Intentional living in 2016

Published 2:01 pm Saturday, January 9, 2016

by Andrew Book

Acting intentionally is one of the greatest ways we can create change in our lives and our futures. Many of us see ways in which we would like to change, improve or redirect our lives, but we struggle to see those changes come to pass — and one common reason is that we fail to live each day in ways that can lead to change.

By “intentional living” I mean this: we have the ability to choose the priorities and goals we will act on in our lives. If we want to be healthier in our bodies, more focused in our lives of faith or growing in our education, we have to decide that those areas are priorities for us and then make intentional decisions about how we will prioritize our goals. Making a New Year’s resolution is easy, but many New Year’s resolutions fail because the goals are not accompanied by a plan to live them out or lives lived intentionally to make them happen.

Let’s compare two hypothetical New Year’s resolutions. Resolution 1: “I want to lose weight in the New Year.” Resolution 2: “I want to lose 15 pounds by the end of March. I will do this by cutting out sweets during the week, and walking for 30 minutes each weekday when I get home from work.”

The second resolution is better in several ways. First, the goal is measurable and time-bound. Losing 15 pounds is a measurable goal and there is a time set for the goal to be accomplished. Any meaningful goal needs to have these two elements, or there will be no way to determine if you have achieved the goal (this is true for churches, organizations and companies as well as individuals).

So, our first step in living intentionally in 2016 is to set some goals: goals that are measurable and time-bound. Maybe you want to read the Bible more. “More” is very hard to measure — a better goal would be to “read the Moravian daily scripture readings (a freely available Bible reading plan) five days a week.” That would be a measurable goal that is time-bound. Each week you can tell if you have accomplished it. Or, you could set a measurable goal to read the entire Bible in a year (that is a popular resolution, but I am not a big fan of it unless you already have a habit of scripture reading because most people get bogged down in the laws recorded in the third and fourth books of the Old Testament).

The second part of living intentionally is to create a plan for how you will do it. In our example resolution above, the plan was to avoid sweets during weekdays and exercise at a set time. Having a daily, weekly or monthly plan (depending on your goal) helps the goal to become very concrete — you know exactly what you are doing to work towards your goal. Of course, you may have to make changes to your plan due to life changes (something changes and you need to pick up a child after work so you need to find a new time to exercise) or if the plan is not helping you reach your goal (you discover that you need a cardio exercise like running or swimming to actually lose weight).

Once you have a plan and have made the time to implement your plan, you have to follow through. The enthusiasm may burn off after a few days, but once you have lived out your plan for long enough that it becomes a habit, continuing toward your goal will be easier.

Building habits is a powerful way to live intentionally. Experts indicate that the length of time it takes to form a habit varies widely from person to person, with a recent study by Dr. Phillippa Lally of the University College of London putting the average at 66 days — 66 days of intentionality before the habit will take over and you will begin to default to following your plan. That may sound like a long time, but the question is: are your goals important enough that you are willing to be intentional? If not, don’t bother setting them in the first place!

A final step that helps most people to reach their goals is accountability. It helps us if we have someone who knows what we are working towards and is going to ask us how we are doing. This might be someone who has set a similar goal for themselves who can be a partner in how we are living out our plan, or it can simply be a friend or family member who we have invited to ask us from time to time, “How is the plan going?” It is up to you to determine who would be a good accountability partner (be sure it is someone you won’t get upset with when they question you).

We all have areas where we need to grow. As a pastor, I would love to see your faith at the top of the list, but the reality is that you will have to set goals that matter to you. Most people honestly do not care enough about their faith to be intentional about growing in their faith. What matters to you? Decide how you want to grow in 2016. Set a measurable, time bound goal. Make a plan. Tell someone. Then begin to live more intentionally and see how 2016 can change you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or