People often talk about healthy habits, bad habits, or breaking habits.

You may also have heard of keystone habits.

In this piece, we’ll go into more depth about:

  • What they are.
  • Why they’re important.
  • And how you can build them into your own life.

What is a habit?

Habits are activities that you do on a regular basis in order to reach a sort of benchmark.

This can be anything from brushing your teeth every day when you wake up to reading the newspaper each morning before school or work.

These habits become routines in your life, making it second nature to do these activities every single day.

Why are habits important?

Habits are extremely important for us because they provide structure and make things easier for us when we have them down pat.

They also help keep ourselves available to take care of other aspects in our lives, such as work or exercise, since habits don’t require much thought. It’s this set pattern that helps save up energy so that we can use it elsewhere.

Habits aren’t just limited to daily habits, though.

Habits also have an effect on our career and finances.

We may have habits that affect how we do things at work, such as listening to a certain type of music while working or checking over your work after you’re done.

Leaders and company CEOs often talk about their habits, such as exercise, or clearing their inbox first think. That’s because certain habits can be helpful by making us more productive.

On thee flip side, habits can also be destructive – especially if we don’t realise that the habit isn’t helping us. This becomes a bad habit, such as gambling, or drinking too much.

Generally, people strive to build good habits and break bad habits.

What are keystone habits?

A keystone habit is defined as any task or behaviour that has the power to disturb other patterns in your life.

Keystone habits start chain reactions that effect all aspects of our lives – even areas we don’t expect at first.

They are the basic habits you do everyday, without persuasion or willpower. Keystone habits can be identified by their effects on multiple contexts, which then creates a domino effect that affect keystones in other areas of our lives without us even realising.

Although keystone habits are defined by the changes they create, not by the habits themselves, they usually involve key ingredients, such as a clear goal and a plan for how to reach it.

What does keystone mean?

Keystones are key components of a system, on which other elements depend.

Therefore, keystone habits are not necessarily a good habit, but a keystone habit can have a domino effect and positively impact all areas of your life.

They exist under the surface, subtly guiding immense portions of our behaviour without our knowledge – as keystones do for concrete structures.

In order to build self-improvement as efficiently as possible, keystone habits should be identified and nurtured in order to develop more keystone behaviours that can impact all areas of life from physical health to social skills and confidence levels.

In the words of Charles Duhigg in his best-selling book ‘The Power of Habit’…

“What we do every day matters more than what we do every once in a while”

Charles Duhigg

Understanding keystone habits can help you to exploit these behaviours and use them to improve your life.

What are examples of keystone habits?

Waking up early has been identified as one of the keystones because it affects almost all parts of your life.

It is said that if you wake up early enough and go to bed earlier than usual every day, you will get enough sleep and become more productive in your day-to-day activities.

Of course, keystone habits are not limited to personal life only.

You can have keystone habits in multiple areas, including:

  • Keystone health habits
  • Keystone finance habits
  • Keystone personal habits
  • Keystone social habits

Environmental keystone habits example:

Environmental keystone habits could include:

  • Learning about renewable energy in order to influence people’s lives with green culture.
  • This in turn helps the environment because people start investing money in alternative energies that help protect our planet from pollutants which cause global warming.

Keystone health habits example:

Keystone health habits might include starting an exercise program or changing your diet.

This will have wide reaching effect on other areas in your life.

When you start exercising, you not only lose weight but also sleep better.

Consequently, it’s important that you identify keystones that will have the greatest effect on your life so you can start on them first.

How to build keystone habits

Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy to keep habits like brushing your teeth, making your bed or exercising every day?

These habits are known as keystone habits and they can help to improve our lives in all sorts of other areas. Here are six steps for building these habits.

1) Create small habits.

Keystone habits start out small and grow over time.

For example, we might start with a tiny habit like doing 1 push-up every morning.

Over time, this becomes second nature and we can add more repetitions before moving on to something else.

There is no need to build up lots of energy and motivation when the habits don’t hurt that much yet!

2) Start by focusing on one behavior at a time.

“I want to exercise more, eat better and _________.”

We might be tempted to fill in the space with habits like these.

But habits are most successful when they are specific habits .

For example, an overarching goal of “fitness” is too vague to become a keystone habit. Instead of trying to do three things at once, focus on one behavior at a time.

3) Identify triggers for each habit.

Keystone habits can help us to achieve our goals by creating triggers that prompt us into action.

Let’s say that we want build the habit of doing push-ups every morning after getting out of bed. This can become a keystone habit if we use it as a trigger for other habits that support our overall goals.

4)  Be specific about habits you want to build.

Habits are more likely to stick if they’re specific habits .

Vague habits like “working out” or “eating healthier” can be effective, but it’s hard to develop a keystone habit from them.

Keystone habits serve as the foundation for other habits by providing motivation and instilling confidence.

5) Decide on ONE goal at a time.

When we try to make multiple changes at once, it becomes difficult to focus our energy or measure success.

It is better to pick one goal and develop a keystone habit that supports this goal.

Additionally, it helps us avoid getting overwhelmed with too many habits being implemented simultaneously.

After all, we have to want to change.

6) Make it simple and easy.

Pick habits that are relatively easy, like drinking water or flossing.

Doing habits that are too challenging will make us feel defeated every time we fail to keep up with our new habits.

Leaders understand the value of simple, early morning habits and many credit ‘A 30 minute run first thing’ or ’15 minutes on the exercise bike’ as something that keeps them focused and gets them ahead of the day.

7) Get support if needed.

If you can’t seem to develop keystone habits even after trying for a long time, seek help.

There could be other factors holding you back from developing these habits; therefore, it is important to receive help in order to create strong habits.

If you’re not sure where to start looking for assistance, your doctor may be able to help, or you can use a personal development coach.

8) Make habits measurable.

One key to forming habits is being able to measure them so that we have a clear understanding of our habits’ progress.

If we cannot see the results of our habits, it will be difficult for us to continue doing them in the future.

For example, write down how many calories you eat every day and create a chart from your measurements from month to month.

We should seek ways to track other habits as well, such as how much time we spend sleeping each night or how much money we save each month. Keystone habits should also be measured by how they improve the other habits in your life.   

9) Avoid crossing wires.

Since keystone habits have a domino effect, they can also have negative consequences if done wrong.

For example, suppose you are trying to build the habit of eating healthy meals every day. If you attempt to do this by making your exercise habits less consistent instead of more consistent, it would be counterproductive.

Keystone habits should support other habits rather than interfere with them.

10) Use habits that are connected to one another.

Our habits are connected in many ways that we often fail to notice.

By attempting to build keystone habits, we can improve our other habits too without realizing it at first.

This is because certain habits encourage us to make positive changes in other areas of our lives related to those habits as well. For example, habits are often connected with one another because they are habits of the same thing or emotional state.

If you have habits related to an important relationship in your life, it is likely that other habits involving this relationship will also improve without you intending for them to do so.

For instance, if you build habits that help you stay organized or plan ahead, you may find that this allows you to accomplish more every day and successfully complete even unrelated tasks like household errands.

Organizing your schedule can also reduce stress by helping you see what needs doing and when each task needs completing, making it easy for you to know whether or not there are any upcoming deadlines or worrisome responsibilities coming up soon.

These habits will give meaning to the time when you are not spending time on your habits.

11) Stay consistent.

Being consistent is probably the most important keystone habit there is.

You should make sure that whatever habits you select, you do them every day. If you don’t, their effect will be much less noticeable.

Don’t try to change every aspect of your life at once. Instead, pick 1-2 habits and focus on them, building up more habits over time.

Keystone habits: a conclusion

Finding a keystone habit means that you need to decide what habits you want first and then find habits that will trigger those habits.

For example, if you want to exercise every morning before going to work, finding a keystone habit may mean getting up early and going for a run or doing some push-ups before breakfast. The keystone habits here would probably be going to bed on time, waking up at a certain time and maybe showering.

These habits would allow your “go running” habit to happen because they set the conditions for it.

Automating these habits is an important part of building them into your life.

If exercising in the morning means having to choose your shoes or remembering to bring them with you, it’s much less likely that the behaviour will become a keystone habit.

If you find yourself veering off track, keep our simple checklist with you:

1) Create small habits.

2) Start by focusing on one behavior at a time.

3) Identify triggers for each habit.

4)  Be specific about habits you want to build.

5) Decide on ONE goal at a time.

6) Make it simple and easy.

7) Get support if needed.

8) Make habits measurable.

9) Avoid crossing wires.

10) Use habits that are connected.

11) Be consistent.

Good luck!

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