One of the most difficult personal qualities to nurture in today’s culture is that of being intentional. Intention requires living a life that is based on awareness, contemplation, and planning. Those of us who try to do this are constantly challenged by the pace of life around us and by the pressure to be spontaneous and fast in whatever we do. The quality of intention is nearly opposite and may require careful cultivation in order to succeed.
There are many people who go through their days gliding along, reacting to life’s situations with whatever seems right at the time. They are living reasonable lives and yet when they look backward at their lives, they can give you a long list of regrets. Each one of these lives is like a sailboat that never has its sails up, has no captain, destination or crew. Under the right conditions, you might spend a pleasant afternoon on that boat, but you would not have the adventure, fun or pleasure that you could have. That’s to say nothing of what might happen on a day when the weather turned bad.
A life of intention is like adding the captain, the crew and the use of the sails to your life. It begins when you become aware of all the choices you make every day. You may think there are few but look more closely. For example, have you exercised today? It is very clear that our bodies were meant to move and that each of us needs to do that in order to keep our bodies operating as best they can. Whether you did this today is a choice. A life of intention means you look at whether this is important to you then make some conscious decisions about your actions based on your beliefs. Gliding through life means that you may even ignore the fact that we truly know that movement matters or it may mean that you don’t actively try to fit it in.
A hidden assumption in the movement example is that you know what is important to you. That is another essential part of a life of intention. In order to live this way, you need to have a clear vision of what “this way” means for you. Take time to contemplate what you want from your life – even create a vision of your perfect life or write out a mission statement for yourself. Until you are crystal clear on what you want, you will have a hard time getting it.
Once you know what you want your life to be like, you can then translate your vision into goals that you would like to achieve. Perhaps you decide to get a degree, learn a craft or spend more time doing volunteer work. Find a quiet time to sit and think about what your own goals need to be. Be specific about what the steps are that you need to take to achieve your vision and each individual goal. People that succeed in life, also those who are happiest, have goals that help them have purpose and meaning and they have action plans to achieve those goals.
Living a life of intention also requires a great deal of awareness. The folks on the drifting sailboat could sit back and bask in the sun and picnic throughout their voyage. If you chose to add sails, captain and crew to your boat, however, you will need to be monitoring the wind, waves, sails, crew and many other factors to have a safe adventure. It is more work and more reward. Monitoring your life will require noticing how you are doing in moving toward your goals, keeping track of what gets in the way and finding ways to compensate. Monitoring also means noticing your own feelings, reactions and behaviors and whether they align with what you are trying to do.
Notice how the elements of intention play off each other. You need all three – awareness, contemplation and planning – to really become the person you have the potential to be and to lead the life you are capable of living.
What can you do to improve your ability to live intentionally? Think about your levels of awareness, contemplation and planning then let us know how you are doing by leaving your ideas in the comments.