Our relationship with food is complicated: you can get by without paying attention to food and its influence on your life, but those who do recognize the effect their diet has on every other aspect of their lives—and who act upon that knowledge—tend to be more fulfilled on multiple levels.
We can optimize our intake for vitamins and raw materials, ingesting our daily regimen in the form of sludge and pills like survivors in a dystopian future who’ll take what they can get. Or we can magnify our enjoyment of our meals, homing in on the flavors that tantalize our tongues and flood us with pleasure chemicals, dismissing completely the health-related repercussions involved, because, after all, you only live once.
We can also ignore what we eat completely, buying whatever’s cheap, whatever’s nearby, whatever is in the most brightly colored packages. We can pile a random assortment of things onto our plates and shovel it into our mouths, our minds never focused on the act, a little bit irritated that we have to take the time to do even that much.
An intentional diet is different: it strikes a balance between the two extremes in that first example—it allows us to experience pleasure through the act of eating, while also enjoying the long-term benefits of healthy consumption. Unlike the second example, being conscious of what we eat reshapes something that could be a passive, drudgerous activity and makes it engaging, makes it worthwhile—it makes it something we look forward to, and something we improve over time.
Like our relationships with food, our relationships with other human beings can be complicated.
We can optimize these relationships, reading self-help books and reducing the exercise to a math equation with numbers to carry and symbols to draw, all of them cloaking the complexity of something that’s difficult to explain in formulae and numerals.
We can hurl ourselves into the experience of knowing someone, perhaps quite intimately, without understanding how the process works or what exactly we’re feeling in the first place. Enjoying the moment, but never exploring how we interact with others beyond those moments.
We can also ignore our relationships, accepting that they are a necessary component of our lives to some degree, but never investigating to see what role these connections might play in our happiness, our education, our personalities, our growth, our stability.
Intentionality means paying attention: It means doing things on purpose—not passively, not reflexively, not because we have to. Doing something with the intention of getting as much out of it as possible, whatever that happens to mean in context.
With food, it means ensuring you’re eating “well” in the sense that you’re intaking what your body needs, you’re enjoying the process of eating rather than considering it a torturous undertaking, and you’re eating in a way that’s sustainable: not over-using resources, not eating too much or too little, not making it the only thing in your life, not relegating it to the role of a background character on your personal stage. A balanced relationship.
With people, intentionality is similar: It means striking a balance that’s both sustainable and enjoyable. It means bringing other people into your life in a way that’s healthy—not co-dependent, but not isolating. Not trying to trick the system with gimmicks and acts, but not ignoring how you might improve your approach to meeting and interacting with others, either. Improving your connections, yes; but doing so based on strict instructions offered by someone with different needs and goals, no.
Every relationship is different, as is every single person’s needs: Some people opt for a more traditional, archetypal arrangement (whatever that might mean for the culture in which they were raised), while others aim for something slightly off-center. Still others prefer something so different from the norm that their model doesn’t have a name yet.
Whatever the case may be for you, consider how your relationships might be more intentional, more customized, for you and your needs.
And then act upon that knowledge. Because although it’s wonderful to intend to be intentional, wanting to improve upon something is only putting on your shoes—at some point you must step out the door and walk toward the goal you’ve identified.
Colin Wright’s new book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, is a book for people who want it all when it comes to relationships: something tailor-made for their unique beliefs, goals, desires, and lifestyles. It also includes a special foreword by Joshua Fields Millburn.