I’ve always been the person who considers themselves engaging. My pet peeve is riding in a car with some and they answer a phone call. I’m the last of my friends to check their phones at the dinner table. It’s a big deal and people notice. Maybe growing up as the youngest, I was attention starved and needed someone to engage in conversation with me. Whatever the reason, I’ve never struggled with being present. That was until this past year. Your 20’s have a way of getting so hectic and stressful that you just want to check out. It wasn’t until recently I realized how absent I was from my own life. I was checked out, living a life that seemed full but was actually pretty empty.

Warning signs slowly presented themselves. Getting to work and not remembering the drive. People telling me secrets and me not hearing a single word. Misplacing things. Forgetting important dates. The wake-up call happened when I got a text asking if I had made it to a meeting across town I’d totally forgotten about. The perfectionist in me felt terrible. I realized that I had been so busy and also simultaneously checked out, I hadn’t even stopped to look at the calendar to verify the date.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve challenged myself to be more present in my own life. Simple things that were once a habit I’ve started to do again. Here are 5 ways I’m learning to be present.

1. Begin your day with quiet time

As I type this I’m giving myself a pep talk to get up in the morning for quiet time before work. When it all boils down, those extra 20-30 minutes in the morning really make the difference for your day. Having the time to pray, sit, listen, and then start your morning routines helps you center yourself and prepare for whatever the day throws at you. Focusing my attention on God allows me to pull my doubts and fears into the reality that He is faithful to fulfill every promise, even if it’s just getting me through a rough day at work. After 30 minutes of quiet time in the morning, I get ready for work feeling focused and ready to make a difference.

2. Slow down

There’s no way around it; Slowing down has to be the conscious commitment you make to living a present life. Many times we fill our plates with things to do as a way to avoid what’s going on in our personal lives. Learning to say no to the to-do list and constant unrealistic obligations are the first step in becoming present in the moment. Got some unnecessary plans this weekend? Cancel them and practice being present with your family. No plans? Still, practice being present with your own self. Find those issues you may be avoiding, take some time to uncover one of them and see how it can be dealt with.

3. Actively Engage in the moment

Nothing bugs me more than telling someone a story, and they ask me to repeat myself because they weren’t paying attention. When I was younger, I thought it was because I was little and people just ignored kids. Now I realize that adults are extremely overwhelmed to the point that it becomes difficult to listen to others at the risk of forgetting what you were doing. When I’m at work and struggling to get my morning routines done before the first blare of the intercom, it’s easy for me to ignore the teacher who walks in asking for advice. I’m learning that the times I stop for that teacher, that kid, that friend are the moments that impact my life and change me. Giving people your attention is simple; engage with them at the moment. Look them in the eye. Listen to what they say, then respond.

4. Make a list

Sometimes I can’t fully be present in my quiet time, a meeting, or a simple conversation because my brain won’t stop thinking of all the things I need to do once that thing ends. I’m learning that’s it’s ok to take a moment and write down all my brain ramblings when they come so that I don’t have to focus on not forgetting them. I make a list as it comes and don’t worry if the things don’t all get done in the day. I set realistic expectations for my to-do list. Here’s the secret; they always get done.

5. Put it in your planner

Having a planner has really helped me see how busy I am. My work schedule, bills, meetings, church events, travel plans, all go into the planner. Seeing my week on paper helps me to see what areas of life I’m too busy in. If I’m working 50 hours a week, then odds are I’m pretty checked out when I get home. If I’m missing church services because I’m exhausted, I know I’ve been too busy that week and need to rethink some commitments. Having a planner gives you the big picture of where your life is being spent. Just like Dave Ramsey teaches that it’s important to tell our money where to go, it’s equally important to tell your time where to go. Take a moment to write down every commitment this week in a planner. Let that serve as a visual reminder that some things can wait. Being present is more important than your presence.

Learning to be present is one of the biggest obstacles our generation is having to overcome. With so much pulling at our lives and competing for our attention, being present is a tool that helps us as we journey through adulthood and all of its challenges. Some days being present in the moment is a challenge. Meet that that challenge with the optimism that a life lived being present is worth the fulfillment that it brings.  Learn to be present; everything else is a bonus.