Thursday Charlie came dragging into his lesson. “I’m so tired,” he sighed. “I had to stay up until ten o’clock last night doing homework.” I raised my eyebrows in alarm. The child is seven. Later I mentioned it to his mother. She rolled her eyes. “Charlie is channeling a more stressful life than he actually has. He was in bed by eight last night.”

This reminds me of my all-time favorite New Yorker essay entitled “Bumping into Mr. Ravioli” by Adam Gopnik. This piece is about a different Charlie, namely a Charlie Ravioli. Charlie Ravioli was the make-believe friend of Gopnik’s three-year-old daughter Olivia. This seemed like a sweet relationship until one day Gopnik overheard Olivia talking to Ravioli. It was clear that they were trying to set up a time to meet, but Ravioli was too busy to schedule a playdate with Olivia. “Ravioli? It’s Olivia…It’s Olivia. Come and play? Okay. Call me. Bye.”

This freaked Gopnik out. “Have you ever heard of an imaginary friend who’s too busy to play with you?” These days all of us—regardless of age or station in life— is caught up in the epidemic of busyness. We not only want to make sure everyone knows we are “crazy busy,” we catastrophize busyness. Like Olivia, we need more friends than we have time to spend time with. We must stay up late doing our homework and give up our sleep. If we don’t feel busy enough, we get anxious and start making trouble to stir up a sense of purpose.

What we are, perhaps, is simply a bit crazy. Research suggests that people spend an average of two and a half hours a day looking at social media (TWO AND A HALF HOURS A DAY! Just wrap your head around that.). This statistic alone should convince us that most of us have some agency over how we spend our time. “Crazy busy” should be reserved for emergency room doctors, folks with small children, those with a family member in a health crisis, kindergarten teachers. No matter how full my teaching schedule, a middle-aged piano teacher does not have a claim on crazy busy. No matter how many squirmy Charlies in her studio. Or cats.

I am thinking a lot about the habits of our (busy—yes, crazy—no) days. The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions makes us all think about the habits of our days. We can choose to ignore the implications, shove the subject under our subconsciousness, actively resist the peer pressure, but the idea of habit formation is in the air these days. Wearing a mask does not protect you from its pervasiveness.

A habit, of course, is just a pedestrian word for “practice.” Habits are practices, if done intentionally. Ah, there’s that word again: intentionally. And therein lies the sacred difference.

The truth is I think most of us have great intentions. I certainly do. I intend to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. I intend to do a few sun salutations every day before lunch. I intend to check in with my parents and my siblings more often. I intend not to multitask while I eat lunch. I intend to stop interrupting students while they are playing the last note of their pieces. I intend a lot.

If the subject of habits is everywhere these days, just as prevalent is the reminder that most people do not keep their New Year’s Resolutions. On one hand, this is reassuring. We are not the only ones that fall off the wagon. We all fall off the wagon. We love this, in the same way that misery loves company. But it does beg the question: So why do we even bother trying to establish new habits?

Intention, I tell you, runs deep. We are naturally hopeful creatures. We long for change. We want to better the world and our lives, both. We might be undisciplined or lazy, sure, but mostly, I believe, we are just overwhelmed.

Well, that changes things.

I suspect that many of us in our “crazy” busy lives are overwhelmed by the time commitment we perceive a habit or a task or a practice might require of us. We overestimate the time necessary to establish a new pattern, forgetting that even small changes can send our lives in a whole new direction. As the great creativity guru Julia Cameron gently tells us, “Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.” I have always loved that quote, that reminder that we are, by nature, impatient and too often give up before our practices have a chance to work their magic. I think this is so very, very true. However, what I think I have often overlooked is that five minutes might just be the miracle.

Five minutes. Five minutes is laughable really. It is a quantity of time so small that we can’t really make the argument that we can’t manage it. But it’s a profound chunk of time indeed. Putting five solid minutes a day at the piano into a specific thorny technical spot will quickly illuminate the fact that we rarely spend a solid five minutes on any single, small task. Have you ever spent five minutes only eating lunch and doing nothing but chewing? No YouTube videos. No paging through cookbooks. No reading a magazine. Just chewing. Try scrubbing your toilet for five whole minutes. No one does that.

Five minutes of solid intention done day after day, week after week changes us and changes the game. Five minutes walking through the house picking up newspapers and shoes and cat toys and books does wonders for my sense of order. Five minutes every evening of French, or Spanish, or Farsi will rewire your brain. Five minutes of yoga every morning, five minutes on the meditation cushion at lunchtime, five minutes spent journaling before dinner won’t change the world, certainly, but it might nudge your perspective into a new direction. Which might change the world.

When giving workshops, I often say that “5 minutes a day equals 25 hours a year,” which is, honestly, conservative math. Five minutes a day for 365 days actually equals over 30 hours a year. However, shooting for 25 hours allows for the inevitable interruptions to our streak of good intentions, which is more realistic. At least it is for me.

The key is the streak, of course, the discipline of returning to the practice day after day after day. The trick—or life hack as they say—is the (only) “five minutes,” because surely even Charlie Ravioli has five minutes. The agreement with ourselves to do (only!!!) five minutes gets us in the door, or to the piano bench, or the yoga mat. It changes our focus; it reinforces our intention. It resets the compass of our days and hours.

After that miracles can happen.

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