A new combination

A few weeks ago, I returned from vacation to discover that my long-term locker in the gym was empty. The workout supplies I kept in there were gone, with no indication of where they’d disappeared to or why. The combination lock I used to keep it closed was nowhere to be found either.

The following day, one of the managers at the gym helped me find my weights and extra sneakers. I got back everything from my locker except for one item: my combination lock.

Now, you might say that this was no big deal, and you’d probably be right. After all, how much does it cost to replace a basic combination lock? (At my gym, $7, apparently.) That didn’t stop me from trying nearly every lock in the locker room, hoping I’d find mine.

Why did I do that? Maybe it was because I’d had that lock since high school – nearly two decades. Maybe it was because I really liked the combination. (The two smaller numbers were both factors of the larger number, and all three numbers felt very Jewish, which made me happy.)

Whatever the reason, I was sad to see the lock go. I realized that day that I have very few possessions in my apartment that I’ve owned for as long as that lock. (But that’s a post for another time.)

That morning, I bought a new lock, and by the time I left the gym, I had the combination committed to memory (and also stored in my phone, just in case.) The combination wasn’t nearly as pretty, but the lock worked, and that was what mattered.

A month later, I’m still using that new lock, and it still works just fine. I have no trouble remembering the new combination — as long as I take a moment to stop and think. As recently as two days ago, I was still dialing the old combination first, purely out of habit.

As I stood there tugging on a lock that wouldn’t open, I thought about how all of us are creatures of habit. We get used to our routines to the point where they become instinctive and unconscious. We don’t stop to think about these actions, because we’ve done them all so many times before, and because we forget that there may be another, better way.

Tonight, we enter into the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a time of atonement and self-reflection. It should also be a time to examine our routines and habits, consider which ones should be held onto and cherished, and which ones might do better to be left behind.

Clearly, change like this comes slowly, and it doesn’t happen on its own. It will probably take a few months before I can approach my locker at the gym and turn the lock correctly without first pausing to think about it (or without twisting it to the wrong numbers first), and that’s just a simple combination. But just as, with enough practice, my new combination will become as instinctive as the old one, the more we practice new patterns and new behaviors, the less we have to think about them, and the more we internalize them until they feel as natural as things we’ve been doing all our lives.

May we all find it within us to make positive chances in our lives, and may those changes come as easily as the new combination I use for my locker.

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