Every day that we’re breathing we’re making countless decisions that range from minor to major concerning multiple aspect of our lives – whether food, finances or family, to career, creativity or care. Frequently the major things trump the minor – since there are certain responsibilities in life that have to be fulfilled. We mustn’t neglect these crucial parts of our lives; but neither should we let the interludes and short spaces of time slip away unnoticed.
The little things are not necessarily unimportant or trivial – take teeth brushing or charging our phones, for instance. We wouldn’t dream of removing them from our daily routine. We know they make a difference.
In the same way, I’ve been considering the impact of small actions, gestures or habits over our lives as a whole. It’s tempting to overlook the little things, to view them as insignificant or of no great value. Yet much of life is made up of little things. Over time, those minor choices and habits may have multiple knock on effects that end up being life changing or radically important. Countless minutes here and there add up to hours and days. Time is like currency, the pennies add up; likewise our actions form the tapestry of our lives.
Consider a common spending habit: The decision to make your own lunch every day instead of dropping into a café could mean saving £50 a month (if you spent £1.50 on a packed lunch rather than £4.00 or more at your favourite hangout). That’s a £600 yearly saving. You could buy an iPad for that and still have change! But maybe you really like going to cafes and don’t want an iPad – that’s fine, the choice is yours. We all have different preferences. But if you wanted to move somewhere nicer with a slightly higher rent, changing your lunch habits could mean you might be able to afford it.
Or how about walking more instead of driving everywhere? (I know, really not very possible for those out in the sticks.) Still, you could choose to take the stairs or park at the far end of the car park. Over time, you’ll be stacking up little chunks of calorie burners and toning those muscles. (Have you tried walking fast up three flights of stairs lately? It IS exercise!)
The above examples might well be the obvious examples, but what about other daily decisions? Who to follow on Twitter or who to talk to at the end of a meeting? Whether to attend a certain function or event or stay home, whether to ask that person out for coffee? Whether to write that letter of complaint (I did – to Legoland, and got free tickets to Warwick Castle) or whether to chat to your neighbour for a few minutes. Whether to watch the TV or find out what’s up with your unusually quiet child?
‘Does it really matter?’ some will be asking right now.
Yes it does! Sometimes it may be more significant than you realise, other times the little things might have no great consequence – but still, you’ll find that you’ve been intentional with your actions, your time and your relationships.
Valuing the little things should not be confused with the phrase ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. That’s a different idea altogether – and one that I would not dispute in any way. We really shouldn’t waste time worrying or fretting over minor matters that are not important or that we’re unable to change. It’s also not much use revisiting past events or actions, wondering where we went wrong or what we should have done differently. Instead of mulling over past decisions, choose to take more care over what you decide in future.
Sometimes it’s good to think of little snippets of time as opportunities. An opportunity to phone a friend, or to be still and reflect. An opportunity to get some fresh air or to do something creative; an opportunity to ask a question or take a risk.
It’s easy to think that five minutes of writing or praying or walking won’t make any difference. Most won’t bother; we think we have to set aside at least an hour to something for it to be worth doing. Or we think we must dash away, and miss talking to someone who could have been really interesting. Or maybe we think that we couldn’t possibly rest for three minutes. (Try it sometimes, three minutes with your eyes closed in a quiet place – it can really help to de-stress you during a manic day. Just don’t try it while driving!)
Making the most of little moments, like a hand across your partner’s shoulder or choosing to look at the trees or the skyline on your way to work, can add up to make a typical dull day richer or more interesting. No matter how busy we are, we even have choice over how to spend our thought life. While walking or driving or washing up, we can choose to direct our thoughts a certain way. We don’t have to hold on to an angry thought or a complaint.
For me, what springs to mind especially are the little interactions that I bothered to have with people I met that led to great opportunities.
I once asked a visiting speaker at a school where I was teaching whether he needed any writers. An exchange of business cards at the end of a lesson – led to a freelance writing opportunity for me. Another time, a decision to follow a certain person on Twitter, led to a writing event in London. The little things certainly can make a difference to our lives.
In the Bible, there’s a verse about ‘making the most of every opportunity’ [Colossians 4:5]. Although this is referring to sharing the good news with non-believers, I think it serves well to remind us how to make the most of every moment of our lives, in every context. Let’s not get sucked into the great deception – that we can only achieve something or make a difference if we spend lots of time on something. Taking just a little time to smile at someone or offer help can be something really significant from their point of view. Likewise, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ communicates more than you think.
The little things in our day accumulate over the years – particularly in the area of relationships. A few minutes spent thinking about the important people in your life and how to please them or build stronger ties can make a massive difference over time. It would be detrimental to dismiss the value of little thoughts, words and deeds.
I feel challenged to be more intentional about how I spend snippets of spare time across the week and to consider more how little actions can indeed have big effects. How about you? Has any small decision or action been greatly significant to you in the long run?
[For a contrasting perspective on matters of time and life, check out this archived post: A Question of Time.]