How Your Keystone Habits Open Every Door
There is just no denying the reality that it is your habits that determine everything in your life. Your habits are the reason you are in the current situation you find yourself, whether you are unhealthy or fit, rich or poor. The habits we acquire, whether intentional or not, are quite literally what defines our life and they are certainly how we spend our money, energy, time and love. But most importantly is the fact that your habits are the sole way you will fulfill any of the goals you set for yourself.
Over 40% of our daily actions are not decisions, but habitual behavior. So many people operate on autopilot not realizing that they have the choice to design the life they consciously wish they were living. But it is totally possible and even easy to begin establishing the key habits you want for yourself that can unlock your true potential for living with purpose and open the door to actually achieving everything you want.
There are habits and then there are “key” or “keystone” habits and the difference between the two is this: a keystone habit is one that has a positive ripple effect into other areas of your life. Like a chain reaction, or the domino effect, keystone habits are the ones that positively affect multiple areas in your life and when implemented regularly trigger additional beneficial habits similar to building additional levels on a house.
The power of keystone habits…
First coined by Charles Duhigg in the bestseller The Power of Habit, keystone habits are those activities in your life that have the power to positively transform the way you see yourself, in other words: your self-image.
With consistency and a sense of self-achievement, practicing good keystone habits will inspire you to continuously build upon them by adding new positive habits that are triggered by the initial one. And like leveling up in a game, you will continuously be open to and driven to seek new ways to improve upon yourself through your habits because it feels good.
There are some tried and true keystone habits that positively impact many people’s lives and the first one is exercise. To give an example of how exercise fits into the keystone habit category, when you begin to exercise regularly you then start eating healthier because it just comes naturally. You may start waking up earlier, sleeping better and even dressing differently, simply because it feels good.
But what led to these positive changes in your life can be tied to the keystone habit of having a regular exercise practice. Duhigg even says exercising regularly can make you more focused at work and you end up spending less money on other not-so-beneficial activities such as partying late into the night, because your keystone habit will begin to take precedence.
The key habits I live by…
There are three main keystone habits that I have integrated into my life and they are:
- Sweat every day
- Eat the ‘frog’ early
- Plan the day ahead
Sweat every day
I used to believe that I did not have enough time in the day to get in a major workout and I wasn’t in optimal physical condition. I was stressed out and overweight and work always took precedence over taking the time to focus solely on exercise.
But, when I began to commit to a regular practice of running and physical training, I realized that not only was I getting in shape and felt great, but I was also able to be more productive at work and more present for my family and community.
Because I know that getting in a strenuous workout is beneficial for me in all of the roles I play, I now restrict myself from eating after 9 p.m., so I don’t ride that second wind of energy that would keep me up later and make waking up earlier that much harder.
Eat the frog
The saying “eat the frog” refers to tackling those pressing tasks that absolutely need to get down and weigh on your mind until you do so, whether you actually want to or not. We all have frogs and we all need to eat them daily if we want to make sure we are constantly getting the stuff we need to get done actually completed. Call it procrastination, or maybe you dread the task at hand, but whatever it is that you know you need to do eventually you should just do as soon as possible.
Just “eat the frog” and eat it early. Because the earlier you get this necessary task done, the earlier your mind is freed from the burden of having to think about it. Like the analogy of holding a glass of water. It’s only heavy if you hold on to it for a long time.
Similarly, ships only sink when they fill with water. In other words, if not eating your ‘frog’ is going to weigh on your mind, then it just makes sense to swallow it and get the job done as soon as, and especially as early in the day as possible.
Plan the next day
To eat the frog and get in a good workout, nevermind all of the other obligations life entails, I know I need to actually schedule the activities I want and need to do into my calendar otherwise work developments and other obligations will always take precedence.
But in addition to planning ahead, I have found that planning out the next day the evening before it begins is the ultimate way for me to get a running start the next day, literally and figuratively. I set aside the time each evening, by also scheduling the planning time in, and then I sit down and I prepare my schedule and calendar for the following day.
This way, when I wake up the next morning, there is no question of what I am going to do next, as it has already been determined, defined and planned for at a time when I was relaxed and had a clear mind to recognize what my exact priorities will be.
What are some of the most transformational keystone habits?
- Exercising regularly
- Eating healthily
- Waking up early
- Doing yoga
- Making the bed in the morning
- Tracking your spending
- Not eating late at night
- Getting a restful sleep
- Planning ahead
- Asking yourself clarity questions
How to make your keystone habits work for you…
Build momentum because it builds confidence
Incorporating a new keystone habit into your life may sound like a challenge, but there are a number of methods to make it easy. First and foremost, everything gets easier with practice and this knowledge alone can help you push on through the initial stages.
Once you have gained momentum, you will no longer need a push to keep going, because the action or habit that you have chosen for yourself will inherently begin to feel good. Constant practice builds skill and confidence and that will be enough to drive you to continue. So all you need to do is just do it and then do it over and over again.
Track your progress – it will help you tweak things
Knowing where you stand is always a good thing. There is a reason all of these smart devices and apps exist for tracking progress, especially when it comes to physical activities, and that is because your success becomes clearly visible and if not, then you know it is time to think of ways you can better optimize the process.
Habit trackers, and especially those with metrics and that show trends can give you a visual sense of your success, which feels wonderful but tracking no progress is also important to ask yourself “Why?” and begin making adjustments on the “How?” of the new habit.
Be your own coach and ask yourself clarity questions
It is really important to continuously, if not daily, ask yourself questions that will provide insight into how something worked out and why something didn’t. There are a number of thought-provoking clarity questions that you can ask yourself, such as “What are the three biggest problems?”, “How can I reduce uncertainty and provide direction?”, “What should I start or stop?” and “How does this habit provide value?” are just some of the questions you can ask yourself to optimize the habit formation process.
Seek external benefits and ways to provide value
If your new keystone habit feels good from the start for additional reasons then you are already well on the way to maximizing the benefits of having positive keystone habits. See if there is a way you can combine a number of benefits of the new practice and you will be more driven from the start. One of the greatest motivators is always being of service because it just feels good.
So, if you want to start running for example see if you can spend time with a friend doing so, or pick up litter you see on the street see if there is a way that you can help others, do good or see things differently so you can truly enjoy the process.
Start stacking more good habits
The major differentiating factor of a “keystone” habit is the fact that it lends to easily being added upon, whether purposefully or inadvertently. In many cases, the keystone habit will inspire you to take on other new beneficial practices, such as in the case of running, maybe you will start showering and dressing up better or begin implementing a self-care routine such as a weekly massage.
In planning the night before, as you are the one dictating your next day, you may start to actually schedule in those other habits you want to include in your life such as having a daily yoga or meditation practice or spending special quality time with family and friends.
For example, you could also start celebrating your success of “eating the frog early” with a journaling or gratitude practice. The key takeaway is if you connect the new habit to the keystone habit in some way then it makes for an easier and more fluid transition to do it with regularity.
To level up, make your keystone habits automatic
Once the initial keystone habit becomes habitual through constant repetition, you begin to do it on autopilot. If something is habitual, i.e. done in repetition, it means that the habit has stuck and you no longer need to think about it in the same manner nor motivate yourself to do it. You just do it, because it has become habitual. For me, this is like my gratitude practice.
I don’t have to think about it or plan for it, I now just do it consistently as a part of my daily routine. And what this means is that when you have one habit down pat, your mind is then free to start conjuring up the next good habit that you can cultivate and begin implementing as well.
With momentum, that new habit will also become second-place and inherently a part of you and then you can start afresh with another new habit until stacking all the good habits you want in your life just begins to happen automatically in its own natural progression.