Have you ever paused to ask yourself this question:
“Why am I living the way I am?”
Too often in life, we either do things because everyone else seems to be doing them or because, like an idle sailboat bobbing about in the open sea, we somehow drift into them.
I know this because I’ve been there myself. A few years ago, I found myself in the wrong career, then in the wrong relationship — one that I didn’t actually want to be in — and later on, building myself the wrong kind of business.
I found myself living a life that looked so good on the outside but felt incredibly wrong on the inside. That was until I hit rock bottom. From that point onward, I went deeper into a journey of introspection. I began to look inward because I finally realized that if I want to change the outside, I must change the inside first.
So I began to declutter. I tried to let go of whatever wasn’t serving me so I can allow room for what will. I began to do more of what I love. And most importantly, I vowed to live a life that was true to me and no one else.
In short, I began to live intentionally.
Intentional living is a form of Life Design, a concept that was first introduced by Silicon Valley innovators and Stanford University professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. It’s about working from where we are and with what we have to design and build a meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling life, one that is aligned with our values, beliefs, and interests. And it asks one simple question: What kind of lifestyle do I aspire to live?
Plain and simple, intentional living is about living a life that is true to you. It doesn’t matter what your parents advise you to do, or what society thinks of you, or what your friends think you should do. What matters most is how you feel inside yourself and what you decide to do for yourself. That’s it.
That’s the power of intentional living. It reminds us that, even when we feel completely stuck, we still have agency over how we choose to frame our days and what actions we decide to take. Here are 11 signs you’re starting to become more intentional about the life you want to live.
1. You’re putting yourself first.
You’re putting yourself first, which means that you’re prioritizing your own emotional and mental wellbeing before anyone else’s because it has finally dawned on you that you cannot give from that which you don’t have.
You’re becoming kinder to yourself. You’re drowning that voice of your inner critic in an ocean that’s brimming with confidence. You’re recognizing that the sanctuary is found within you and the only way to reach it is to be kind to yourself first so you can then be kind to all other beings around you.
2. You’re questioning the lifestyle you want to lead.
You’re becoming more intentional about how you want to live your day-to-day life and the kind of lifestyle you want to lead. You’re starting to think like a designer, an artist who’s piecing together a mosaic.
You’re starting to realize that there’s no way you’re ever going to flourish or experience any positive sustainable change in your life as long as you keep doing what you’ve always done — carrying the entire weight of your own baggage with you. You’re starting to realize that as you learn how to let go of what’s no longer positively serving you, we will allow room for what will.
In a way, you’re becoming an essentialist. Instead of doing more of everything, you’re starting to do less of what doesn’t matter to you so you can do more of what does.
3. You’re slowing down, especially in the mornings, and you’re doing your best to take care of your mind, body, and soul.
You’re not rushing in the mornings. Instead, you’re giving yourself the time to discover how you want to set the tone for the day, so you’re creating a self-care routine that works for you and tailors to your own needs rather than to what society tells you a self-care ritual should look like.
You’re doing what you can to protect that sacred first hour of your day. It’s the time for awakening your mind, body, and soul. Maybe you’re stretching your body to increase your flexibility, range of motion, and the circulation of blood flow to your muscles. Maybe you’re meditating to calm your mind or reading a book to nourish it. Maybe you’re journaling your thoughts to reconnect with your soul.
All you really are is a speck of light vibrating through your mind, body, and soul. Becoming intentional, then, is about treating that trident with the respect it deserves. The more you do, the greater you will shine.
4. You’re asking the right questions.
Life is a series of choices and consequences. Growing up, my mom would always remind me of that saying. Had I been a little wiser back then, I probably wouldn’t have made such impulsive and rash decisions.
Thankfully, today, I’m more self-aware of who I am. Today, anytime I’m faced with a dilemma, I stop and ask myself this one question: “Does this even matter to me?”
If the answer is yes, I give it my attention. Otherwise, I let it go.
The same applies to you. Instead of blindly jumping into things or dwelling in the noise of uncertainty, consider first the magnitude of a situation’s importance to you. If it matters to you, delve deeper. It if doesn’t, let it go.
Truth is, the extent of how far we go in life is almost always tied to how often we question things. And that begins with asking the right questions.
5. You’re saying “no” more than you’re saying “yes.”
Here’s another sign of becoming more intentional about your life: You’re saying “no” more than you’re saying “yes.”
This means that you’re protecting your time and safeguarding your energy. This means that you’re starting to prioritize what and who you’re willing to give your time to.
You’re not jumping into things just because they sound cool — you’re no longer onboard that trendy train, the one that breaks down quickly. Instead, you’re going back to that question of intention: “Does this even matter to me?”
6. You’re creating more than you’re consuming.
A foundational pillar for living intentionally begins with tipping the balance scales of creation and consumption: The goal is to create more than you consume because creation compounds while consumption depletes.
And if you’re starting to understand that a sense of purpose is rooted, first and foremost, in the service of others, then you’re on the right track toward designing an intentional life. As Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The secret to creating more than you consume is found along the path of choosing meaningful work you enjoy doing — something you’re willing to improve at — and then giving it your best effort consistently.
7. You’re sharing your progress, not your goals.
There’s a big difference between intention and action: ‘Intention’ serves as your compass while ‘action’ is what actually moves you in that direction. You cannot design an intentional life without setting direction, but you also cannot live it without taking action toward that intention.
Too often, however, we fall for the trap of substituting the instant gratification we receive from announcing our goals for the long-term satisfaction we will gain as we work toward it.
As research suggests, the premature praise we receive from sharing our goals in public becomes a substitute for actually achieving them. The simple act of sharing your goals publicly can make you less likely to do the work to achieve them. That’s why a lot of people talk about what they want to do, but never actually end up doing them.
Silently working on your goals behind the scenes and sharing your progress as you hit your milestones is a sign that you’re becoming more intentional about how to live your life. It means that you’re not doing it for the fame or glory or the praise, you’re doing it for you — you’re not doing it for others, you’re doing it for yourself.
8. You’re creating more space for wonder and inspiration.
You’re finally recognizing the profound wisdom that lies in this quote by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: “Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”
So now, you’re working to redesign an environment that is conducive to your growth. You’re creating more space for wonder and inspiration and you’re starting to recognize that sometimes, the easiest form of addition is subtraction. That’s why you’re trimming everything that’s no longer serving you, so you can allow room for what will.
You’re choosing to move away from people who taint your day with negative energy and closer to those who inspire you and uplift you. You’re unfollowing social accounts that distract you. You’re making time to be alone with yourself because you’ve finally realized that the only spark that needs kindling is your own.
9. You’re starting to surrender to the flow of life.
You’re starting to accept that struggle is simply the refusal to accept what is. So now you’re teaching yourself how to surrender to the flow of life. You’re learning how to trust the process and you’re becoming more aware of the benefits of focusing only on what’s within your control.
You’re embracing what Eckhart Tolle wrote in The Power of Now: “Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.”
That, of course, doesn’t mean that you don’t work toward what you want. It simply means that as you actively pursue your goals, you gift the entirety of your attention to your inputs and outputs, with the acceptance and conviction that the outcomes will fall into place.
10. You’re becoming more observant and thus, more grateful.
You’re slowing down to become more observant and conscious of the beauty all around you. You’re becoming more grateful for all that life has to offer you: The sun in the sky, the soothing sound of the waves kissing the shore, the comfortable bed you get to sleep in tonight.
It takes mindfulness to raise your self-awareness and arrive at the realization that life happens today, at this very moment that is unfolding as you read these words. It takes mindfulness, then, to appreciate being here, right now, breathing, feeling, observing.
Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.” Gratitude, then, is the natural path to a mindful and intentional life.
11. You’re taking the pressure off and you’re only comparing yourself to your former self.
Everyone’s journey is different. But while everyone will readily share with you their highlight reels, rarely will you find someone who’s openly willing to reveal their behind-the-scenes. And that’s precisely why the only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday.
So if you’re creating your own definition of success and sticking to it, then you’re on the intentional path. If you aren’t rushing anywhere, because you realize there’s nowhere for you to arrive at, then you’re on the intentional path. And if you’re finally realizing how the only worthy pressure exerted upon you is the one you inflict upon yourself, then you’re probably relieving that needless pressure’s grip on you, and thus, you’re on the intentional path.
The Intentional Life Leads You To Your Best Self
Our best self is the one that makes us feel a sense of peace within. Our best self is the one that allows us to build a sanctuary inside ourselves — a home that is guided by the rhythm and pace we consciously choose for our daily life.
It’s the intentional life, then, that leads you to your best self. And the answer to the question of “why am I living the way I am” becomes ever so clear and simple: I’m living the way I am because I choose to.