Keystone habits are the routines and practices by which someone operates. They mark the base level of what you do without any need for willpower or persuasion. The default. Whether positive or negative, each of these habits has a ripple effect across everything you do in life and business.
The question is, are your keystone habits serving you?
What are your keystone habits?
If every day you automatically spring up upon hearing your alarm, make your bed, and say something nice to yourself in the mirror, you’ve already carried out three keystone habits that have set your day up well. Your wake-up routine is likely having positive ripple effects on everything else you do. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
On the flip side, if every time you see your family you argue with them, if every piece of work you submit is shoddy and your conversations revolve around gossip, these habits are having a negative effect on other areas of your life. Arguments lead to resentment, subpar work leads to lower financial return and gossiping leads to wasting time and becoming a judgmental person. It can easily spiral.
What are the daily habits you most often default to? Who are you when no one else is watching? Chances are, left unchanged; that’s who you will be forever. Every undesirable habit will bring the others down with it. Everything you don’t improve today will affect all of your tomorrows.
In the children’s board game, Mousetrap, players compete to assemble a course upon which a marble travels along obstacles to catch plastic mice. Every piece on the board has a (sometimes literal) knock-on effect to the next. If they are assembled correctly, the marble reaches the end. The success of every single move affects the future of the board.
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Move past willpower
What changes are you about to make, and what will be the effect on your entire life if they stick? In the bestselling book, the 5AM Club, Robin Sharma asserts that all change is “difficult at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end”. Picking up a good habit requires willpower until it reaches the point of automaticity. You might point to an early-morning runner who goes out whatever the weather, and say she has willpower. She would say she doesn’t see it like that; a morning run is just something she does. It’s a keystone habit that has knock-on benefits to her confidence, health, work and relationships.
Any behaviour that involves delayed gratification will go through the hard, messy and gorgeous stages. It’s hard to start writing your novel, but then you get into a routine. It reaches a messy stage where you need to reformat the structure and your editor questions your comma usage. But then, because of the early effort you made and the writing habit you now hold, soon enough you have a book. Eventually, not only is writing your keystone habit, you have something to hold in your hands that represents the times when you wrote instead of doing anything else you could have been tempted with.
Who will you become?
The first step is identifying your keystone habits. What are those routines, practices and behaviours that you do (or don’t do) without thinking? Perhaps you always go to bed at a certain time, or book your gym slots every Sunday, or you journal every evening or always say no to a second drink. Perhaps you reread every email before sending to check for typos. Write a long list of these habits and then assess what that list says about you now. Next, imagine you had been given that list and told it described the behaviour of someone else. What predictions would you make for their future?
The final step is being intentional about which you want to keep and which you want to change. Make small alterations, strike through ones that you decide will no longer be part of your life, and begin new habits that will dramatically alter your trajectory. Some people need to hit rock bottom before they make meaningful changes, but that can be avoided with foresight and planning.
Humans are largely consistent, so what you do without thinking is paramount. The interplay between your routines is more powerful than you realise. Your entire life is a combination of your keystone habits, so make them worth holding.