A microshift is a term I use for making small changes in our lives. It’s a tiny switch in the way we do things, in the way we perceive our environment, in the actions we take, or in the way we look at our feelings and emotions. It is also a great way of rebooting our spiritual lives.
Making small changes is the first step toward cultivating what the poet Dante called la vita nuova, or the new life, a life where we are more aware and appreciative of God and the world around us.
From this heightened state of awareness we can develop a rich spirituality, experience the sacred in our lives and access deeper levels of gratitude and peace in our often hectic and sometimes wildly unfocused lives. And in our anxious times, who couldn’t use a little more thankfulness and harmony?
One small change that can have a profound change on our lives is how we approach our mornings. Now, few of us wake up in our beds and say, I’m going to be a good person today. We might not consciously think about being any type of person at all when we stumble out of bed.
But what if we did? What if, over the next week or the next month, we tried to be 1 percent better in the way we treat ourselves and others? What if we tried to add Jesus into our lives just 1 percent more?
How do we quantify that? Simply by deciding to do one new thing today and following it through over the course of a few days. Maybe that means setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier so you take some time to intentionally pray for the day.
It could mean holding your tongue a bit and catching yourself when you might want to gossip. Maybe it means deciding to answer all your emails this week in a polite and unrushed way.
Or maybe it means making it a goal to say thank you to anyone who does something for you today, whether it’s a co-worker, your mom, your partner, or someone holding a door for you at a coffee shop.
To get you started, here are four microshifts to help inspire you to make small changes in your life. I’ve found to be quite effective in helping to push a reset button on your life.
Microshift No. 1: Follow the golden rule
Did you ever hear the story about the priest who gave the same homily to his congregation every Sunday for months? One day, a parishioner finally asked the priest why he kept repeating his talk over and over again, to which the priest replied, “I’ll preach a new sermon once everyone starts listening and living out the old one.”
Well, the golden rule is centuries and centuries old, and yet we still have problems living it out. Love God and love your neighbors as yourself. In other words, treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s that simple.
Do you like being lied to? Probably not. Then don’t lie to God and don’t lie to other people. Hate it when someone won’t let you merge on the highway? Then don’t cut off others and don’t tailgate when you drive. Do you get a headache when you don’t eat? Then show some compassion for those who might not know where their next meal is coming from and do what you can to help.
Microshift No. 2: Say hello
Make eye contact and say hello to people around you. Of course, use good judgment as well. Many people have learned to be careful about their hellos. One can often invite unwelcome attention. As someone who works in New York City, I get it.
But that postal clerk who must repeat the questions about whether your package contains anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous so many times? — she probably hears that question in her dreams. Say hello to her. And say hello as if you mean it. And please say hello to the people you meet at Mass.
Microshift No. 3: Smile
As Mother Teresa once said, “Peace begins with a smile.” When you start paying attention to saying hello, pay close attention to whether the smile on your face reflects a sincere intention to spread the gift of goodwill. You know how you kind of clutch inside when you run into angry-looking people? Well, don’t be that person who makes other people want to flee.
If you’re shy and it feels outrageously bold to send a smile toward someone you don’t know, practice. Start by giving yourself a goal of smiling at, let’s say, three people a day. Then four. Five. Six. Challenge yourself to raise the number.
As noted above, use good judgment, but a true smile is a sign of great strength and courage.
Microshift No. 4: Cultivate forgiveness
Notice that I say cultivate forgiveness. The total act of forgiveness is often a macroshift because it can take a long time if the hurt is deep.
With God, forgiveness can happen in an instant. Us flawed creatures? Well, that can take some time. Forgiveness is a process. People will hurt you. Some you can forgive easily; others, not so much.
Usually (but not always), unless they are sociopaths or psychopaths, the offenders don’t often realize that what they did was hurtful. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt without letting others walk all over you.
Sometimes sincerely asking yourself if you can forgive another person is enough of a step to move you toward healing.
This article originally appeared in Angelus.
Gary Jansen is the author of “MicroShifts: Transforming Your Life One Step at a Time.”