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Intention. I use this word a LOT, and I thought it was time for us to dig into what it really means. “Intention: a determination to act in a certain way; an aim or plan.” So when I talk about dealing with your money with intention or eating with intention, or focusing on intentional living? I’m talking about your plan. The way you act. The choices you make each and every day. Living with intention is the greatest way to achieve your goals – and I know you have BIG goals, right?
Today we are going to explore living with intention in all different areas. Money (of course!), food, relationships, time – THIS has been the game-changer in my life, and I believe it can be the key to your success too!
Turn off autopilot
You know that thing when you are driving to work, and all of a sudden, you realize you are pulling into the parking lot, but you have no memory of the rest of the drive!? This common occurrence happens when you are on autopilot. When you are doing something you have done a thousand times before, so you don’t have to pay attention to it. It happens when with actions we perform every day – washing your hair, brushing your teeth, doing the laundry.
Autopilot also occurs when we eat, speak, and shop. Autopilot is easy. But it is not always what is best. If you stay on autopilot your days, weeks, years can pass you by without you actually doing anything meaningful.
Intentionality and Mindfulness
I tend to use these words interchangeably – I might tell you to be intentional with your money, mindful of your spending. The practice of mindfulness is about bringing your attention to something specific. Your senses, your breath, your thoughts. So when I ask you to be mindful of something, I mean I want you to pay attention. Turn off autopilot.
How do I get intentional?
The first step to getting intentional with your life is turning OFF your autopilot. Start paying attention, and aligning your choices with your goals.
Try these simple exercises to bring some mindfulness to your day:
- Notice the way the water feels when you are in the shower or the minty taste of the toothpaste when you brush your teeth.
- Take a new route to work or the grocery store.
- Take a minute to smell your coffee before you start drinking it.
- Spend five minutes outside, noticing the way the air, the sun, the wind feels on your skin.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Write your intentions for your life down.
Our tagline on this website is financial strategies for intentional living, so it only makes sense to start here. Being intentional with your money doesn’t mean buying all the things you want. It also doesn’t mean saving every penny, and it doesn’t even mean ‘frugal’, a word that gets used a lot in the personal finance world.
Being intentional with your money means deciding what you want in life, and spending your money on purpose, instead of on autopilot.
We decided that being debt-free was more important that weekly dinners out, new clothes for no reason, huge carts full of groceries. When we set paying off our debt as our number one intention, it was easy to let go of spending money on meaningless things. We aligned every choice we made with our goal – getting out of debt.
Using a budget lets you be intentional with how you are spending your money. You know what is coming in and going out, and you can make sure every dollar you spend aligns with your goals.
Want to go on a trip to Hawaii? Great. Set that as an intention. And then save the money to make it happen.
Want to buy a new house? Same thing.
Get out of debt? Hands down, the most impactful thing I have EVER done for my mental health, my family, and our dreams for the future.
Related – The absolute best way to get out of debt
Spending money mindfully (i.e., with intention) doesn’t mean never doing anything fun or only eating rice and beans for every meal forever. It simply means choosing the life you want to live and taking steps to get you there. Deciding what is important and spending your hard-earned money on that.
Our journey to intentional living did not start with our finances. It began first with some decluttering, moved into food, and then to our money habits. And now that we have control of our health and spending habits, we have come full circle to our home.
Clutter and mess trigger my anxiety. Ironic, because as I type this, I am sitting in the playroom, which has become a dumping ground for all things, combined with train tracks and legos and stuffies and costumes and…ahhh! Why on earth am I writing in here? (Answer: to hang out with Dex while I write.)
The environment you live in is a huge factor in your mental well being and your intentional habits. If you are surrounded by clutter and mess, you are not likely to be able to focus and be productive toward your goals.
I can’t imagine that anyone wants to live in a pigsty. But I do know we all have different levels of what we can tolerate and what we define as being clean and tidy.
However, the more organized you are, the more intentional you can be with your life. By freeing up the mental space taken up by mess and clutter, you make room for something more meaningful.
How to be intentional with your space?
Clear the clutter – Let go of the things that are weighing you down. Marie-Kondo it up and let go of that which does not bring you joy. Sell or donate the items you don’t need anymore. (Then use that money with intention!)
Create space – You don’t need every surface or wall covered. Give your home some room to breathe, and you’ll find you can breathe better too.
Make it a habit – We make the bed every day. Every single day. Because that simple twenty-second task immediately cleans up our bedroom. Create some set routines in your day, like always putting the laundry away while your kids get ready for bed, or setting a timer on your phone and tidying for just ten minutes. Ten minutes each day doesn’t seem like much, but I promise it is a perfect way to start.
Seek joy – When you look around your home, it should spark joy in your heart. I have pictures of our family adventures in every room. These always make me smile. I have a friend who doesn’t have a lot of family photos on display. But, she chooses beautiful objects to decorate her home with, and that brings her joy. (And it looks stunning!)
This will look different for everyone. But if you have great-grandma Betsy’s teacups on display, even though the sight of them makes you miserable, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
Budgets and money, health and diet – SO many parallels. In fact, stay tuned because we have an article coming up about these connections soon!
For now, let me say – you have to be intentional with what you put in your body. If you want to reach for more with your life and live with intention, that includes the food and drinks you consume.
It does not mean a restrictive diet where you deny yourself your favourite treats forever. It simply means consuming those things mindfully. Pay attention to what you are eating.
Instead of mindlessly shoving chips into your mouth until suddenly the bag is empty and you’re filled with self-loathing for falling off the wagon, grab a small bowl and get one serving of the chips. And then enjoy them. Notice the flavour and the way they smell. Be present while you are eating them, instead of on autopilot.
If you don’t want to feel like a bag of garbage, stop filling your body with garbage.
The way you speak is so important. I try to be incredibly intentional with my words – so much so that I write in my journal every day ‘I communicate with kindness and clarity.’ I do this as a way to set my intention around the language I am using, the tone in which I say things, and being as clear and concise as I can be to avoid misunderstandings.
Do you want a great marriage or an exceptional one?
Do you want to reduce your debt, or eliminate it?
The words you use are essential for setting your mindset and achieving your goals.
Related – Words are Powerful
Similarly, the words we don’t use are important, too. In our house, we do not tell each other to shut up, we never call anyone stupid or an idiot, and we don’t say hate.
Obviously, there are other words we don’t use, or Dex isn’t allowed to say. But the above list of words are the ones that he knows are the worst. He’d use the eff-word before he’d call someone an idiot, and I am okay with that. (No – I’m not okay with my six-year-old swearing. At all. But the fact that he knows that calling someone stupid is worse than a curse when I’m frustrated? I am here for that.)
Beyond just the words – pay attention to how you speak. I’m laughing at the stereotype of a needy girlfriend saying “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!” But seriously – it’s true. Paying attention to the tone of voice you use may be the difference between meaningful communication and a big misunderstanding.
The biggest complaint about life that I hear:
“I don’t have enough time!”
And I am 100% guilty of saying it too. (Something I’m working on this year.)
And to each and every person who says it (myself included) I want to say:
“Stop spending time on things that do not matter.”
You get one life. You get to choose how you live it. Every hour that you waste is an hour that you will not get back.
Be aware of these sneaky time wasters that may be draining your spirit.
We have all opened our phone, fallen down a rabbit hole of celebrity gossip, vacation photos, and ridiculous memes. All of a sudden, we look up and 30…45…100 minutes have passed, and we have done nothing of value. Break up with your phone. Or at least put some limits on it – the world won’t stop turning if you don’t watch another video compilation of 17 different brownie recipes (that you will never make)!
If Netflix has to check on you (“Are you still there?”) – maybe it’s time to switch it up. Hop up and go for a walk. Do a 5 minute tidy of your house. Read a book. Have a dance party (yes, even just by yourself). Phone a friend. Write in your journal. You can continue bingeing the latest season of *enter cool/current/awesome TV show here* later.
By no means am I saying don’t watch TV. Just create some balance towards moving towards the life you crave.
Saying Yes all the time
I’ll say it again. You only get one life. You guys! Stop spending it with people who drain you, doing things that do not bring you joy. You can, and should, in fact, say No sometimes. Think about what is most important to you.
Obviously, it isn’t as simple as this Rachel Hollis quote implies. But – for me, at least – it’s a great way to frame my thinking when I’m committing to something.
Last year I volunteered to help at a bake sale at my son’s school. No big deal, right? Except… yes, big deal. By the time I suffered through my two-hour shift my anxiety was through the roof. I asked myself – is this the best way for me to show up for my family? And the answer was absolutely not.
So, when I am committing to things and I get a pit in my stomach, thinking ‘ugh, this is really not something I want to do’ – I solidly consider whether it is something I can/should say no to.
And then? I say no. Without an explanation, without guilt.
I love this article over on Put the Kettle on – Learn How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty – check it out now to start developing this awesome skill!
Lack of Planning
Food, clothes, schedules, errands – if you leave all these things up to chance and day-of decisions, chances are you’ll waste a ton of time picking up groceries for dinner, running small loads of laundry, going to Costco three times in one day.
Getting intentional with your time means doing some planning.
We look at our month ahead of time to see what we have on our schedules before it even starts.
Each week, we look at the week ahead and meal plan accordingly. Quick meals on nights when we have other commitments or one of us has an evening meeting, something more fun on Fridays when we are all home for family date night.
We have a schedule-ish for laundry, so there is never a day where someone is out of clean underpants or needs that shirt for a meeting, but it’s in the wash.
We try to do our errands in one trip, maximizing our productivity and also minimizing our driving and time spent away from doing the things that matter most.
Do not get me wrong. I would rank sleeping as one of my favourite activities, and my sleep is critical to my well-being and happiness. So I am not saying ‘get less sleep’. BUT I am saying plan your sleep with intention.
For me, I am most productive in the mornings. SO. I get up at 4:30 every single day. It isn’t a punishment, because I go to sleep at 8:30 – so I still get 8 hours of sleep, I just intentionally align it with when I get my most work done. If I stay up until 11, I would for sure waste the three hours between 8 and 11 pm on crummy TV.
So rather than waste two or three hours a day, I go to sleep early, I get up early, and I do all of my writing and designing and planning in the mornings.
If you are more productive in the evenings, then plan your sleep around that. Figure out what works for you.
How to maximize your time
- Get up an hour earlier.
- Plan your meals & buy groceries once a week.
- Watch less TV.
- Schedule a 10 minute tidy before bed.
- Pack lunches while you make dinner.
- Pick clothes the night before.
- Use a priorities list.
A happy marriage doesn’t just happen. Strong bonds with your kids don’t just magically appear at birth and stay forever, without you intentionally putting effort in to strengthen and grow them. Friendships don’t last for decades without a bit of commitment.
When you think about what you want in your life and the relationships you want to have with your people, take note of what you need to do to grow them.
- Send a text to your husband to tell him how much you love him.
- Mail a card to a friend for no reason other than to say hi.
- Schedule a weekly family game night – no phones allowed.
We covered a LOT in this post. If you are feeling overwhelmed with information, here is the best news. You don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS all at once. Choose one area you would like to be more intentional, and as you master that, you will notice that you are more mindful in other areas as well.
The biggest takeaway – living with intention means you get to choose the life you are living, every single day. What are you going to choose?
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And of course – check out the rest of our ABCs of Intentional Finance series for more awesome inspiration for all things money, habits, and goals!