The Power of Being Intentional

Written by Dr. Laura Kaae
Dr. Laura V. Kaae
Dr. Laura Kaae

The season of changes is majestically upon us here in the Midwest.  With the turning of the calendar there is a new crispness to the air as we keep an eye out for the colored leaves as we drive, signs of fresh apples and squash at the farmers markets, and the scents of pumpkin spice in our neighborhood coffee shop and favored bakeries. Rarely do we stumble upon these items in the fall, instead we have trained our senses to find them. We choose to turn the focus of our attention to the trees, the fields, the temperature, (and ok, the coffee line too) in October and get to experience the joy that follows. Therein lies the power of being intentional. When we choose to focus our attention on certain things, that intentionality soon becomes second nature and is a powerful tool in mental wellness. 

Being intentional, making something a priority, can be profoundly life changing when you incorporate it into your day by deliberately pruning away parts of life causing stress or anxiety or by purposefully incorporating things that you know will be beneficial to you.  Here are a few ways you can choose to live more intentionally this season.

Relationships

Being intentional in your relationships could look very different for each person, but it’s likely you already have an inclination of where your relationships need improvements.

Growing Your Friendships

Friendships are hard in 2021. A pandemic has wreaked havoc in our interpersonal time with anyone who doesn’t live with us. Past high school and college it can be a challenge to maintain healthy friendships. Often the common interests that may have joined you and your friends in younger years don’t apply as much anymore. Still, cultivating strong relationships is imperative for well-being. Start being intentional with your time with friends, whether that is a well-timed text, get together or phone call. Hold yourself accountable to make time in your schedule for these relationships and be intentional in making the connections happen. For some individuals, this may mean picking up that sport you used to play together in college. For others, it may mean finding a new hobby together such painting, cooking or joining a new gym or dance studio together.  Once you start intentionally pouring into the relationships around you, you’ll be amazed at how good it feels to both love on others and be loved in return.

Setting Boundaries

In toxic or dysfunctional relationships, be intentional about setting a healthy boundary and sticking to it. Listen to your gut instinct on this one – if you have a relationship in your life that you know is causing extreme stress or anxiety, it’s time to rethink how much time you’re allowing yourself to spend in this relationship. This could mean limiting time, calls or texting with someone who does not have your best interest at heart. (For more information on toxic relationships, see this short video on Coping With Toxic People). When you put yourself first and make it a priority to protect your own time, you’ll see what a huge difference it can make to intentionally limit these relationships – and how freeing it can be!

Growing a Healthy Relationship

If you are currently in a healthy relationship, where do you know that the relationship needs strengthening? For some couples, this might mean being intentional with protected time together. For example, put away phones/laptops/work and get cozy with your significant other for some old-fashioned cuddle and talk time. Perhaps your relationship is stable, but lacking in fun and joy together.  In this case, have a deliberate sit down with your partner and decide how you can incorporate fun back into your lives! It doesn’t have to be an expensive date night – the beauty of being intentional is that when you start to hunt it down, you’ll find it all around you. Start with something you know always made you laugh and is easy to throw together such as a shared favorite sitcom or movie and progress from there. Try tickling, Truth or Dare, old stories from when you first got together. Really anything that lets the stressors out and gets you laughing with your partner is the key. As you start to see the relationship strengthen with this pursuit of fun, continue to be intentional about what you and your partner need and how to thoughtfully make it a priority.

Media Influence

What we flood our minds with throughout the day has such a huge influence on our mental well-being. Being intentional about the media (news, social media, music) that you surround yourself with will absolutely have an impact on your mood. Watching news on media outlets that you may disagree with politically or philosophically may be triggering and have a negative impact on your emotional health. Be intentional with the media you choose to surround yourself with. Consider a break from the news or social media, or limit the amount of time you spend to an hour a day. Alternatively, decide which outlets or followers bring you the most joy and delete the rest. Be choosy and stand bold in your choices! If you fill your day with uplifting messages, follow friends or positive influencers on social media, and listen to upbeat music you are intentionally setting your mind and body up for success. 

Gratitude Practice

Ever met an eternal optimist? These individuals seek out the good in many of life’s seemingly difficult situations.  Although you may not think of yourself as an optimist, the good news is that anyone can become more optimistic and positive in their thought lives. Optimists are choosing to find the joy, the positive, the silver-lining in their lives by seeking out hope in dark places. If this sounds overwhelming to you, consider a quick way to start seeing things in a new light by doing a gratitude roundup. Try starting each and every day with a short list of things you are grateful for. This list could include big things (your health, your spouse, your job) or small details (comfy bed to sleep in or a hot cup of tea). Once your brain starts to learn the method of searching for gratitude, it will become second nature and you’ll find yourself searching for the good. In turn, this sets the tone for your mood and emotional health.  You’ll be amazed at how intentionally seeking gratitude can impact your day.