In a compelling and insightful book entitled, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg coined the term "keystone habit," to refer to a select group of habits that help to supercharge our success in life.
A keystone habit is no more difficult to form than any other habit, yet it provides the most benefits.
In particular, there are three things Duhigg claims that keystone habits do:
- They extend small senses of victory - By completing a keystone "habit loop," as he calls it (cue - habit - reward), we're filled with a sense of accomplishment. It's a small win that we can then build from, acting as the foundation for a successful day.
Keystone Habits: The Gateway to Success
In architectural terms, the keystone is the centermost stone in an arch that helps to interlock and hold the other stones in place, yet it bears the least weight. Without that keystone, the arch would collapse; it's an integral part of the structure. Similarly, a keystone habit is an integral part of any good habit routine.
Not only are they no more difficult to form, but they also help to promote other good habits while also helping to eliminate bad habits. In short, if you want to supercharge your success, focus on developing a set of keystone habits that will support and empower you.
Fundamentally speaking, habits themselves play a key role in our lives. In fact, where we are right now, today, has more to do with our habits than anything else considering that 45% of all human behavior is habit-driven. A large part of what we think, say, feel, and do are primarily controlled by our habits.
So, if you want to make a change in your life, you have to focus on improving your habits. And, since keystone habits act as the gateway to success, requiring no more effort to form than any other habit, they should be the sole focus at the outset. Over time, as those keystone habits develop, other good habits will hitch a ride while bad habits fall to the wayside.
But, we all know that forming habits takes time. According to one study, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days of repetitive behavior before a habit takes hold. On average, it was found that the habit-formation process takes 66 days. But, generally speaking, you'll want to ensure a behavior is repeated for at least 90-180 days before things really start to solidify.
The problem? Getting over that initial hurdle is hard. But, once you pass that point, reinforcing the habit becomes easier.
Keystone Habits List
#1 - Active Goal Setting
Many of us set goals. But we don't set them the right way. We fail to write them down and get specific about what we want, why we want it, and when we want it by. We don't fully envision our goals when they're left in the abstract mind.
When goals are written, they're far more real. The simple fact that they're on paper makes all the difference. When we write them out, it forces us to envision and specify them. Anything the mind focuses on, it tends to see and get over time.
But, it's not just about long-term goal setting. The keystone habit of active goal setting also involves setting goals on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. Take your long-term goals, and break them down into milestones. Then, you can actively set your goals.
For example, let's say you wanted to lose 60 pounds by next year. To some, that might sound like a lot. But, when you break that goal down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals (milestones), it becomes more manageable. That equates to 5 pounds per month, or about 1.25 pounds per week.
Once we have milestones, we can actively go about our days to reach those milestones. But, without long-term goals and milestones, we couldn't engage in active goal setting. This simple keystone habit can provide enormous benefits to anyone.
#2 - Effective Time Management
Effective time managers are some of the most productive and self-made people in the world. When you can effectively manage your time, it means you can steadily move towards your goals no matter what the situation might be.
Remember, we all have the same amount of time in the world. No single person has more time than the other. It's the great equalizer. The biggest difference? What we do with the amount of time we do have. Do we squander it or do we use it efficiently?
This keystone habit involves the usage of a system such as the quadrant time management system that categorizes all activities into four distinct quadrants based on urgency and importance. Either things are important and urgent (1), important but not urgent (2), not important but urgent (3), or not important and not urgent (4).
When you use the quadrant system to manage your time, you break your day into activities based on quadrants. How much of your time is being spent on quadrant 4, the time-wasters? How much on quadrants 1 (crises) or 3 (interruptions and distractions)? And, what about quadrant 2, the long-term goal related activities?
Spend a week or two auditing your day. Find out what percentage of your time is spent in each quadrant. Then, in the mornings, get used to creating a to-do list and front-loading all of your quadrant 2 activities at the start of your day. This is also called tackling your MITs or "eating the frog."
#3 - 30 Minutes of Exercise
Exercise is quite possibly one of the most beneficial keystone habits. It helps to energize the body, clear the mind, and rejuvenate the spirit. It helps to oxygenate the blood, improving health and diminishing the chances for disease, while also increasing our motivation to achieve more.
Exercise helps to build momentum by establishing a small win, helping to attract an onslaught of other good habits. When you exercise, you're far more conscious about the health choices you make throughout the day, and are more attentive to the basic needs of the body.
When we exercise, we're also less likely to indulge in bad habits such as smoking, drinking, and doing other things that are detrimental to our health. The hard part of building the exercise habit can be overcome by the micro-habit approach.
Start out by walking around the block for just 5 minutes every morning. Do that for the first week. Then, increase it to 10 minutes the next week. The third week, up it to 15 minutes. The fourth week, lightly jog those 15 minutes instead of walking them.
Why take this approach? All habits are built slowly over time. They don't form overnight. When people try to go from zero to hero instantaneously, they fail, and end up too discouraged to continue forward. Sometimes, they end up a few steps back from where they started.
#4 - Daily Gratitude
While all of us tend to want things, not all of us tend to appreciate what we already have. There's a great deal of calamity and strife in the world. People are suffering and dying. There's poverty, famine, war, illness, genocide, and oppression.
It's hard to see what we have as opposed to what we don't have. But, this keystone habit is integral to a sound mind and elevated spirit. What the mind focuses on it tends to see and get. When we focus on abundance, we reap abundance. The opposite is true for scarcity.
Many of us are so busy living in lack, that we forget to see the abundance all around us. Take 15 minutes in the morning and write down everything that you're grateful for. Whether you have enormous problems or not doesn't matter. Just write down what you're grateful for.
In the beginning, you'll find this keystone habit hard to institute. But, over time, just like any other habit, it will become commonplace.
#5 - Learn a New Skill
Success in life doesn't come from being stagnant. We must always be learning and discovering new skills, methods, and ways for doing things. And, the keystone habit of learning a new skill can help drive us towards our goals, irregardless of what they might be.
However, most people get into a routine of not learning new skills. They get complacent with the status quo and stop exploring and discovering new ways to enhance the level of value that they can add to the world.
When we're not adding enough value to the world, we're not moving forward. And the only way to truly succeed is to add more value to the world than you receive compensation for. That's how some of the most famous people who failed achieved wild success.
Use YouTube, TED Talks, or even an online academy such as Udemy.com to help learn a new skill. All it takes is 15 to 20 minutes per day to institute this keystone habit. Learn, discover, and grow your skill-set every single day.
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