I regularly ignore good advice. We all do. How many times have you flipped passed an article about how much we need regular sleep, or tuned out a news story on the benefits of stretching? When I make a choice that I know is not the healthiest one, it is usually because I am taking the path of least resistance, sticking with a habit rather than making a change.
There is inertia associated with change, even positive change. Sometimes, if you have been doing something one way for a long time or developed a habit that doesn’t seem harmful in the short term, you even forget that change is possible. I was reminded of this last week during a run. These days I am running every morning on trails near our house that stretch in every direction for miles. Rather than turning to head back home on the usual trail, I decided to head left on a trail I had never been on before. I figured that it looped up at some point to a road I would recognize. It was a beautiful morning, and as I ran farther and farther in this unknown direction I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t lost. I could turn around and re-trace my steps at any moment. I had no phone and no water with me. I never take those things when I run, I like to be as unencumbered as possible during that brief period of my day.
After a long time I realized that if this trail did have an ending point it was not going to be near my house, so I turned around and retraced my steps. It ended up being a five hour run. I am not exaggerating when I say that by the end birds of prey were slowly circling the sky overhead. I was so thirsty when I got home that I felt like I could have stood outside with the garden hose to my mouth for the rest of the day and still want more.
It is not as if carrying water when you run is hard to do, or that hydration being an important component of exercise is a carefully guarded secret. Every running book and magazine expounds the benefits of proper hydration. It’s just that I could run without it, and since I could manage fine it didn’t occur to me that hydrating during a run might improve the experience.
After my adventure on the trails I decided that I should run with water and was amazed at the number of devices they have created to make that as easy as possible. I chose the one that was right for me, a nifty handheld situation which I barely notice at all. The kicker is that running with water is way better. I find that I am faster and much less beat up when I come home. Again, this is not a newsflash; just a small change that vastly improves a good experience I was already having.
Our lives are filled with things like this, things as ordinary as a tree branch that hangs into the driveway or a purse strap that is slightly too long or bigger things like not getting regular exercise or not sleeping enough. We become accustomed to ignoring changes that we could be making in our habits and simply adapt to the situation. Some adaptations are about survival but many are simply due to inertia. I have been reminded by this experience that a small change in behavior can yield big rewards. Instead of ignoring the tree in the driveway, go trim it and you will feel better every time you drive by; instead of staying up to hit “refresh” one more time on the computer at 11 pm, head to bed with a book at 10. There is plenty of good advice we all ignore, sometimes it is as simple as deep breath or a softening of the jaw. I think really the best advice is to pay attention to your habits: are they really serving you, and if they aren’t, can you make a small change? As simple and obvious as bringing water on a run.