What are Keystone Habits?

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Keystone habits lead to the development of multiple good habits.

They start a chain effect in your life that produces a number of positive outcomes.

For example, say that your keystone habit is to sleep 8 hours every night.

Your initial goal is to get more sleep.  But this habit can also lead to positive, unintended outcomes like:

  • Becoming more productive each day
  • Reducing the consumption of junk food before daytime
  • Having more time to exercise
  • Improved communications with your spouse because you’re not cranky

At first you wanted more sleep, but this keystone habit generated a number of additional habits.

The development of keystone habits can become a critical part of your personal development journey.

So let’s talk about how to incorporate this technique into your life.

A Lesson from “The Power of Habit”

I learned this concept from The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

In this book, Duhigg talks about forming keystone habits to get what you want out of life.  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 your outcomes.

How Can a Keystone Habits Help?

A perfect example is a daily exercise habit.  Let’s say you want to start exercising 20-30 minutes a day.  This one habit can lead to other great habits such as eating healthy foods, avoiding junk food and becoming more efficient at work because you need that extra hour to work out.

That one exercise habit can form major breakthroughs in other areas of your life.  You started with a single goal that caused other habits to develop.

Below are a few additional keystone habits that can lead to a major breakthrough in life:

1. Eliminate negative self-talk.

Let’s say you want to eliminate negative self-talk.  This can have a positive effect in many areas of your life. When you stop talking negative, you start talking positive.  When you start talking positive, you start thinking positive then positive things start to happen to you.

You see how that works?

2. Eliminate the perfectionist mindset.

Eliminating the ‘perfectionist mindset’ helps you open up and experience new things.  When you’re a perfectionist you tend to not do things out of fear of failure. This makes it difficult to move forward with your dreams and aspirations.  Once you stop this habit, it allows you to explore life more and you start taking action towards what you really want.

3. Eliminate the excuse habit.

Things that you want in life won’t fall into your lap.  You have to stop making excuses in order to get the things you want out of life.  Once you stop this habit, it affects other aspects of life because you stop making excuses for a lack of results.  This causes a major breakthrough because you’ll focus on achieving positive outcomes.

4. Start saving money.

By saving money you will have emergency funds for the unforeseen.  This can often lead to a more money-conscious lifestyle for you and your family.  By saving money you’ll pay closer attention to the trivial purchases you’re making in life.  Often this will reduce the amount of clutter in your life.

Why Keystone Habits Are Important

Keystone habits work because they focus on making a dynamic change in your life.  They produce a trickle-down effect.  Soon you will notice more opportunities for self-improvement from the keystone habits that you’re forming.

Success with a keystone habit happens when you take that first step.  Right now, make a list of all the habits you’d like to develop.  Pay close attention to the ones that can have a ripple-effect in your life.  Then focus on forming this habit over the next 30 days.  You’d be surprised at how this small change can generate many positive outcomes.

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7 Responses to What are Keystone Habits?

  1. Jacques May 6, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Steve,
    I have been following you for the last several months and particularly interested by your new experiment on your new Authority site (certainly wish to blend your advices with my initiative).

    One comment re the development of good habits. Through my MBA, I got exposed to Maslow Theory of needs and do consider that any new habit that would violate somewhat that hierarchy is doomed to a short live.
    To my belief and long life experience, I feel that Maslow theory is a cornerstone for developing new habits. What do you think? and if you believe it is a key concept, How do you integrate “forming new habits” within an overall framework?

    Best, Jacques (Brussels)

    • S.J. Scott May 9, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

      Interesting thoughts Jacques. I’d definitely agree with that. Consider the people who have heart attacks and are facing imminent death if they don’t change their lifestyle. They are more inclined to make a change because they their core need (ie “survival”) is at stake. Or from your example, let’s say someone is working on their “esteem” level…it would be hard to focus on this if your life live is mess.

      Some interesting thoughts here. I’ll definitely have to consider how habits would relate to the stuff from Maslow.

  2. Michal June 5, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    I think every habit you already have can be a keystone habit. Leo Babauta teaches that a habit you have, should become a trigger to a new habit. For example: you drink a morning cofee first thing in the morning and you decide to start regular exercise. So every morning after turning coffee maker on you exercise. It’s an easiest way to adopt a new habit, but not the only one.
    And from my experience – 5 years ago I had one morning habit – doing a set of consecutive push ups. Nowadays before doing push ups I meditate, do a 15 minute set of belly muscles exercises and listen to edu\motivational material during this exercise. 3 new habits around one old.

    • S.J. Scott June 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

      All excellent suggestions — I agree with Leo’s idea that you piggyback on existing habits to form new ones. Like if you’re an avid television watcher, you can use commercial time to do a series of quick exercises. It’s the “little things” that can make a big difference.

  3. Kevin Donlin September 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    S.J.,

    Great post!

    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!

    • S.J. Scott September 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Great examples of keystone habits Kevin! I’d agree with the “gratitude” habit. One tool I use is the “MindJogger” app which randomly reminds me everyday to think about what I’m most thankful for at that moment. Reminds me to remember the good things.

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