A new year means resolutions, right? But we’re all so busy. After all, we live in a world bound by time. While some people measure out their lives in coffee spoons, as the poet T.S. Eliot once famously wrote, most of us measure out our lives in years, months, weeks, hours, minutes and seconds. Time. Like water we try to hold in our hands, time is constantly slipping away from us.
We also live in a world where many people — from our favorite priests to self-help gurus, to journalists, to Oprah — tell us that in order to be successful in our day-to-day lives, we must live in the “now.” We need to live, fully present, in the present. Even Jesus directs us to live in the now, for “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Heaven on earth is always happening in our very midst. Oftentimes, we don’t see it because we’re focusing on something other than God.
But have you ever tried to live in the now? It’s really hard. Just as soon as we try to grab hold of it — as soon as we try to live in the present moment, well, the now changes and becomes the past. And that moment is gone forever. To be alive as a human being in this world is to exist in a perpetual state of change.
But as daunting as it is for most of us to fully live in the now, I do think that we can edge a little closer to the now, which is to say a little closer to God, and by doing so we can.
How can we do this? Through something I like to call a “microshift.”
A microshift is a small change in the way we do things, in the way that we perceive life, in the actions we take. These microshifts, over time, can lead to big results. For instance, there are 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day. That means there are 1,440 minutes in a day. One percent of one day equals 14 minutes and 24 little less than 15 minutes. What would happen if we took just 1 percent of our day and directed that time to change either ourselves or the world around us?
Keep the other 99 percent of your day to take care of your family, to work, to go to Mass, to attend school, to study, to sleep, to hang out on social media, watch cute kitten videos or post selfies. You can keep all that. But what are some small things we can do that could change a life?
In lieu of New Year’s resolutions, I offer some microshifts we can do anytime, but why not try them out this January and see what happens.
From small things big things (think of a mustard seed or the tiny wafer we swallow at Mass). Microshifting is way of arriving at a more authentic understanding of success. Often we’re told that success is about helping ourselves to succeed, about what we can do to become smarter, more beautiful, to get the edge over others. But true success involves helping other people succeed.
Think of the best teachers, politicians, religious leaders, family members — who are the ones who stand out the most? Not the ones who live just for themselves but those who have helped us succeed. Think of Jesus and the best of the saints. They sacrificed their lives for us. Success is about supporting others, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick, caring for the dying. Success is about doing for others and in turn doing for God.
If we can redirect just 1 percent of our lives into new thoughts and activities, this seemingly small change can lead to personal transformation and maybe even bring a little more heaven to earth.
That’s a resolution we can all get behind. The trick, as always, is to keep it going. But when you’re really doing something for God, suddenly whatever effort it takes doesn’t seem like effort at all. Instead, it feels like a blessing.
From small things big things
> Research various nonprofits on the internet and find one that appeals to you and your interests. And then take action to either donate your time or money to that organization.
> Pick up trash in your neighborhood or, even better, in a different neighborhood that has been neglected.
> Make a sandwich or box up leftovers and offer it to a homeless person you pass along the way to work or school.
> Plant flowers and cultivate a prayer garden in your backyard.
> Read the Bible or “The Lord of the Rings” to your children, your nieces and nephews, or a shut-in.
> Walk an elderly neighbor’s dog or commit to taking the neighbor’s garbage bins in and out each week on trash pickup days.
> Use a small notebook or the Notes app on your phone to create a prayer list and then pray for the people whose names are on that list.
> Set an alarm on your phone that sounds every afternoon at 3 p.m. as a reminder to offer a rosary or a chaplet of Divine Mercy for the intention of someone in need of special prayers.
> Call your mom.
Okay, I’m sure some of you are saying, “Look here Jansen, I can’t talk to my mom for 15 minutes a day. You don’t know my mom.” Maybe so, but maybe you could give your mom (or your grandmother or mother-in-law) a half of a percent of your day. After all, these women gave us, and the people we love most, life.
What other little microshifts could we do in about seven minutes a day?
> Keep a gratitude journal and list all the things for which we are thankful.
> Write a letter to a soldier serving overseas.
> Collect and organize gently used baby clothes and redistribute them to new parents.
What’s that you say? You’re so busy that seven minutes is too much? What about three minutes? Better yet, what are some microshifts we could do in just a minute a day?
> Allow someone to go ahead of you in a checkout line at a store.
> When it is your turn, ask the checkout person how his or her day is going and then really listen to the answer.
> If you’re having a bad day, recite the Our Father three times (takes about 18 seconds to say it once).
> Rub a puppy’s belly. That makes everyone happy.
Still too busy? OK, here are some mini- but important microshifts you can do in 10 seconds?
> Decide to forgive someone and then actually forgive that person.
> Touch your heart and say the name of Jesus 10 times.
> Smile and say hello to someone you don’t know at church, at work or while standing for a train. Think of this: If we made the decision to say hello to just one new person a day, then over 10 years we would have introduced ourselves to more than 3,650 new people in the world.
Still too busy? Can you spare a second? In one-sixtieth of a minute you could:
> Close your eyes and pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
> Tell God or someone in your life, “I love you.”
Gary Jansen is the director of Image Books at Penguin Random House and the author of “The 15-Minute Prayer Solution.” His forthcoming book, “Life Everlasting: Catholic Devotions and Mysteries for the Everyday Seeker,” publishes in March from Penguin Random House.