There were a couple of other topics that I had intended to ramble on about but I was somewhat motivated to do this. A few days ago, whilst on the Elliptical machine at the Leisure Centre – yes, I don’t particularly like to go nowhere fast a.k.a running to stand still – but hey, it’s low impact and gives me my much-needed cardio (which in turn, lowers my blood pressure) – since I can’t run anymore.

Anyway, a few minutes later, I was joined by another person next to me – separated by a transparent piece of plastic – who proceeded to use the machine. Within half a minute, they were taking a selfie (headband and all) and sending it to all and sundry. Then they continued to text while supposedly running on the Elliptical. Multi-tasking at its best. It would have been more impressive if they were chewing gum and singing at the same time!

For those in the know, multi-tasking is doing two or more things at the SAME TIME, which they were. Most of the time, what we may regard as multi-tasking is what psychologists term task-switching. Thing is, what is at a premium for us is not our time but our attention.

Is the attention given to our actions intentional, that is, is it done on purpose? Is it a commitment to deliberate behaviour? Perhaps to be intentional is to live on purpose. To quote Michael Hyatt, “The busier we are, the more intentional we must be.” Personally, using “want to be” or “wish to be” would be more appropriate as “must be” is one of our many Cognitive Distortions (see later).

My take from Mindfulness is that some of its key elements include being intentional, being focused, being curious and being non-judgmental. I suppose we can’t really do things mindfully if we’re not doing them intentionally. Intentionality allows us to choose to live something- mindfulness keeps us present throughout the moment and get every last bit of experience from it.

While we don’t always do them both- maybe we’re shoving that breakfast cereal in our mouth with intentionality but not affording ourselves the space to eat mindfully.

It’s how joy happens.

Some ways in which we can be intentional on a daily basis may include:

Choosing to be kind

Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” ― Harold S. Kushner

When we choose to be kind, we’re making an intentional choice about the type of person we want to be. If we value kindness, look for ways to be kind every day (and don’t forget that self-kindness is important too!). Yes, that means self-compassion.

Doing something that brings us joy

One of the simplest ways to be intentional every day is to do something that brings us joy. It’s such a powerful means of adding value to our life but it’s so often overlooked.

Sadly, it may be because we’ve been conditioned to put the “hustle” before our own happiness. We think we need to be productive all the time—and we feel productive when we’re working towards a socially acceptable definition of success (usually money and material goods). Unfortunately, that has become the yardstick/measure of a meaningful life in our society.

At this juncture I’m reminded of the book by David Graeber, titled: “Bullshit Jobs” (2018). In case we think he’s ‘odd’ in writing this book, he’s a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. For him, examples of ‘real’ jobs include nurses, landscape gardeners and musicians. And ‘bullshit jobs’ include HR consultants, IT specialists, researchers and the like!

But what about OUR definition of “success”? Is it really about getting the most done? Maybe “success” is more about a cup of tea and a good book? Or whatever makes us ‘happy’ … the point is finding even just a few minutes every day to do something that brings us joy can completely change how we feel about our life—but we want to be intentional about making ourselves a priority.

An appropriate cue for “The Book of Joy” (2015) by the 14th. Dalai Lama and the late Bishop Desmond Tutu, a few days of intimate conversations by them on the subject.

Practising active listening

Intentional living is personal—what matters to us might not be important to others. Having said that, it’s a challenge to meet someone who doesn’t place some value on their relationships.

We all want to feel connected and one way of creating connection is by intentionally practising active listening. It’s about listening to understand instead of listening to respond.

We can show the people in our lives that we care by making an effort to really hear what they have to say and by resisting the urge to centre their stories on ourselves. Instead of thinking about how we’re going to respond, do our best to understand their point of view. And don’t make it about us – that’s just hijacking the conversation and being totally self-centred; which normally speaks to either low self-esteem or narcissism. Or both!

Making time for self-reflection

Making time for self-reflection is absolutely essential for intentional living—it’s how we know we’re on the right track. Take a few minutes every day to think about our values and priorities. Then ask ourselves how our schedule, our spending and even our home reflect this vision.

If we’re not happy with our answers, what are one or two small things we could work on to bring ourselves into alignment? Think about what we would like more and less of in our lives. Finally, finish by setting your intentions for the next day. This will help you stay focused on what really matters.

Doing something we can be proud of

Do we ever go to bed wondering whether our days are well spent? If it does, a simple way of adding purpose to our every day is by intentionally doing something that we can be proud of.

It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture—it might be as simple as putting down our phone during a conversation or using a reusable coffee cup—but do something every day and then celebrate it too! For a few minutes, stop worrying about everything we’re not and instead, give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done.

Question our “have to’s”, “need to’s”, etc.

When we continue to use phrases like: “I have to”, “I need to”, I ought to”, “I’m supposed to”, “I should”, etc. can set us up to fail. These are part of our Thinking Errors or Cognitive Distortions, negative automatic thoughts which may also lead to unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.

I am reminded of the quote: “The language that we use is neither neutral nor judgment-free. It reflects our reality and also has the capacity to create it.”. When we change our language, everything changes. Hence, using phrases like: “wish to”, “could”, “want to”, “like to”, “I can”, etc. changes our mindset.

Who told us that we have to and when was the last time we questioned it?

True, there are some things we really have to do every day but don’t make assumptions without taking a closer look first.

Prioritize our rest and self-care

Be intentional about prioritizing rest and self-care. Because if we don’t take care of ourselves, then nothing else matters. We might be able to get by for a while but eventually, if we neglect our physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual well-being, we’ll run out of steam.

Know when it’s time to let go

There are so many things that can weigh us down—from the clutter in our closets to the thoughts in our minds. It can keep us clouded and confused; we can’t focus on what matters because we are too distracted by everything that doesn’t.

The solution is to let go. De-clutter our home, let go of the past and practice self-forgiveness. Learn how to let go of the little things that bother you and stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Unrealistic Comparisons is another cognitive distortion that gets in our way.

Be deliberate with our day

If we are clear up front where we want to spend our time, energy and focus each day, we are far more likely to achieve the result we want. We will know exactly what to do and where to put our attention, which increases ‘productivity’. This gives us direction and intention every day.

When we don’t have that clarity up front, we can waste time on non-important activities and get easily distracted. This intentional commitment to what we want communicates to our brain and other people what’s most important to us, and where our focus lies.

Be purposeful with our time

When we are clear about the context of the outcome we want, our why, we then start thinking about the action steps needed, the what. If we are clear on the purpose and importance of the result we want, and the action steps we might undertake to achieve the outcome, we then think about how to do it.

We all want to achieve a result in the easiest and simplest way possible. When we have that mind-set, we become more intentional about our time.

There will only be specific activities, relationships, teamwork and collaboration that help us achieve the result we want. Focus on maximizing those and saying no to everything else. This creates clearer boundaries, helps us become more present and makes us more intentional about where to invest our time.

Be considered with our focus

Having high intentionality means aiming for a very specific result. The specific result we want show be a number or an event, with a clear deadline so we know when we’ve achieved it. This narrow focus takes the guesswork out of where we want to invest our time and focus. There will only be a few areas that we want be focusing on to get that result. Identify those areas and eliminate other activities.

Being intentional with our focus ensures that certain activities that we may be doing in the past are stopped, outsourced or delegated. Having this focus on our vision, our end goal and the action steps needed gives us the confidence to focus our attention on what matters most to us.

Be intentional with our most important relationships

Intentionality multiplies the power of each relationship that is important to us. Whether they are work relationships, client relationships or personal relationships, what we appreciate grows if we give out attention to it. Intentionality helps us understand the purpose and importance of every relationship we have.

When we take a moment to understand why a relationship is important it grows. If we take a moment to express gratitude to someone their importance in our life grows. Identifying what we want from a relationship ensures we are clear up front about the best result we want from that relationship. Being present in communication and in person with the people that matter most shows how much we value them.

When we show who we truly are, what inspires us, what we believe in and care about, we connect with others. Indeed, if we are committed to making a difference, we have to truly see those we serve. And to fully see others, we must first allow others to see us.

Life is what happens when we are not on autopilot. Then, our interactions with others will be more than just transactional. Maybe not quite transformational (!) but certainly not transactional. When we are intentional, we may add value to every person we meet every day.

Some intentionality quotes I have found helpful to focus on:

“A simple, intentional life is a way of life and not a destination.”

“Our intention creates our reality.”

“Be intentional. Live on purpose.”

“Change is inevitable. Growth is intentional.”

“Intentional living means making choices for our lives based on our greatest values, not the habits of others.”