When you have done something 6,864 times, it becomes a deeply ingrained habit.

In 1994, I bought a combination padlock. I carried it back and forth from the gym for 22 years. The combination: 23-12-27. I estimate that I dialed that combination 6,864 times over those 22 years. Safely storing things away at the beginning of my workout. Retrieving them after.

But then one day that combination didn’t work. Not sure why, but obviously something inside the lock shifted or broke, and 23-12-27 no longer worked.

This is the time of year when many of us reflect on old habits.  And we consider how freeing it could be to form new, healthy habits.

Maybe something inside us breaks, or shifts. So we get honest about the bad habits that have been formed by way of 22 years and 6,864 repetitions. We acknowledge the need for a new, healthy combination because the familiar method of coping and reacting isn’t opening us up to the life we had hoped for.

This year I bought a new combo lock. The first few times I used it, I automatically turned the dial to 23. Sometimes I’d stop there, remembering I have a new combination. Other times I’d go through the 23-12-27 only to yank on the lock, frustrated it wouldn’t open. Then I’d remember that this requires the new combination.  That old combo was so deeply etched into my memory that I had to write down the new combo and keep it in my pocket while I exercised at the gym.

Examine where you are and the person you have become. Do you struggle with a particularly unhealthy or unproductive combination of thoughts or actions? I do. In fact, I can think of quite a few.

One of my most common is the way I get locked up by anxiety and worry. With some self-reflection I’m noticing certain patterns that I give myself to – a combination of thoughts and reactions that reinforce worry. It’s not merely a metaphor to say that anxiety, like a busted combo lock, keeps me from retrieving what is most valuable in life.

So I’ve begun asking myself, “What is the combination of thoughts and actions that keep me locked up in worry?” In doing so, I’ve begun identifying the specific 23-12-27 pattern. You’d think it would be simple to recognize a sequence I’ve followed at least 6,864 times, but it’s a bit more complicated than locating numbers on a dial.

I won’t bog you down with details about my unhealthy patterns, but know that I want to unlock a life of peace. I long to access valuable things that have been locked away far too long. I’m in the early stages, but I’ve begun establishing new combinations, healthy combinations that turn my thoughts and dial my focus in new directions.

And this new combination I write down in my journal. I record it in my journal for those days when old combinations still fill my memory, and I need to be reminded of new, better ways.

I keep my journal with me most everywhere I go. Why? Because old habits are hard to forget, and new habits take time to remember.

Have you, like me, been broken? Is something shifting inside you that says, “This old, familiar combination does not open me to the life God promises”?

Take time to identify your deeply etched, unhealthy patterns. And begin writing out a new combination. Journal it. Write it on a notecard and stick it in your wallet. Make it the screensaver on your computer. Post it on your bathroom mirror. Give the combination to a friend whom you can call when you get locked out from abundant living.

Imagine the fresh, freeing life a new combination of thoughts and actions could bring your way. Keep this new combination where you can quickly and easily access it.

In case you are wondering: 3-17-27. That’s the combination for my new lock. It’s been a few months and I still occasionally turn to the 12 before I have to start over. And that’s ok. I’m learning to not be hard on myself when I slip back into old familiar patterns – whether in the locker room or in life. Because old habits are hard to forget, and new habits take time to remember.