirement accounts fully funded, and struggle with budgeting. This is not in line with where I want to be.
The more detailed you are, the better. The examples I’m providing are very brief, so when you do this exercise, make your answers longer, as appropriate.
3. Create an Overarching Plan for Each Area of Your Life
Create an overarching plan for each area of your life. This means you are going to decide how to get from where you are now (your inventory) to where you want to be (your visions).
Your overarching plan should be very broad, not like a specific goal, but list how it is you’re going to achieve your vision.
Example: Get out of debt, have adequate savings, and become financially free.
4. Set Long-Term and Short-Term Goals
Set long-term and short-term goals for each category of your life. Goals are specific strategies that you will use to accomplish your overarching plans and live your visions.
Long-term goals are goals that are greater than one year and short-term goals are goals that are shorter than one year.
For your long-term goals, consider setting several long-term goals at specific intervals (such as a 5-year goal, 10-year goal, and 20-year goal) for each category.
For your short-term goals, set goals at shorter intervals, such as 1-3 months, 6 months, and 1 year.
All of your goals should be SMART, in my opinion. This is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
- Related: How to set goals for beginners
- 5-year: Pay off student loans
- 10-year: Be debt free, have an 8-month emergency fund, and max out retirement and investment accounts
- 20-year: Be financially independent (only work because I want to)
- 1-3 months: Save a 2-month emergency fund, get on a student-loan repayment plan (create an amortization schedule for 5-year pay off), make $500 / month extra payments to student loan debt, and start a new side hustle
- 6 months: Save a 5-month emergency fund, make an extra $250 / month from side hustle, and start paying extra $750 / month toward student loan debt
- 1 year: Save a 6-month emergency fund, pay an extra $1,000 / month toward student loan debt, start reading investing books
Note that for this post, these goals are very brief. The more specific you make your goals the better (learn how to set SMART goals here), so use these examples merely for the content and not for the specificity.
5. Create a Weekly Action Plan
Create a weekly action plan with specific tasks that will help you achieve some of your goals.
Your weekly action plan is the framework and plan that will help you accomplish your short-term goals.
I recommend you use a weekly action plan every week (put the date at the top) and include the following information:
- 3 life categories to focus on that week
- Your visions for the 3 life categories
- Why you want what it is you want
- The 3 overarching plans for each category for that week
- 1 action for each of the 3 categories that you will accomplish that week (must be above and beyond what you would normally do)
- A reward for completing the 3 actions (make it whatever is reasonable for you – could be ice cream, a movie, a new pair of shoes – whatever you can afford and will feel like a reward to you)
- Your signature, as a symbol of your commitment to completing your action plan for the week
Whatever you do, make sure you only commit to what you can handle. And actually do what you say you’re going to do. You’re only as good as your word and if you can’t keep that, you’ve got nothing. So, keep these commitments to yourself.
I recommend creating a document template that you fill out each week to follow through with this plan.
Example: Weekly Action Plan:
- Focus for this week: 1) Finance, 2) health, and 3) relationships
- Visions: 1) Finance – to be debt free, have an emergency fund in place, and become financially free; 2) Health – to be physically fit and eat food that is good for my body; 3) Relationships – to have more amazing relationships than I know what to do with
- Reasons Why: 1) Finance – to provide a better life for my family than I had, 2) Health – to live as long as possible, 3) Relationships – deeply held belief that relationships > everything else in life
- Overarching plans: 1) Finance – get out of debt, have adequate savings, and become financially free, 2) Health – maintain weight at 120 lbs and eat healthy food, 3) Love first above everything else (prioritize relationships)
- Actions for Each Category: 1) apply to 3 side hustle gigs to make more money, 2) work out 6 days this week, and 3) reach out to 2 friends to schedule getting together
- Reward: Buy a $3 photography app
- Signature: Natalie Bacon
When I do action plans, the template I use is a page long. For purposes of this post, I shortened the example. It’s to your benefit to at least write one sentence for each item on your weekly action plan.
6. Implement Supportive Success Habits
Implement supportive success habits that will help you achieve your goals and live the life you’ve always wanted.
For this step, decide how you can implement habits as part of your routine that will help you live intentionally. Weekly actions are small tasks that you set to accomplish weekly. Habits are daily disciplines that are part of your routine.
Example: Automate saving $250 / per pay period.
- Related: 11 Habits you need to stop doing
7. Reward, Reflect, Revise, and Repeat
Reward yourself as you accomplish your goals, reflect on the process, revise as needed, and repeat as life changes.
Reward yourself as you complete your actions each week. As humans, we work really well if we’re rewarded for what we do.
Reflect on the process. As you implement your intentional living plan, reflect and evaluate whether it’s actually working for your.
Revise your plan as needed. Life will happen and your circumstances will change – for better and for worse. Adjust your plan accordingly. This means that you will have to monitor your plan and make changes periodically. If it’s helpful, decide to do this every few months.
Repeat the plan as you make big life changes. If you get married, have kids, switch careers, or something else, you are going to need to repeat the entire process.
Intentional living means that you are living on purpose. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best that you can do for the one live you have. It will leave you happier and with fewer regrets.
A FINAL NOTE!
Once you start living intentionally, the habit of thinking about your choices becomes second nature. This is how you learn to make better decisions and have fewer regrets.
Intentionally living is not meant to tell you how to live (there’s no moral compass to intentional living). So, if you want to spend 50% of your time partying and that is in line with what you want in life for yourself, then there is no reason to change that. It’s not about living up to someone else’s (or society’s) moral code. The point is to be aware of your reality and your ideal, in an effort to move you toward your ideal. If you have no idea how much time you spend partying or how it’s affecting what you want in life, then that’s a problem.
Intentional living helps you be more thoughtful with your daily decisions so you’re moving in the direction that you want for yourself.
It’s really hard to achieve things if you don’t know you want. So, if you are fine where you are but don’t have any idea of where you’re going, who knows where you’ll be in the future. If you decide what you want for yourself, then you have something to move toward. And as time goes on, maybe that changes (it most likely will); the point is to be moving intentionally where you want to go right now and not just flailing around landing wherever your impulses take you without being aware of it. It’s not meant for you to be rigid; it’s meant for you to be aware and make thoughtful decisions.
If you think better you will live better. It’s really that easy. You just have to do it.
- Up Next: How to Plan Your Best Year Ever