[caption id=“attachment_698” align=“aligncenter” width=“780”]intentional life The Reading Room at the Boston Public Library. A great place to do some deep thinking about one’s life.[/caption]

We are prone to coasting.

We do things the same way we did them yesterday because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

Inertia is powerful. Living an intentional life takes effort, and knowing we need to change something doesn’t make the changing part any easier (and neither does writing a personal development blog, trust me). Our lives are like ocean liners: it takes a lot of energy to change course.

We can fight inertia, though. In fact, that’s what personal development is all about: making a conscious effort to get better at life. We can decide to live more intentionally.

How, you ask? Read on!

1. Remember How Many Choices You Have (It’s a Lot)

If we didn’t have habits, we’d go crazy. We can only make a finite number of decisions each day, and when we make the same choice over and over, our brain stops seeing it as a choice.

For example, I don’t really choose to put my pants on left-leg-first. I do it that way because that’s how I’ve always done it (and because that’s the only way to do it, right? Who’s with me? Left-leggers unite!) But really, it’s a choice.

Here’s a more meaningful example: I used to say, “I have to go to work.” Well, here’s the thing: I sure don’t. I want to go to work, because work helps give my life meaning (and I also like getting paid).

There are many, many other choices we make each day. Most of them are good solid choices that align with our personal values. But some of them aren’t, and we need to deal with those.

2. Clarify Your Values

Have you ever made a list of what’s most important to you? It’s a revealing exercise.

Take 30 seconds right now and sketch out quick list. No need to do it perfectly; just jot down the first few things that come to mind.

Got your list?

Good. What’s on it?

  • money?
  • time with friends and family?
  • safety?
  • freedom?
  • routine?
  • adventure?
  • producing creative work?
  • a nice house or car?
  • self-improvement?
  • helping others?

Now here’s the hard part.

3. Compare Your Choices to Your Values and Adjust

Look, we’re all going to strike out a little here. Me? I recently realized that although I highly value quality time with Sarah at mealtime, I’d developed a nasty habit of (and this is super embarrassing, you guys) paying more attention to my phone than my wife.

Bad Jonathan!

This has been fairly easy to fix, at least so far. Now that I’m aware of this tendency, I’m catching myself in the act.

Another value I’ve been neglecting: I don’t like having extra stuff. I feel that unused physical possessions drain me, and I don’t like clutter.

Yet I had chosen to acquire a bunch of stuff I wasn’t using. One carload of stuff later, my life was closer in line with my values (and the local thrift store had lots of new merchandise).

Living with intention is an ongoing process, and there’s no autopilot setting. Like the captain of an ocean liner, we have to constantly compare our trajectory with our map.

Then steer.