Every day, every moment, it surrounds us. Online, in person, on our phones; groups, events, opportunities; shows, movies, magazines, literature. We live in a truly saturated world. There’s more for us to do than we could ever think to fill our lives with.

My DVR alone is a great example. Only a few weeks into the new TV season, and I already have so many unwatched shows recorded I have to delete some each day to make room for the new ones. I don’t even have room enough for all of one distraction in my life. That should probably tell me something.

But here’s the problem: it can be such great stuff. Interesting people. Cool ideas. Groundbreaking programming. Globe-crossing networking. State-of-the-art toys. Thoughtful remarks.

It’s so good, we forget sometimes. I forget. It’s easy to ignore, really. But some of it is just stuff. Stuff that nevertheless fills our lives. Keeps us going so close to 24/7 there’s a sleep crisis in our nation. Solidifies “busy” as the best summary status update for a generation. Keeps us from ever stopping long enough to really get to know ourselves along the way. Or did you never wonder where the term “quarterlife crisis” came from?

So here it is. A simple dare. Three steps you should take now, before you do anything else. Before you sign up for grad school, move, get married, get a new puppy, change jobs. Before you start a new book, plan a weekend getaway, turn on the tube. Do it now before something else distracts you.

But be warned. It could take longer than you think. Especially if you do it right.

1. Stop.
Seriously. Stop. Remove the clutter. Shut out the extra voices, distractions, obligations. Strip down to what really matters. This is no small task. It can take days, weeks, months to really tear down all the physical and mental things we put in place to occupy our time, our minds, our days. Find the really necessary things, and boil yourself down to only them. It takes courage to do this. It’s a risk. You may turn some people off. You may lose a few friends (or readers). That’s ok. It’s only for a time. But it may be the most important time of your life.

The reason it’s important to stop is that it creates a sense of silence that is rare these days. But it’s critical. It may not be a physical silence. But if it is, that’s great too. Because silence is difficult. It forces us to really think. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Listen.
First, listen to yourself. Not to the pressures, the obligations, or even the people who typically surround you. Just listen to you. Find a physically quiet place, a place you can be yourself, and talk to yourself. Out loud if you need to. Write. Meditate. Draw. Question. Listen in every way you can. Tap into your emotional core. Don’t worry, it’s still there. Even if it’s hard to hear at first.

What are your emotions trying to tell you? About work, life, friends, priorities? Spend time connecting with your real thoughts and dreams. You might realize they’ve changed but your habits and paths haven’t. Or you might realize they’re the same but you’re going through the motions, making no real progress at all.

Then, when you think you’ve heard it all, Keep listening. Don’t miss something deeper just because you’re in a hurry to get back to your obligations. Rediscover your voice if you’ve lost it. Claim your own story.  As long as it takes, listen.

Then, listen to what’s around you. First, the people. Your spouse, friends, family. Listen to their energy, their insights. Spend time talking, eating, connecting. Then, listen to the things you do, your obligations, your motions, your distractions. See them for what they are. Some will be valuable. Some won’t. Weigh them. Think. Then, you’ll be ready for the next part.

3. Move.
Daring to stop won’t do you any good if it keeps you from ever moving again. Listening won’t help if you don’t act on what you hear. So take what you heard in the silence and figure out how you want to move within your life. Become intentional about your time. Every day.

This is the most important step. Because it’s about claiming your story, your future, your passion, your now. It’s about re-engaging in the active process of living a fulfilled life and turning your back on the distracted, going-through-the-motions habits, the grass-must-be-greener mentality.
Still, so many people skip this step and miss out. Because it’s hard to change. Hard to move. Maybe even harder than it is to stop. But the work pays in dividends.

So dare to stop, and let your emotion create the motion that defines your life. Live a life that matters. Now, today. Don’t wait.

Stop simply doing. Find what moves you. Do what moves you. Repeat.