Keystone habits are a critical part of your personal development journey – and the quickest way to progress.
A keystone can be defined as the central principle, or an integral part of a policy, system, method or routine, upon which all else depends. A keystone interlocks all other elements into place – the beginning point of a domino effect.
Similarly, a keystone habit is like the centerstone in an arch – even though it’s one small stone, it keeps the whole thing standing up, providing a solid foundation and structure that allow other habits to flourish – resulting in a healthy life in all domains: physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially.
In short, a keystone habit serves as a powerful catalyst that unleashes a chain-reaction of habitual routines that can automatically change your ‘sense of self’, and what is possible.
It’s considered the highest achievement, or most important action in a series of actions.
The power of habit
Certain key habits and routines can make you reach success easier and quicker; it can drastically improve your health, your work, and your relationships – without much effort.
In Charles Duhigg’s book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, he refers to keystone habits as a select group of habits that automatically lead to a cascade of other actions to supercharge your success.
In other words, you don’t have to change dozens of habits to get to your goals. You only have to change a few keystone habits that will have a ripple effect on the outcomes.
Duhigg stated there are three components to a keystone habit:
- Small senses of victory – by completing a keystone ‘habit loop’ (cue – habit – reward), you’re filled with a sense of accomplishment since they help to promote other good habits while also eliminating bad habits.
- Serve as the soil from which other good habits grow – creating a chain reaction; sparking, changing and rearranging other habits that help other good habits take hold.
- Provide you with energy, confidence – and a platform with the momentum to achieve more.
According to Duhigg, keystone habits change more than just your behavior; they also change how you see yourself (your self-image). This is because, when you change your key habitual behaviours, you set off other patterns of who and what you are, to change as well. Keystone habits thus have ripple effects that change your behavior in unexpected ways.
Writer Mark Manson described keystone habits as compounding habits, meaning, if you think of building habits as investing in yourself – you could say that different habits have higher or lower interest rates, therefore making some habits far better ‘initial investments’ of your energy and discipline than others.
A huge part of what you think, do, say, and feel, are predominantly controlled by your habits. Your habits is what influences your overall success. And, since keystone habits are seen as the gateway to success, enabling you to reach your goals faster and easier, your focus should be solely on forming keystone habits.
3 Keystone Habits for a powerful chain reaction
Keystone habits have the power to rewire how you think, work, play, live, spend money, and communicate. Anything can be a keystone habit, IF they have a domino effect on all your other routines and habits that support your desired outcome or goal. Identifying them right can set off a chain reaction that will make you much more productive, automatically.
But, studies have shown, it can take anything from 18 to 254 days of repetitive behavior before a habit takes hold. On average, a habit-forming process takes 66 days, so you would want to ensure the new behavior will be repeated for at least 90-180 days before things are really set in stone.
Where to start?
Select all the actions that will encourage the exact self-image you want to have. For instance, you decided you want to look like a well-groomed, confident person who attracts a lot of attention when walking down the street, or entering a room.
Determine: Do you look like that now? Do you wear the right clothes? Are you physically attractive enough, meaning looking healthy, fit, lean and seductive? What about your hair, is it lively or dull? Your skin, is is glowing and radiant or sagged and dreary?
What needs to change for you to look and feel like that confident person everybody would want to hang out with?
Once you’ve determined what you want, you start by setting milestones and goals.
Active goal setting and planning your days
Set goals for a monthly, weekly, and daily routine. Take the long-term goals, and break them down into small milestones that will bring small wins. Then, actively set your daily goals with a daily action plan on what you need to do each day to be able to reach that big goal. For example, let’s assume you want to lose weight and become leaner and fitter to match your vision, you need to break the big picture down so it becomes more manageable each day. Your daily goal would be be to eat right, cook genuine foods, walk and follow an exercise routine that will firm you up and make you glow. The cascading effect of goal setting is giving you better direction and certainty that what you do each day, and you automatically start achieving the right things.
Categorize all your activities into four distinct quadrants based on urgency and importance. Either things are (1) important and urgent, (2) important but not urgent, (3) not important but urgent, (4) or not important and not urgent. Determine how to sort them that will bring you to your goal faster and quicker. Create a dialy to do list from that. The cascading effect of time management is you are in control of your day and know exactly what to do when, which means you don’t let mundane things take over your mind, and focus on achieving positive outcomes.
Exercise is quite possibly one of the most beneficial keystone habits quoted by everyone. It helps to energize your body, clear your mind, and rejuvenate your spirit, while also increasing your motivation to achieve more. When you exercise, you’re far more conscious about making healthier living choices over other things detrimental to your health. The cascading effect of exercising is being more productive, feeling happier, looking far better than before, fostering better social cohesion and enhancing intimacy.
Food, cooking, and family dinners
Food journaling can significantly help you improve your eating plans and nutrient intake. Duhigg cites a 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health in which participants with food journals lost twice as much weight as those without, as it created a structure that helped to stick to a certain regime. Cooking your own meals gives you total control over what you eat and when, and not settling for quick, easy unhealthy food. Family dinners can have great impact, giving more confidence in family values, and satisfying emotional needs.
8 hours sleep, and making your bed every morning
Your goal is to get enough sleep, but the cascading effect is: being more productive each day; being more energized to exercise and concentrate at work; improved focus and communications with everyone in your relationship groups. Making your bed every morning set the scene for greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget says Science writer Judy Dutton. This is because organized environments can positively impact your mental state, and making your bed helps to start each day with a sense of accomplishment. Duhigg also writes that bed-makers are more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested.
Eliminate the perfectionist mindset
Perfectionism makes it difficult to move forward with your dreams and aspirations. Once you stop this habit, it allows you to explore life more, you start taking action towards what you really want, and you’re open to experience new things. The cascading effect of this is personal growth and development, broadening your horizons, eliminating fear of the unknown and being more relaxed and calm.
By saving money you’ll have emergency funds for the unforeseen. You will lead a more money-conscious lifestyle and pay closer attention to trivial purchases that might clutter your lifestyle. It gives you certainty and security, makes you feel in control and safe from being in bad financial form when being retrenched, or when quitting your job, or when your business go through tight times.
A steady morning routine with gratitude
Being grateful every single day is integral to a sound mind and elevated spirit. What the mind focuses on it tends to see and get. When you focus on abundance, you reap abundance. Take a couple of minutes every morning and write down everything that you’re grateful for, maybe something that happened the previous day and how that made you feel. Having consistency in starting out your day with this – or any other routine – produces a cascading of positive effects, like increased health, fulfillment, happiness, productivity and financial security.
Meditation is great for reducing stress, blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and can help put your mind at ease for the rest of the day. The cascading benefits are increased memory and awareness, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased goal-setting.
7 ways to identify your own specific keystone habits
Look out for habits and routines that provide you with a pattern of small wins. According to Duhigg, small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.
Define your three most important outcomes for the day, aligned to your goals and then identify areas or places where momentum can start to build.
Look for behaviors that can have a ripple effect in your life, changing your other behaviors without extra effort.
Pay attention to how you see yourself when you do a particular habit. Does it change your self image? Do you feel better when you think of yourself as that person?
Be mindful of moments where excellence or change, or perseverance, or some other virtue seems to become contagious. Look for patterns that create new platforms from which other habits can emerge.
Make them easy to achieve – the easier you make it to get started with a new behavior, the fewer reasons you have to not do it. For instance, when you ensure your gym bag is packed with clean dry and crisp clothes it’s harder to find an excuse not to go.
Develop strong willpower. Even though willpower isn’t a habit, you can make a habit of exercising willpower, which comes down to self-discipline. The more habits you build over time, the less willpower you’ll need to expend as it will become automatic.
Keystone habits provide you with an infectious drive to be better and make things happen long after you’re done.
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