Keystone Habits: The Simple Way to Improve All Aspects of Your Life

There are certain habits and routines that make success easier, regardless of the circumstances you face.

In fact, you may already practice some of these habits, even though you are unaware of it right now.

But most importantly, if you understand how to harness these habits, then you can drastically improve your health, your work, and your relationships … and start living the life you deserve.

The Keystone Habit

In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he discusses the idea of keystone habits.

We have habits everywhere in our lives, but certain routines — keystone habits — lead to a cascade of other actions because of them.

For example…

A few months ago, I started to notice a funny thing.

When I worked out, I wanted to eat better. Even though I could have rewarded myself with chocolate bars and ice cream, I felt like eating real, healthy foods.

I also slept better. And when I was awake, I seemed more productive. Especially in the hour or two after working out, when my mind seemed to think clearer and my writing was crisper. Thoughts flowed easily.

When I didn’t exercise, however, I was more prone to eating junk food. I would stay up later working on unimportant tasks. I started to feel tension in my back. I didn’t check it, but my guess is that my blood pressure raised as a result of additional stress and no place to release it.

In other words, fitness is the keystone habit the puts the rest of my life in place. When I workout, other things naturally fall into place. I don’t have to think about eating better. I don’t have to force myself to focus on getting things done. Exercise naturally pushes me towards my best self.

What Are Your Keystone Habits?

I’m not always on top of my game, but on the days that I work out everything seems to come a little bit easier. And I’ll take all the help I can get as I continue my quest to become better.

Imagine how much easier and more fulfilling your lifestyle could be if you discovered one or two keystone habits that naturally put the rest of your life in place.

So often, we struggle to live the way we want to simply because we don’t have the willpower to make different decisions. Whether it’s having the discipline to eat healthy or the courage to take a risk or the energy to volunteer more often or the drive to perform better at work, we delay these choices — even though we know they are important — simply because we don’t have the willpower to make something new happen today.

Improving your lifestyle and becoming the type of person who “has their act together” isn’t nearly as hard as you might think. In fact, you might need just one keystone habit before the dominoes start falling everywhere.

What are you doing when everything falls into place? What is your keystone habit?

Find it and do more of it.

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13 Comments

  1. Hey James,

    This concept of keystone habits got me thinking and indeed, just like in your case, whenever I skip exercise, everything else that day becomes a struggle.

    For me, I would consider my whole morning routine a keystone habit, as skipping any of the pieces result in decreased performance later in the day.

    Another pattern I noticed when thinking about this concept: I have some bad habits that also decrease my performance, as in “keystone habits for failure” lol Like drinking on nights out with friends, eating junk food once a week. (Actually, these habits do have their use, but I will need to look into replacing them)

    Great stuff.

    Probably won’t be visiting the blog in the upcoming week, I’d like to wish whole community of “Becoming Better” Happy New Year! Really glad I found this site in 2012 :)

    Sincerely,
    Darius

    • Hmm… keystone habits for failure. That’s an interesting idea. I’ll have to spend some time on that one, but I think your basic idea is spot on.

      Thanks for reading, Darius.

  2. Everyone should make health and fitness a keystone habit. Some may think they don’t have enough time, it’s boring or they just don’t like but it’s critical to living and and being your best. You don’t have to be a gym rat to make this a habit. I do 3 things that most people wouldn’t consider to help me reach my fitness goals. One, I use a Striiv pedometer to make me walk more throughout the day. I compete with others and myself so it makes it a daily competition to walk more. Two, at work I use a stability ball as my office chair. The third thing I do is take on a fun activity. I currently go boxing 2 – 3 times a week. Talk about a way to eliminate stress.

  3. Love it James,

    I was just messing with a post that’s related to this. Only my experience of it has came from a family member whose life took a nose dive from drugs. And how that played out in all areas of life, negatively. Of course.

    Numbing affects us across the board. Once we try to numb one aspect of pain all aspects are affected. Our physical, mental and moral aspects are brought down.

    In the same way health comes from one step in the right direction. A domino effect or ripple effect (whatever you may call it) results from that keystone habit. Love that.

    It’s amazing how one physical habit can produce such an overarching change. Thanks James for helping me see a different aspect of this.

    • It’s true. There are certain choices we make (I think they may be somewhat different for each person) that can dictate the way we act (and react) to our surroundings and whatever else we are faced with.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Garry. I’m glad to have you as part of the community.

  4. Great advice James– it works and is a simply profound concept that works when put into practice. The best caveat is that it doesn’t require many steps–just knowing that you have these one or two keystone habits in place is critical to your success. I will be sure to find my keystone habits for the New Year and put it into practice.

    Jennifer

    • Jennifer — I love the idea of finding your keystone habit and putting it into practice for the New Year. You’ve shifted the focus from “get result X” to “take action Y each day”.

      That’s a small, but powerful shift. If you figure out your keystone habits, then the results will fall into place automatically.

      Stop back and let us know how it goes. We would love to hear about your progress.

  5. Interesting article James – I would say my keystone habit is sitting to meditate every day – I find that if I miss it everything just starts feeling ‘off’. I usually make the time to sit for 20 minutes every evening. Sometimes however, I seem to find more ‘important’ things to do, like watch an extra hour of tv…. And this has a knock-on effect with my sleep etc. Perhaps sometimes we need to see that effect of NOT sticking to our keystone habit to appreciate the power it actually has.

    • Lucy — your meditation practice is a great example of a keystone habit. Thanks for sharing.

      And you’re right … sometimes the pain of not sticking to a habit is the perfect reminder to get back on track.

  6. When I get up at 5:00 A.M. and walk with the dog, do 25 minutes with a yoga DVD at 5:30, cook breakfast for me and the wife at 6:00, then got the the YMCA and swim for half an hour, I’m walking around feeling like I have a completely new life! These were the keystone habits that I worked out without the help of a great psychologist. I called them “The health list of things to do.” I can actually feel the chemicals cascading in the brain. What a wonderful way to live. I don’t always do the health list, but now seeing so much written about it I will do it with more confidence.

    Thank you.

  7. I’ve been a huge fan of keystone habits since reading “The Power of Habit” last year.

    My favorite, all-purpose keystone habit is Gratitude. When you’re grateful for what you have, your thoughts and actions help you get more of it.

    Because I work for myself, I’ve found these 3 keystone habits helped grow my business:

    1) Reading my monthly goal out loud for 1 minute every morning
    2) Visualizing the “WHY” behind my goal for 3 minutes
    3) Walking while saying affirmations for 10 minutes

    Keystone habits may be small, but the changes they produce are BIG.

    I wish you all the best!

    Kevin Donlin

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