Going into the new year, a lot of us are setting new goals. Some of these are small, daily life changes. Others are bigger goals to work towards overtime. Either way, achieving our goals requires intentional living. And we have some insights into how to live more intentionally and consistently in the new year.
Intentional living = increasing mindfulness + decreasing mindlessness
Intentional living is basically turning off autopilot. It's doing things mindfully and purposefully. And it's one way we can trim the fat in our daily lives that aren’t helping us achieve anything worthwhile. We all have things like this that we're doing mindlessly, and they're not helping us in any way.
In fact, research shows these mundane and often thoughtless things we do (think throwing our dirty clothes in the corner of our room versus putting them to the hamper!) are actually adding to the chaos around us. Which ultimately can have a negative impact on our mental health and daily happiness.
Ellen Langer is a well-known voice on the topic of mindfulness and a professor of psychology at Harvard. She says mindfulness is “the simple act of actively noticing things,” which results in increased health, competence, and happiness.
Intentional living is simply increasing the number of tasks we are doing mindfully and with active intention. Plus, it is decreasing the number of things we're doing mindlessly and without much thought.
Tip #1 - Define what matters to you
Before you can go from mindless to mindful, you have to define what's important. During any goal-setting exercise that you may do in the new year, this should be the first step. Analyze what's important and why you want to achieve it. This becomes your "why".
For many of us, we set "words of the year" or we set intentions that support our "why". It's basically a mental exercise to sum up what's driving us to do what we're doing. And it also helps us to stay on course if we experience distractions or setbacks on our way to achieving our goals and making changes. This is a fundamental step to intentional living.
Tip #2 - Identify the clutter in your daily life
Next is identifying the clutter. Once you've defined what matters most to you, then you can easily see what's out of alignment with your essentials.
For example, let's say my goal for the year is to get organized and stay organized. I'm setting this goal in order to eliminate the chaos around me and increase the calm in my life. I believe this will have a profound impact on my mental and physical health in the weeks and months to come.
So now, that I've defined the what and my "why", I can identify what's working against them. I can pinpoint what areas of my physical life (in my home and environment) and what areas of my mental life (my commitments, work, and routine), are causing chaos and working against my calm.
Make a list of these areas - they may seem like big picture items. For example, "improve my work-life balance", "stop shopping online so much," "start cooking at home more," "rearrange my home office." They may not seem easy to tackle at first. But, before you can take mindful steps towards intentional living, you have to identify the clutter. Then you can break them down into smaller changes driven by purposeful actions.
Tip #3 - Be purposeful with your actions
This is where the rubber meets the road. Actually taking action. And doing so mindfully, purposefully, and intentionally.
Once you've defined your "why" and identified what's not working, you can set into motion new actions that will lead to new habits. Habit formation takes time, but it starts with daily intentional living.
Take the list of big picture items you identified as clutter. Rank these in the order you want to tackle them. Then, underneath each item, list some actions that will help you get to where you want to go. These are smaller, intentional actions that are buildable and lead to new habits.
Improve my work-life balance
- Log off of work at 5:30 pm on weeknights
- Change IM status to away after business hours
- Mute work-related text threads in the evenings and on weekends
- Do not check work emails on devices in the evenings
- Arrive at work 30-minutes early to get organized for the day at work
- Take a lunch break (eat, go for a walk, call a friend, listen to a podcast) every weekday
Our actions sum up our habits. Habits are simply the actions we form repetitive patterns around doing. And as easily as we form bad habits, we can form good habits. But the building blocks of our habits are our daily actions. So by redirecting some of our mindless negative actions into mindful positive actions, the important habit formation will naturally follow.
We’ve done entire blog posts on the topic of good habits… check out the “habits” tab on the Silk+Sonder blog.
Tip #4 - Check in with yourself
There are lots of rules around how long it takes to build new habits and change your actions. You may have heard of the “2190 rule” in psychology - 21 days to make a habit, 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle. Truth is, none of these rules are true for everyone.
We all have different behaviors, personalities, pitfalls, and challenges that influence our daily lives and daily habits. That’s why it’s important to check in with yourself. How are you doing? Really?
Schedule a check-in with yourself... accountability is key!
One of the keys to intentional living by increasing mindfulness is to not slip back into mindless actions. These default behaviors, until replaced with new intentional ones, will have a tendency to creep back in.
So, set a weekly reminder on your phone. Write a weekly self-check-in “to-do” in your planner. Set aside time to journal throughout the week for a short period of time about how you’re doing. Whatever method is easiest for you, do that. There are no hard and fast rules to accountability. Except to do it. This is going to be key to staying on track and working towards intentionality in your life.
Want more tips on how to cultivate intentional living, check out the Silk+Sonder blog!