Running long distances has made my legs strong in the directions that count for running. That is, they’re great at moving forward and back, up and down.
However, if I try to flex or stretch my legs laterally, there is little give – and what movement there is, hurts. A lot.
Ask me to sit crossed legged and I’ll wince like you sat me on a hot grill.
Everything has a cost
This is the price of choosing running. The slow accretion of bruising and scar tissue from hours upon hours of relentless hammering on the pavements of London.
It’s a physical version of the social damage I might have done if I were a model train enthusiast.
I’ve trained my legs to endure punishment in a particular way and they’ve grown strong in that direction. But the cost of that is that they are now stiff and inflexible when used in any other way.
It’s not just physical
What’s true for our body is also true for our behaviour.
Our behaviour is often as singular as my running. We’re consistent in how we act. We’re relentless in our commitment to our habits. We build strength in ourselves, but it’s in a single direction.
Making my legs strong in one direction has made them weak in others. Similarly, by behaving consistently one way, it’s harder for us to flex in other situations. Our muscles are tight, and stretching them in new ways feels unnatural and painful.
We’re not the ones who notice
We’re aware of this inflexibility in the physical realm of our own bodies, but it’s other people who are aware of it when it comes to our behaviour.
It’s those around us who notice our pride, our desire for control, our meanness with resource.
It’s others who can see where our training has made us strong, and where is has made us painful and inflexible.
Unsurprisingly, it’s others who can start to free us from this inflexibility. It’s they who can point out where our behavioural muscles are stiff and painful when we’re too daft to notice.
We still have to dedicate the time and an attention to stretching our tight muscles out, but just being aware of them is a good start.