Battling Old Habits

How much of your life is controlled by old habits? For me, the answer is, too much. We were recently in San Angelo, where Cyndi attended a workshop and I hung out around town (meaning I found places to read, write, and run.) It was a typical weekend for us.

I ran about four miles along the Concho River, and I loved it. San Angelo has invested a lot of money in making this part of town beautiful, and I could tell from the fresh construction they are still investing.

There weren’t as many runners along the trail as I expected. I anticipated a crowd of runners and cyclists, like those I find around White Rock Lake in Dallas, or Town Lake in Austin. But of course, both of those trails are much longer and serve a huge population.

Since the section of trail along the Concho is only a couple of miles long, I suppose local runners who need to put in big miles go somewhere else. Even so, I was happy to see about a dozen other runners.

When I was about a mile from finishing my run, a man fifteen years older than me, passed smoothly on my left. He was not blazing fast, but he was very fluid and looked comfortable. He didn’t look like he had any pains in his knees or hips or feet. He looked happy. I was jealous.

The curious thing is, after the man passed me, I leaned a bit more forward and increased my turnover just a little. I picked up my own pace without even thinking about it. I did it unconsciously, and it didn’t hurt my knees any more than my previous pace.

I asked myself, “So why hadn’t I run like that all morning?”

The reason was, sadly, that my pace is usually determined more by habit than by fitness or skill. I’m so used to compensating for sore knees I fail to test them. I forget to see if I can go faster. I settle into my shuffle, proud of myself for moving instead of sitting, proud that I still consider four miles to be a short run, and leave it at that. My legs converge to their comfortable, habitual pace and go on and on without any input from me.

Well, that is not satisfying.

A few years ago, I read a book of essays titled, I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley, who was misdiagnosed with hemochromatosis (too much iron in her blood). Later, when she found out she wasn’t sick after all, she was a little sad. “I had myself an explanation for everything that had ever been wrong with me,” she wrote. “I wanted to hold my flaws close but controlled like a balloon tied to my wrist with a string. If anything went wrong, all I had to do was tug at the string and bring my explanation down for others to see. This is who I am and this is why.” When she lost her disease, she lost her excuses.

As for me, I often think, “I’m handling this situation just fine. I’m compensating. I’m getting by. All I have to do is get used to this limp and downgrade my expectations a bit and I’ll be OK. At least I’m surviving.”

That doesn’t sound much like adventure, does it?

The thing about habits is you have to choose. Not every old habit is bad. For example, I have a habit of coming home to Cyndi every day, and a habit of reading from my Daily Bible every day, and a habit of mostly following the posted speed limit and wearing my seatbelt, and wearing my helmet when I bike.

The trick is to identify the old habits that serve no purpose than to hold me back and hinder growth. I have to throw those over the side.

So I got another chance. This past weekend we were back on the road, this time in Dallas. It was the same scenario, with Cyndi attending a workshop and me reading, writing, and running. Only this time I found my crowd of runners while enjoying a seven-mile out-and-back on the east side of White Rock Lake. It was a brilliant blue, cool, bright morning, and I loved it.

And, more than that, my average pace was a minute-per-mile faster than it was the previous weekend in San Angelo even though I ran almost twice as far. What made the difference? This time I thought about what I was doing the entire run. I intentionally fought against my own habits.

Here is the problem: It’s possible for us to live so long with injury that we forget how to live without it. We even forget how good life can be. We might even teach ourselves to enjoy limping. After all, it’s a convenient excuse to explain away poor performances.

This problem with habits is much bigger than simply running around the lake. How many poor relationships are hindered because we wallow in old habits? How many New Year’s resolutions flounder because we don’t intentionally fight against old patterns? How many God-given gifts do we hide from view out of fear, out of habit?

There is no adventure is blaming old habits for our poor performances. We can live life better than that.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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