Gary Jansen, popular author of The 15-Minute Prayer Solution and Life Everlasting, knows how difficult it can be to create significant, sustainable change, especially in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we feel too overwhelmed to even start, and in other cases deepening our relationship with God seems like one more burden among the many we have from day-to-day. In his latest book, Jansen offers an answer that he calls “microshifting”—small, incremental adjustments to the way we think, act, work, and pray that gradually reshape our deeply rooted patterns.
With a blend of masterful storytelling and dozens of practical tips, MicroShifts suggests simple, small changes across many aspects of our lives—everything from how we greet others, how we sleep, and how we deal with the incessant chatter in our own heads—to generate big results physically, mentally, and spiritually. If you are looking for steps to improve your life that are achievable, sustainable, and potentially life-changing, MicroShifts is a powerful place to begin.
What inspired you to write this book, MicroShifts: Transforming Your Life One Step at a Time?
A couple of years ago, I really started feeling my mortality. I wasn’t sick or anything like that, I just started thinking, pretty consciously, that one day I’m going to die. It probably didn’t help that I was doing these Ignatian meditations on death, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I wanted to write a book for my sons, something they could remember me by when I’m gone and hopefully pass down to their families. MicroShifts is essentially a letter to my two boys about how to inch closer to a deeper relationship with God. It’s an amalgam of stories and life lessons that I hope can benefit anyone who is looking to grow in their spirituality.
What is a “MicroShift” exactly?
A MicroShift is a small change or shift in the way we live our lives, relate to others, think, or pray. For example, a MicroShift might be leaving your house five minutes earlier every day to get to work so you’re not as rushed. It might mean taking five minutes before bedtime to pray as a family. It might mean drinking half a cup a coffee instead of a full cup so you’re not so caffeinated. Though I’ve read most of the Bible, I’ve never read the Bible cover to cover. So I asked Kathryn Lopez if she would be my reading buddy over the next year. She said yes, so we’re using Paul Thigpen’s My Daily Catholic Bible to read every single word of the Bible. Each reading is about 15-20 minutes, which when you think about it, isn’t a lot of time each day.
For many in our culture, there is a sharp divide between worldly matters and spiritual matters. But you write that this is a book about “practical spiritual transformation.” What is the connection between changing our day-to-day life—work, home life, travel, finances, etc.—and spiritual growth?
As an editor I’ve worked with some of the greatest minds writing today. Brilliant intellectuals. And as much as I love feeding my soul through my brain, I personally write about what I call blue-collar spirituality, which for me just means spirituality of everyday life. Years ago, I read Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century Carmelite lay brother. That book had a simple premise: everything you do can be offered up to God; everything you do involves God. Realize that when you are cleaning dishes you can have a conversation with God while working. I write in MicroShifts that everything is spiritual, so that includes work, home life, travel, finances, etc. Why? Because God is the creator of the universe. God is present in a way in everything we do. I think the world is as messy as it is because we forget that God is eternally present in our lives. When we pay attention to how we act, how we react, and realize that God is involved in all of it, that shift in thinking can completely move our lives in new directions.
You talk in the book about “the power of 1 percent.” Can you explain this?
There are 1440 minutes in a day. One percent of your day is fourteen minutes and twenty-four seconds, so that’s roughly fifteen minutes. The power of 1 percent is taking fifteen minutes of your day and doing something new, constructive, and exciting with that time. Everyone is busy, but everyone can find fifteen minutes in the day to do something they might not ordinarily do. If you’re trying to lose weight you can start walking or jogging for fifteen minutes a day. You can pray a special devotion for a quarter of an hour. You can spend fifteen minutes a day reading all the great material on Word on Fire’s website. Think of the education you would have in a year’s time. You really can change your life in big, positive, and godly ways, by taking just 1 percent of your day, at the least, and dedicating that time to improving your life or the life of someone around you and offering that special time up to God. The trick of course is taking the action and sticking to it. So it’s best to try and find a partner to work with if you can.
Many of us are familiar with “to-do lists.” But in the book you advocate for creating a “to-live list.” What is this, and how might such a list transform our lives for the better?
A to-do list is usually a list of something you need to get done in a day. Go to post office, pick up the dog from the vet. A to-live list though is a list of big things you want to do with your life—big goals. It’s something I like to create after praying to God for general guidance in life. For instance, say you have a vague desire to help people in Haiti. Well, write that down. Or maybe you always wanted to make a documentary, or visit China, or pray at Lourdes. Put these things down on a list. And then put the list away. Maybe go back to it in a month or six months. It’s not something you look at every day. Incredibly, you’ll be amazed how this list, a product of prayer, can lead to some very interesting changes in your life. I don’t know why it works. Maybe it just helps you to get clear on what you want in life. Maybe it gets the co-creating juices God gave us flowing and this is God’s way of communicating with you God’s desires for you. I don’t really know; but something is working. I know years ago I put down that I wanted to be Pope Benedict XVI’s editor. That was a pipe dream, but I put it down. A year later, I found myself as the editor and publisher for the Pope’s last book in his Jesus of Nazareth series, The Infancy Narratives. So pray to Jesus for guidance in life and then write down five “to-live” things you want and see what happens.
Our disruptive culture thrives on big, exciting changes; smaller, more incremental changes might seem to many to be too boring or too difficult. What would you say to someone who is struggling with how to begin with MicroShifts?
Great point. That’s been the surprising thing about writing this book and workshopping the material. There is a lot of resistance to making small changes in life. Most people want to make big, bold changes. Big changes seem to be more exciting, but no big change really starts without taking a small step in one direction or another. And to take that first step really does take some reflection and decision-making. You need to decide if something needs changing, do some research on how to change, and then take that first step. Small things radically change the lives of people every day. A single bullet is a small thing, but it can end a life. A microscopic germ can make you very sick. In turn, a few small words like “Will you marry me?” can radically change the lives of not just two people but their families and friends. The Liturgy of the Eucharist takes about fifteen minutes, and think about how that can fundamentally change your life. Seriously, the Eucharist is a miracle in fifteen. Again, back to the power of 1 percent. A small shift in how we act or think can revolutionize life.
What MicroShift has made the biggest impact in your own life personally?
I’ll give two. Some years ago I decided to apply the 1 percent rule to the Rosary and make that a daily commitment. Being in the presence of Jesus and Mary every day like that really helped me spiritually, mentally, and physically (sometimes I would do a walking Rosary and just pray and walk for fifteen minutes). The other was weaning myself off soda. I love Coca-Cola and used to drink a lot of it. But I was gaining weight and I knew it wasn’t really good for me, so I slowly started Microshifting away from drinking so much. It took a few weeks, but I’m down to maybe half a can to a full can a day. I feel better and am healthier now for it. I didn’t go cold turkey—just slowly started drinking less and less. Sometimes, a MicroShift isn’t about adding something in your life but taking something away from it. I want to write more about the spirituality of subtraction, so I’m going to put that on my to-live list this year and see where I end up.
Gary Jansen is a popular speaker and the author of several books, including The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, Station to Station, Life Everlasting, and the memoir Holy Ghosts. Jansen has appeared on A&E, the Sundance Channel, the Travel Channel, Coast to Coast AM, CNN.com, and NPR. His writing has been featured in the Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Angelus, and Religion Dispatches. Jansen worked at Penguin Random House in New York City for 25 years where he was the editor on several New York Times bestsellers. He is now the executive editor of acquisitions at Loyola Press in Chicago.