I spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to be intentional in my life. I try to be present in this work every minute of every day. It is exhausting work. It is a muscle that gets tired and sore. Many that know me intimately, ask me why I am so driven because they can sense the cost of such focus. There are many times I wish I could just take my foot off the gas pedal and coast to see what happens, but even that happens intentionally. My rest is intentional. Some might even say that I am not living organically because I try so hard to be in every minute of every day. I get it. There is a joy in just letting go to see what happens.
But, this is what I have learned. Being intentional is not at the cost of letting go and it is not about holding onto life with an iron grip. Being intentional is about being awake and aware that I am making choices in my life every minute. Everything is a choice, and I can make choices in everything. I am the driver in my life; I am not an object that is acted upon.
This was a hard-earned lesson in my life. What I came to realize is that the opposite of being intentional is to live by default. Living by default means that one simply does what is in front them without consideration, forgoing values-driven decision making and a sense of personal agency. Living by default is accepting the belief that “this is just how it is”. Living by default also means that we stop considering that life, our situation, our opportunities, and wants/needs never change over time. Living by default means that we stop paying attention to our journey and we become stuck in our own lives. The rut begins to be uncomfortable, but too powerful to get out of.
I was explaining my thoughts on this during an interview when I was asked what the enemy of intentionality is. I thought this was an interesting question because I often talk about living by default as the opposite of intentionality, but the enemy of intentionality was something else. For me, the enemy of intentionality is the sacrifice of self.
What I mean by the sacrifice of self is that when we are not being intentional, we sacrifice our opportunities for growth, insight, learning, and experience. It is the reality that getting stuck in default mode becomes limiting. We begin to miss the little moments that can have great meaning, be the source of wonderful memories, or bring a new relationship dynamic. I began to notice this when I took that extra moment to listen with more intentionality, slowed down my rush to get off the phone, and prioritized that extra moment of mindfulness. As I paid more attention to the little decisions in my life, I began to notice the way I felt about myself began to shift. I felt more powerful, more in control, and more connected. And, in turn, I was also able to make a choice to let go, relax, and float for a period of time because I had more space for openness.
Being intentional can be stressful because as we learn to be present in our own lives in this way, the realization of how many choices we have in front of us is overwhelming. However, like all new skills and practices, I recommend starting to bring intentionality into one aspect of your life and to see the impact. Perhaps you start with creating a mindfulness practice, or your bedtime routine, or a particular relationship that you want to strengthen. Work in one area and see what happens. Start small and see the results.
To learn more creating an intentional life, contact Dr. Elliott at [email protected]