Events over the past two years have led many people to reevaluate their priorities, from their relationships and careers to the everyday experiences that bring real joy and meaning to their lives. Gaining a clear understanding of what’s most important to you and your family is critical for living more intentionally and creating the impact you want to see in the world. If you’re seeking ways to create greater meaning and purpose in your life, there’s no better time to start than the beginning of a new year.
However, living intentionally doesn’t happen by chance—and generally doesn’t happen overnight. It takes some work, patience and a little practice along the way. Sometimes it requires opening your mind to new ideas or concepts, retraining your brain to approach things differently or adopting new habits that promote a greater sense of physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. While living intentionally will mean different things to different people, the following five steps can help you get started along the path to accomplishing what you want most out of life.
- Document your goals. Writing down your goals is a powerful exercise because it forces you to clarify exactly what you want to accomplish and guides your daily actions towards achieving those objectives. It makes it easier to hold yourself accountable to your goals and measure progress along the way. Identifying your goals also provides the foundation needed to integrate the remaining steps outlined below.
- Say no more often. Last month I published a short article for business owners titled How Saying No May Open The Door To More In The New Year. Many of these concepts hold true for individuals as well. Saying “no” to tasks, activities, distractions and time wasters that don’t further your goals actually opens the door to saying “yes” to more of the things that create meaning in your life. Once you have a clear path to follow (driven by your goals), it becomes easier to identify what to say yes to, and what to leave behind in the new year. That could be anything from unhealthy habits that impede feelings of physical and emotional wellbeing, to toxic personal relationships or a job that no longer inspires you. It also means not being afraid to put your self-interests first. Overextending yourself by accepting every social invitation or request for assistance from friends, family members or coworkers can lead to feelings or burnout and resentment. You quickly find that the list of things you want to accomplish keeps moving farther toward the back burner. Remember, you can’t be valuable to the people that count on you without taking care of yourself first. Begin by listing the things that drain your energy in one column and list the activities and experiences that energize you in another. Make a conscious effort throughout your day or week to understand where you’re spending the majority of your time. If it’s in the “draining” column, determine ways to shift more of your time toward activities that energize you.
- Practice gratitude. People often take time over the holiday season to reflect on what they’re grateful for in life. But how often do you take time to look for and savor the good things throughout the year? There are many ways to incorporate gratitude in your daily life from telling someone how much you appreciate them, to performing small daily acts of kindness, keeping a gratitude journal or taking the time to notice the beauty of nature. However you choose to practice gratitude, research suggests that it can be beneficial for your physical and mental health and can even change your brain. Studies conducted over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed. This is attributed, in part, to purposely shifting attention away from toxic emotions, such as resentment and envy. For example, focusing on how grateful you are for something (or someone) is thought to make it considerably harder to ruminate on negative experiences, thus resulting in a more positive outlook. And, as I’ve always believed, a positive outlook is critical for attracting the type of opportunities that lead to success, however you may define it.
- Be present. Have you ever thought about what it really means to be present in your own life? It can be easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of brooding over the past. However, that only leads to missing out on today. While it’s important to carry past lessons learned into the future, it’s also important not to dwell on the things you can no longer change. Similarly, while planning for the future is very important (more on that below), if you spend all of your time focused on the future and things that have yet to materialize, you risk missing out on today. And today—this moment—is the only thing you have that’s 100% certain. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. So make the most of today by being present for yourself and those who care about and depend on you.
- Have a plan. Living intentionally requires a plan for how you will accomplish the things you want most in life. Without a plan, you have nothing to lead you forward or to measure your progress against. Life simply becomes a trip without a destination—all roads lead somewhere, or to nowhere in particular. Your plan is not only a guide, but a constant reminder of what you want to achieve. Begin by envisioning where you want to go and assessing where you are now. That enables you to create small, manageable steps and goals to help you get from here to there. Keep in mind, when you start something new, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing right off the bat. For example, if you value fitness but find yourself watching a lot of TV from the couch, commit to getting up and moving around at designated intervals, like commercial breaks. If you’re thinking about a major career change, start by networking with people in your new field of interest to get an idea of what it’s like on the inside and if it’s really a good fit for you. If you want to get better at managing money, consider working with a financial coach or wealth advisor who can provide the guidance you seek and motivate you along the way.
However you choose to make an impact in your life and world around you, make sure you’re viewing your wealth as a tool for fulfilling the experiences you desire for yourself, family members, and the causes and organizations you support. That will allow you to create the meaningful and intentional alignment you seek between your money and your values.
Get back to basics
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