“Be more intentional.”
I think it’s safe to say this has become somewhat of a buzzy catch-all phrase in our culture. Or at least it is in my circles. Whether we’re talking about spending more time doing what we love, “making things happen,” cutting out sugar, choosing to do a capsule wardrobe, taking up the practice of meditation, or any number of other various daily life choices or behavioral changes, the root of our decision making and habit changing is often this simple missive: to be more intentional.
I think it makes complete sense—it’s somewhat of a counter-cultural reaction to excess and over-consumption. We grew up on sugary cereal and McDonald’s. We’re bombarded day in and day out with information and opinions from news outlets and social media. We’re trying to juggle crazy schedules and keep everyone happy. We’re anxious and overwhelmed and pretty unhealthy, as a whole.
Throughout my twenties, intention was not something I gave much thought to. Like a hamster on a wheel, I chose to keep my own underlying anxiety and depression at bay by simply never stopping. At any given time, I was probably in the middle of a renovation project while also shooting a ton of weddings while also networking with people and staying glued to social media and filling most every waking moment with IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO. While also eating like crap, drinking more coffee and wine than I should, and continuing to take an anti-depressant that I figured was keeping it all under control. It was easier not to give much thought to my health and well-being, so I just…. didn’t.
My own wakeup call came in the form of an infertility diagnosis three years ago. Severe endometriosis, hypothyroidism, my ongoing struggles with depression…. My body was officially a mess, and I could no longer ignore it.
Shortly thereafter, I turned 30. And while I don’t think there’s anything particularly magical or significant about turning 30, for me, it did mark a shift in my thinking. The “I’m invincible!” twenties were over. The “I’M GOING TO DIE” thirties were here. The wrinkles and gray hairs began to appear. I noticed changes in my energy levels. My skin and hair were changing. I was becoming more forgetful. Between that and the fertility issues, I knew it was time. Time to start caring about my wellbeing—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I wish I could say that there was one specific doctor’s visit or online article and or documentary or book that changed everything for me, but in truth, the last several years have been full of seeking information, trial and error, making changes, tweaking those changes, tweaking the changes again, having conversations, getting professional help, and asking for advice. There was not one magical a-ha moment… there have been many a-ha moments that have come from any number of experiences.
And the sum of all those experiences and changes and choices have, I’m happy to say, led me to a place of living with more intention. As a result, I am less anxious and depressed, I have more energy and motivation to create and have meaningful experiences, and generally speaking, I just feel better. Not necessarily happy-go-lucky all the time, but more at peace. More confident in my ability to handle stress when it comes along (because despite what we do to control it, the stress will inevitably keep coming). More balanced, emotionally.
When I think back on all of the ways my perspective and priorities have shifted in the last several years, I can safely say that at this moment in time, living with intention, to me, includes the following:
- Making time for at least one long daily outdoor walk, to move and breathe fresh air and allow my mind to wander. Instant anxiety relief.
- Eating the right foods for my body. No sugar, gluten, or dairy. Lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and healthy fats and some high-quality meats. Less (or no) alcohol. Limited caffeine (still working on that one). More home-cooked meals.
- Minimizing possessions. Last year we sold our 2200 square foot house and downsized into a 900 square foot loft downtown. We sold or donated well over half of our stuff. Immediate feeling of relief. Fewer things to maintain, less time devoted to cleaning, more peace due to lack of clutter. We haven’t missed any of it.
- Less shopping, more educated purchases. When possible, shopping at local bookstores or boutiques to avoid decision fatigue and support the local economy. Making the switch from huge grocery stores to our local co-op (fewer, more high-quality choices). Less mindless browsing online or in malls, making unnecessary purchases, filling my home with junk.
- Mindful consumption. Less TV, more books. Avoiding social media. Seeing well-made, thought-provoking movies instead of binge-watching mindless television. Spending time in museums and walking the streets of new cities, being inspired by the unfamiliar. Making sure that I devote as much, if not more, time to creation as I do to consumption. Writing more, refining my photography, making things.
- Gratitude. When tempted to indulge in a pity party or anxiety creeps in, redirecting my thoughts to the present moment and everything I have to be thankful for. Practicing empathy constantly, putting myself in the shoes of others, thinking of their difficulties, wishing them happiness, thinking of how I can help and support them. Sounds hokey—totally works.
- Rest. Making my 8-9 hours of sleep a priority. Giving my body time to recover. More salt and lavender baths. Maintaining a good work-life balance. Allowing my brain to shut off work mode after hours without feeling guilty.
- Meaningful connections with others. Face-to-face conversations without the distraction of a device. In-person quality time over digital “connection.” Meaningful, deep conversations. Giving myself grace (and asking for the grace of others) for not being great about texting or online messaging, in an effort to detach myself more and more from my phone and interact with the world around me.
It all sounds a little Oprah-esque, right? #selfcare
But at some point even the most cynical person has to step back and wonder if there’s actually something to all of this.
And am I perfect? Am I checking off all of these boxes every day? Far from it.
But that’s the thing about intention. You don’t have to achieve perfection, you just have to intend. You accept that you can’t be perfect, so you make a lot of small, purposeful decisions throughout the day to be better. Even just a little bit better. And sometimes you don’t make the best decisions and you get up the next morning and try again anyway.
If I continued to live passively, allowing things to just happen to me, making the easiest and most desirable choices, my days would look like this:
Wake up. Eat sugary cereal. Drink a bunch of coffee to combat exhaustion. Allow myself to be distracted every 5 minutes at work by incoming texts and the itch to check social media. Eat pizza and cookies for lunch because I don’t feel great and “I deserve it.” Fall into a mid-afternoon slump. Get home and pour a glass of wine, again because I don’t feel great and “I deserve it.” Make boxed macaroni and cheese and binge-watch Netflix. Stay up too late scrolling through Instagram. Feel sorry for myself. Rinse. Repeat.
Sure, all these things, in the moment, feel so satisfying. But you find yourself at the end of the week looking back thinking “what have I done with myself?” The days add up to weeks which add up to months which add up to years. And cliché as it may sound, I do not want to measure my days in boxes of mac ‘n cheese and TV episodes.
Being more intentional with how I spend my time and money and what I put in my body is more work on the front end. No doubt about it. But the result is that, for the most part, I have contentment, peace, energy, and a clear mind.
So to me? It’s worth it.
Put that on your letterboard and Instagram it. ;)