How to Start Living Intentionally

Until recently, I’ve always been the type of person that says they’ll do something, but either never does it, or falls off the wagon very quickly. I’m always the go-to person among my friends whenever anyone has a question about budgeting, meal planning, or how to plan for major life changes, but when it came time for me to do the same, your gal would always fail. Then I discovered intentional living.

At first I thought it was a fad - like so many Instagram-worthy things, it seems too good to be true. If you’re unfamiliar with intentional living, it all comes down to how your actions align with your personal beliefs and goals.

Still sounds kind of hokey and New Age-y, right? Stay with me.

Setting goals like running more or to quit drinking are a good start, but if you’re not finding the larger purpose and reason behind that goal (i.e. what your core beliefs are), you’re setting yourself up for potential failure.

I would say I would want to stop aimlessly spending money, but I believed I felt entitled to a nice meal out after working my way through college. I believed I had the financial security to travel, at a moments notice, even though I was drowning in a revolving door of credit debt. I knew what I needed to do to correct the situation, but didn’t believe in it.

The reason why I would always fail at things I want to do was because my actions didn’t align with my advice or what I actually wanted to believe. I wasn’t practicing what I preached. I wasn’t living in a way that intentionally and mindfully matched what my goals were.

I felt like a phony.

This all came to a head in April, when - for a variety of reasons - I made an emergency trip back to Dallas. Over those few days, I was finally able to answer some hard questions.

Why was I able to think critically, research and offer wisdom that helped others, but was never able to follow the advice myself? Why was there a disconnect between my goals and my daily actions? What did I need to do in order to start implementing these changes in my life?

Simply saying “I failed” wasn’t good enough. I needed to know why.

Ch-ch-changes.  One of the  many  books I've read over the past few months to try and understand how and why habits form.

Ch-ch-changes. One of the many books I've read over the past few months to try and understand how and why habits form.

I started researching more about habits and personal development. Every morning I would be reminded of the goals I set for myself in April with the vision board I made. I had weekly Sunday afternoon check-ins to hold myself accountable and found myself starting finally able to start curbing my bad spending habits.

Since discovering intentional living and implementing it two months ago, I’ve seen a nearly 150% increase in site traffic to my blog, am finally setting out to do my dream job in podcasting, and have the sleeping schedule of a functioning adult.

I’m not anywhere close to being an expert in living life more intentionally and simply, but I know it’s possible, and I know I’m at the start of a wonderful journey that I can’t wait to share with you guys.

After taking a step back and examining how I was able to start overcoming my hurdles and personal roadblocks, I thought it would be helpful to share with y’all the five things I’ve done to start living more intentionally.

How-to-start-Living-Intentionally

Find your why.
It didn’t take a financial planner to tell me I had a problem with impulse spending. I was spending, on average, up to $1,000 - a month - on eating out and groceries.

Roughly one third of my monthly income.

On. Food.

Yeah, I know.  

Living in New York, this wasn’t greasy drive-thru french fries either. I’m talking about casually dropping $30 here, $45 there, at some of the City’s more trendier, ‘gramable restaurants.

I knew I needed to get my spending habits in line, especially once it became clear that I would need to devote more time to developing my podcast and that meant purposefully cutting my hours at work. But things I would try in the past - the envelope method, writing down a weekly budget, but never sticking to it - never seemed to work. I always had some way to justify the purchase.

That all started to change when I finally started to get serious about leaving my job, and started to identify what I wanted my life to look like. I started getting more intentional with my money habits. Was spending $55 on a meal and brunch cocktails going to get me to where I needed to be? Clearly, the answer was a big, fat NO.

Mapping it out.  Taking some time at the start of every week to check-in with myself and how my actions are aligning with my larger goals and beliefs has been crucial in my intentional living journey.

Mapping it out. Taking some time at the start of every week to check-in with myself and how my actions are aligning with my larger goals and beliefs has been crucial in my intentional living journey.

Once I started accepting my reality - I’m in debt, which means I need to cut my spending habits - my beliefs started to match the actions I needed to take.

Soon, this framing started trickling down to other spending habits. I started to keep a notebook with me every time I went to the grocery store, since sale items (or any other strategic placed item) is another way I blindly spend money.

After I make my shopping list and am at the store, if I try to buy something that isn’t on the list, I have to force myself to stop in the middle of the crowded store to write down why.

Just by stopping to ask myself how a decision aligns with my larger goal - by being intentional with my decision making - has already cut my food spending by almost 70%.

Be kind to yourself.
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but I can’t stress how important it is to not beat yourself up over failing. If you’re trying something new and aren’t failing, at least a little, please tell me your secret.

It takes as long as 66 days to form new habits. That’s a little over two months! 

Whether you’re a professional athlete or want to start cooking more, real change and progress takes time. You’re not going to wake up one day and automatically solve all of your problems. There will may even be some days when you slip up. But having the compassion to realize how far you’ve come, that you have the courage to address a problem in your life, is a wonderful thing.

Smiling through the pain.  If change was easy, then everyone would do it. Recognize that there will be some hard days, but that doesn't mean change isn't possible.

Smiling through the pain. If change was easy, then everyone would do it. Recognize that there will be some hard days, but that doesn't mean change isn't possible.

Realizing this was one of the hardest things to come to terms with, but finally accepting it - finally realizing that life is a continuous roller coaster of changes, and that as long as I have a why to stay focused during the really challenging parts - has made these changes so much easier.

If you find that you get easily discouraged, try letting a friend know or finding a local group if it’s a specific niche, like learning to rock climb, or if there are any apps to help remind you, like if you’re trying to quit smoking.

Focus on the small wins, so you can save for the bigger ones.
This is a concept I’ve practiced for a while that I was finally able to put a name to from the book on habits I recently started reading. The thinking goes that if you focus on “small wins,” like making you bed every day, you start building up your confidence to do other things. Suddenly, spending an extra two minutes to make overnight oats the evening before or quickly cleaning your room doesn’t seem as hard.

These small wins have the potential to transfer over to other, larger habits.

When I realized how much money I was spending in coffee shops, I started making coffee at home. After home brewed coffee became a habit, I realized that the biggest reason I liked grabbing a drink out was the working environment. I liked how focused working out of my house made me feel. However, that feeling was costing me a lot of money, so I decided to make some small changes at my home office, and now love waking up each morning to do work.

Deconstruct the problem.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is a new lifestyle. Remember - 66 days.

Counting down the days.  I use a small announcement board as an easy way to keep track of my progress every morning.

Counting down the days. I use a small announcement board as an easy way to keep track of my progress every morning.

I went through a phase where I was looking for quick results to fix some major character flaws and bad habits.

Problem eating tons of unhealthy foods? Let me try the most restrictive diet, and then get frustrated 5 days later because I set myself up for failure by not planning my meals that week.

Frustrated with not seeing traffic at my blog? Invests in Tailwind, but don’t it use it to its full potential.

Complains about hating online dating? Silently mopes in bookstores and cafes waiting for cute boys to introduce themselves.

You get the point.

In each of these examples, I was looking for a quick, easy win for a large, complicated problem. Once I started identifying smaller wins, like spending a few hours each week actually learning about Pinterest and starting to effectively use tools for bloggers, I got the short term reward I was looking for (i.e. checking something off my to-do list) while also advancing my long term goal.

Pinterest and utilizing SEO are now the top referrals for my website. But it started with a simple win. As they say in the consulting world, don’t try to boil the ocean.

Visualize what you’re trying to achieve.
One of the best ways I’ve been able to actually stay on top of my goals is keeping them down somewhere I constantly see. I made a vision board, which I go into more detail making in a post from last month, and also have this handy felt board that’s the first thing I look at every morning when my alarm rings.

Eyes on the Prize.  This cute little board hangs right by my alarm. Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do is count the new day!

Eyes on the Prize. This cute little board hangs right by my alarm. Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do is count the new day!

These two visual cues are often the very first and last things I look at everyday, and have been great casual reminders to stay on task. If you’re not the handy type, writing your goals down in a convenient, easy to read place is also super helpful, and for the overachievers - maybe you do all three. Whatever your learning style is, make sure you’re doing something that’s training your mind to focus on these goals.

5-Ways-to-start-living-intentionally

As I continue to learn more about intentional living, I’m excited to announce that I’ve finally found a “niche” that I feel good about and is actually authentic. Expect to see a few tweaks and changes on the blog - and on YouTube - as I start implementing a few new things.

Last, but not least, I want to hear from y’all!

What was your favorite tip? Have you tried intentional living before? How did it go? Let me know either in the comments or tagging me on social media as #delightdiscovered.