What does it mean to be “Intentional”?

By Brynna Pawlows

I’ve been told by therapists to be more intentional, and I have doled out the same guidance to my own clients. But what the hell does it mean? 

Words like “mindfulness” and “intentional” tend to lose their meaning when they’re constantly used incorrectly or without explanation. Yes, “be more mindful” or “be more intentional” feel like the new “just think happy thoughts.” For anyone who has struggled with mental health, I know that eye-roll you just did. I’ve been on both sides of that reaction. 

What is being “intentional”?

Being intentional is both simple and complex. I intend to brush my teeth everyday, and I do. That fulfills the basic definition of being intentional, i.e. having a plan. When we talk about being intentional therapeutically, that definition expands. 

In my practice, being intentional falls under the umbrella of “mindfulness.” The way I address mindfulness in therapy is primarily in connecting your mind with your body and decreasing judgement and negativity brought on by “shoulds.” You should brush your teeth daily. You intend to do so. You follow through. 

How to be intentional:

To make this intentional, we can pair it with a grounding practice. What does it sound like to brush your teeth? What does it feel like? What does it look like? If you forgot to brush in the morning, assign positive self-regard that you got back on track in the evening without judgement of your morning-self. That time has happened. It cannot be changed. 

If that is not your style, being intentional can look like addressing the “shoulds.” The difference between “Ugh, I should go brush my teeth” and “I’m making a healthy choice to go brush my teeth. Thanks, me!” is small, but develops over time into a much kinder (and more mindful) way of thinking. It also decreases the impact of messaging and shame we are fed by the world around us. 

In Conclusion: 

If your therapist tells you to be more intentional, don’t be afraid to ask them to elaborate. Our definitions tend to vary from good ol’ Merriam Webster’s.