5 Powerful Steps to a More Intentional Life

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014


Most people I work with have a picture in their heads of what they want life to be like, but there is a disconnect somewhere between the wanting and the actual living. They get caught up in day-to-day minutiae, in habits, and in putting off in order to get by for a little longer.

The key to breaking this cycle – to connecting the dots between ideals and reality – is to live intentionally.

But how? What does that often tossed about word actually look like in actionable steps? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Keep a budget.

…for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.

-Matthew 6:21 ASV

Your money is one of your most powerful tools, and how you spend it is often the most clear indicator of how you’re spending your life. If you want to live with more intention, you need to spend with more intention.

Know where your money is going. Better still: decide where you will spend your money based on what matters most to you. Then, pay attention to whether or not you are following through on those decisions.

I have used an Excel spreadsheet and envelopes to manage my budget, and that worked just fine for several years. I’ve recently switched over to a new system called You Need a Budget and I am in love. A little obsessed even. They have a 34 day trial.

2. Track your time.

Even more valuable than how you spend your money is how you spend your time. Obviously.

What’s not so obvious? How you’re actually spending it.

I’m convinced most of us are unaware of how much time we let slip through our fingers.

After reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, I decided to log my time for a few days using an app on my phone. I kept track of how much time I spent working (and what I did when I was “working”), cleaning, cooking, exercising, hanging with friends, talking to my husband, and getting ready.

And screwing around on the Internet.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to delete that app from my phone or spiral into a pit of obsessive self monitoring and criticism. BUT! That short experiment did remind me to pay more attention to the minutes (and hours) that can easily be siphoned away from what matters to me and into what’s easiest for me.

3. Plan your week.

My friend Kate recommends a Sunday Summit, a weekly meeting with yourself when you can reflect on the past week and plan for the next one. I’ve found this to be one of the very best things I can do to ensure I’m living deliberately and in line with my goals.

When I plan my week, I open up the Word doc where I keep my personal and professional goals and choose some step I can take towards at least one goal from each category. Then I schedule it into my week – I decide exactly when I will have time to actually do the things that keep me moving forward.

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I also schedule in one-on-one time with each of my kids and my husband. This helps me to maintain some sense of balance among all the various things that matter to me.

Planning your week is all about putting the big rocks in first and letting the inevitable minutiae fill in around them.

4. Keep your to-do list short.

Living an intentional life is not about getting more done; it’s about doing what matters to you.

I never put more than three items on my daily to-do list. This forces me to be prioritize how I’ll spend my days – and as a result, my life. Limiting myself to three must-dos means that I am always aware that there is only so much I can do in a day, and so I have to deliberately make room among the errands and the responsibilities for the tasks that light me up.

5. Set your intentions.

It’s really hard to live your life on purpose if you haven’t put any thought into what that purpose is.

Write a mission statement. Make a vision board. Create a life list or set some goals. Get super clear and specific on what in the heck you want all your days and weeks to add up to.

If you don’t make time to decide what you want your life to be, you’ll constantly find yourself taking a look around and wondering “where did the time go?” and “how did I get here?”

Happiness Interview: Heidi Oran of The Conscious Perspective

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Heidi Oran is a self-described “survivor of a quarter-life crisis.” She’s young, wise, and a a prolific writer on spirituality and personal growth.

Heidi and I stumbled across each other on Twitter, and I always enjoy her positive attitude and insights. It was because of this upbeat online personality that I decided to reach out to her for a happiness interview. As it turns out, she’s just as smart as she is sunny!

Heidi Oran with her family.

Heidi Oran with her family.

How do you define happiness?

I define happiness as this: a positive sense of well-being, or inner peace.

How do you incorporate what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?

I’ve had a tricky relationship with the happiness over the past five years. I feel like when I chased it I was let down. I’d reach that high and then come right back to reality unfulfilled.

Eventually I realized that for me, true happiness is just a synonym of inner peace. Because if I have that, it doesn’t really matter what’s happening in my day-to-day life, I’ll have that positive sense of well-being consistently.

true happiness is inner pieceWhat “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

You know what? I’ve always been a bit of a rule breaker, never really following the typical path in life that is supposed to lead us to happiness, ie. college, romance, wedding, babies.

I ditched my hometown at 20 to move to the wilderness of Ontario. I had my first baby at 23. I am not technically married to my husband. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I am just now going back to university at 31. I have lived a should-free life for all of my adult hood (thanks to my dad for the example of a free-spirit, and my mom who allowed it!).

I think my pursuit of happiness wasn’t so much about letting go of shoulds, but rather, letting go of debilitating fear and limiting beliefs.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

I actually recently heard Jon Acuff say, “You’re going to have to do some things you don’t want to do, in order to do more of what you want to do.” And I think that’s so perfectly true about happiness.

Things happen, people get sick, we struggle financially, etc… But again, if we have that underlying sense of inner peace, we can handle it better and still appreciate what we have.

Thanks, Heidi – peace is a major part of my definition of happiness, too!

Keep up with Heidi at her blog or on Twitter.

Book Review: Married with Luggage

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Married with Luggage BookIn Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World Warren and Betsy Talbot combine practical relationship advice with inspiring stories of adventure. The result is a book that encourages couples to dream big and live boldly – together.

The togetherness, of course, is often the tricky part.

Couples are rarely made up of two identical people; in fact a pair of opposites is more likely. That can complicate just about everything – from household chores to vacation planning. Major life changes – like selling all yourself and traveling around the world together – are guaranteed to shine a harsh light on a couple’s differences.

Betsy and Warren decided to become completely and permanently nomadic, committing to working and living on the road for years at a time. While they were united in this big goal, they had different ideas about how to achieve it.

Betsy writes:

“I wanted the comfort of my things and the status quo while I slowly imagined myself morphing into the future. The more he pushed to sell, organize, plan, and save, the more I felt like things were being taken away from me. Warren felt like I was not committed to the plan and forcing him to be in charge of our motivation. He thought this was unfair.”

This resonated with me and reminded me of when Jared and I were preparing for our own epic road trip and life change. We bumped heads a lot because of our personality differences.

I jumped out of the gate with big plans and long lists of sweeping changes we needed to make. He wanted to move more slowly and thoughtfully and think through all the possible obstacles. I interpreted his cautiousness as negativity; he felt my eagerness and optimism was bordering on reckless.

Despite our often conflicting perspectives, we did manage to come together to accomplish something amazing: we traveled for a year with our two kids and made permanent changes to our family’s lifestyle. The key for us has been to learn how to use each other’s strengths and when to grow beyond our individual tendencies.

I’ve often said that ideally a relationship lets one plus one equal more than two. Betsy describes this coming together perfectly:

“We’re a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: he’s too fast, I’m too slow, and together we’re just right.”

Throughout Married with Luggage the Talbots share real-life examples of how to work and live together without compromising who you are and what you each value. This isn’t a couple who has merely figured out how to bite their tongues so that they can share a meal without bickering; they’re each accomplishing major personal and professional goals while spending a ton of time together.

I think that’s what I loved the most about this book. The stories and advice were appropriate for everyday life, but I was also inspired to keep dreaming big for myself and for my relationship. That has not always been an easy balance for me.

I’m much more likely to make life lists and grand plans than my husband is, but I’ve also learned the hard way that pretty much everything is richer and better when my relationship with him is also strong. It’s important to me know I can have both my lofty goals and my stable marriage.

In addition to their insights on marriage, there is no doubt that Warren and Betsy want to encourage readers to rethink their day-to-day lives. They advocate unplugging regularly (“Technology is available all the time, but we don’t have to be.”), opening up to strangers, being open to unexpected adventures, and exploring more of the world – exactly what you’d expect from a pair of globetrotting bloggers.

But whether or not you imagine you and your spouse sailing together on an Antarctic cruise, or simply enjoying more weekends at your local farmer’s market, this book can offer you some valuable perspectives on life, love, and partnership.

Where have you discovered good advice about relationships? I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments.

I’m Grateful for Dirty Socks

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

There are dirty socks on my floor again.

The daytime quiet in my home has been replaced with the background hum of Disney channel, YouTube videos, cupboard doors slamming, and the occasional sound that can’t be quickly ascribed to anything good.

My chauffeur’s license has been renewed.

In other words: my kids are home.

kids are home

They’ve been visiting their grandparents back in Iowa for the last six weeks, and I’ve decided a hundred times in the last month that six weeks is just too long now. They’ve been taking this annual vacation since we moved away, but every year it gets harder and harder – on me.

Of course, I do love the extra time I get to spend with Jared. It’s nice to be able to concentrate on our relationship for a little while, to live almost like what I imagine newlyweds do if they don’t already have a 3-month old baby when they say “I do”.

But mostly these summer vacations of theirs just make me realize how much I love my kids – and all the noise and mess and care-taking that comes with them.

The dirty socks aren’t bothering me as much right now. When I see them and I’m tempted to cringe, I remember the cost of a clean floor and quiet house. I prefer the mess to the missing.

I’m lucky to have these regular reminders of just how good my real life is. I’m lucky to get temporary glimpses that push me towards gratitude instead of permanent losses that sentence me with regret.

I’m grateful today for these reminders.

And for warm bodies snuggled up against me, growing arms slung across my shoulders, and little faces I can reach out and touch.

And for dirty socks.

What are you grateful for today?

Happiness Interview: Artist Baron Batch

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Baron Batch used to play football in the NFL. Now he’s an artist.

I love hearing stories about people who come to art as a second career. It gives me hope for my artist friends who are toiling away at Real Jobs, and it reminds me that we are all more than one thing. We can be athletes and artists.

When I asked Baron if I could interview him for this website, assuring him that the process was very simple and only included four questions, he agreed immediately and encouraged me to ask more than four questions. Having met Baron when we gave TEDx talks together, this didn’t surprise me: Baron always has a lot to say.

I think you’ll find the quality of his words matches up with the quantity.

Happiness Interview with artist and ex-NFL player Baron Batch

How do you define happiness?

Happiness is freedom. It is the ability to freely choose and decide upon a destiny/purpose and the freedom to pursue that.

Happiness is not easy, but it is always worth it. Happiness requires sacrifice but the sacrifices will always be ones you are happy to make. The minute you are unable to make a sacrifice for the pursuit of your purpose you have become a slave to what you are unable to part from.

What makes you happy?

without people my art would mean nothingPeople bring me joy. I would say that it is my art but that isn’t the case because without people my art would mean nothing. I believe people are art. So, people make me happy. There is no better feeling than giving someone a painting and watching how much they love it transform something as meaningless as a painting into art because it becomes part of them as well.

How did you discover those things?

One thing art has done for me that I am grateful of is the amount of time it gives me to sit alone and think about things. I don’t mean worrying about silly daily stuff like bills and errands, but real time to think. Its given me the time to think about the world, about life, and more importantly myself. I think once you are able to understand yourself you can understand others and the world we reside. Literally I am who I am and believe what I do because my Art has taught me. I think a clear sign that you are pursuing your passion is the fact that it teaches you each time you do it. I create my paintings, but Art teaches me.

How do you incorporate what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?

I think it’s important to do good things because you are able to, not because you have a motive. I try and remove my own motives and ego as much as possible throughout the day, and that allows me to do simple things for others that I never previously considered.

Art has helped me tame my ego.

I give a lot of paintings away to people. I teach other artists what I know. I give it all away, and what is left is always enough for me.

What do you do when you’re feeling UNhappy?

I work harder. Hard work validates my purpose, and my purpose brings me joy.

What “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

I should be filthy stinkin’ rich.
I should listen to how ‘experts’ do it.
I should settle down and get married.
I should not work as hard.
I should sleep more.
I should be happy.

Happiness doesn’t give a shit about someone’s entitlement or what they think they deserve or should be. We deserve nothing. And once you remove your ego and accept you don’t actually deserve anything at all, you work to create your world and not accept one, and then everything you have makes you happy.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

I love that!

You can follow Baron on twitter or check out his website.