For the past 30 years, I have worked as a psychologist in varied settings – as a clinician in private practice, an educator to graduate students, psychologists and other professionals, a program developer in Africa, a consultant to companies, and a clinical director in a research setting. I have worked with clients and students from eight to 80 years old. My clients and students have grappled with the same questions that are at the heart of my own personal pursuit of how to live purposefully.
Marcus came to therapy for relief from paralyzing anxiety. After a few months he felt better and said, “I now know how anxiety gets in my way and, when it arises, have the tools to cope. That was why I came and I feel like I don’t need therapy in the same way. But I feel like there is more to be done, like I am at a new beginning. I keep asking myself, ‘Now what?’ Is this something you can help me with?”
Now what? That is the conundrum, and is when things get really interesting. Life’s big questions compel you to go deeper. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What gives my life purpose? What can I do to create a better life and a better world? And ‘now what?’ is a question that needs to be answered in real ways, over and over, in order to stay true to yourself. Problem and pathology-based therapies are good at resolving problems and symptoms. They aren’t designed to help answer life’s most important questions – the questions which hold the key to well-being and thriving.
Sandra, another client, learned to trust her ability to answer ‘Now what?’ in relation to her life’s important questions: “Putting a puzzle together – the pieces that I did not think belonged to me now fit perfectly into this new way of experiencing myself.”
My decades of asking and answering life’s important questions have led me to develop a framework for living an intentional life. This framework includes practices that help you answer life’s most important questions and, also, create steps to make them come alive in a very personal way.
The Five Foundations of Living With Intention
Practice intention in five core areas: placing attention, reflecting, choosing, acting, and allowing experience to unfold. By developing practices in each of these areas, you will gain increasing clarity on setting goals and steering your life in ways that realize your most heartfelt aspirations.
Placing Awareness is intentionally bringing consciousness to something. An intentional life, first and foremost, is a commitment to training and concentrating your attention in ways that enrich your life and the lives of others. What you tend to notice, how you perceive, what you think and believe — none of these are fixed. When you understand this, you can consciously influence and shape your attention.
Reflecting as an intentional practice requires noticing your experience. This is more radical that it sounds. We prematurely analyze what is happening rather than noticing it and allowing experience to impact us. Notice experience more directly without jumping to filter it through your existing perceptual filters. Skillful reflection expands and deepens understanding.
Choosing wisely requires practice both in observing what influences your decisions as well as staying open to possibilities that you don’t yet see. The greatest impediment to choosing wisely is fear, which encourages you to stick with what is familiar and limits personal growth. As a more conscious decision-maker, you are freer to take meaningful risks without the pain of future regret.
Acting with intention is wise effort, which directs your energy so that it jibes with living life in a creative and authentic way. When you act, focus on your effort and de-emphasize the outcome in order to assign resources to what matters most to you while remaining flexible in how you move toward your goals. Being an effective actor will help you to navigate through inevitable periods of stuck-ness.
Allowing experience to unfold is counterintuitive to Western habits of mind. Allowing is just letting things be, letting things unfold without interference. Because you are hard-wired to do, to think, and to act, simply “allowing” can feel passive, but is anything but! The skill of allowing, in combination with intentional practices in the other four core areas, leads to the state of abundance, which infuses all experience with unlimited possibility and a sense of powerful volition, gratitude, and joy.
An Intentional Life Blog’s Offerings
The posts in this Intentional Life series are intended to provide guidance and encouragement in your pursuit of living with greater intention. Learn from the examples of others, try out exercises provided, and create your own unique framework for realizing your most authentic self.