Living with intention allows us to experience more joy, purpose, and meaning in our lives. To live with intention is to align our behaviors with our values. When our actions and values are not in alignment, we may experience dissatisfaction, discomfort, and unease. A lack of intention in our lives can also result in misalignment and stress, leading to psychological distress and poor health. So, how do we live our lives with intention?

Discover Your Core Values

To align our actions with our values, we first have to know what our values are. Core values are the fundamental principles that guide us; they serve as a moral compass. Brené Brown defines core values as “the beliefs that are most important to you, that help you find your way in the dark, that fill you with a feeling of purpose.” You may have an immediate sense of what your core values are, or you may struggle to define them. One way to discover your core values is to look at a list of values and see which ones resonate with you the most. Yet another way to connect with your inner core values is to imagine yourself 20-30 years from now. Perhaps sitting in a beautiful place feeling a deep sense of living a satisfying life. What would give your future self a sense of accomplishment? If your future self looked back on their life, what would give them a feeling of satisfaction? These values your future self found to be what gave quality to life, would be your core values. A road map for you to use to guide your journey from today onwards.

Assess Your Behaviors and Activities

Once you have zeroed in on your core values, take some time to assess your behaviors and activities. How do you spend your time? How well do your activities align with your core values? You can work towards better alignment of your values and actions in three ways. First, you can begin to eliminate activities that are not meaningful or fulfilling. Examples of these kinds of activities might include a job without passion and interest, watching television, scrolling through social media, or “busy work.” An activity that is meaningless to one person may be meaningful to another, based on their different values, so focus on what feels aligned for you rather than what you think you “should” be doing.

The second way to bring more alignment of activities and values to your life is simply to spend more of your time doing the kinds of activities that are in alignment. Perhaps spending time with your friends, creating art, being in nature, traveling, or reading are meaningful to you. Making time for more of these activities is vital to living with intention.

The third way to create more alignment is to create meaning in activities that are meaningless but necessary. Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” You might give meaning to a mundane, necessary activity such as washing dishes by reflecting on the service you provide yourself or your family by cleaning the dishes, and how that aligns with your family based values. You could also use the process of washing dishes as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, noticing what you see, hear, and smell, the weight and texture of the dishes, and the temperature and feeling of the water.

Set and Hold Boundaries

Saying “no” to things that do not serve you can be difficult, but it gets easier with practice, and it is necessary for living with intention. When we commit ourselves to activities that do not contribute any purpose or meaning to our lives, we are struck with a sense of dissatisfaction and discomfort. We can also end up feeling resentful or stretched too thin. Practice declining commitments that do not bring joy or purpose to your life. In addition, noticing individuals in your life that may be toxic and setting healthy boundaries with each toxic interaction.

Create New Patterns

Often we find ourselves doing things simply because we have done them for a long time. Changing these habits can take time and effort, and may feel strange or uncomfortable at first. Have patience with yourself and practice self-compassion. Many small actions over time create new patterns. Consciously choosing to spend your time in a way that aligns with your values is the core of living with intention.

Photo by Ester Marie Doysabas