Keystone Habits: How To Transform Your Life Patterns

better living May 12, 2023

It’s 7 am in the morning. I’ve finished at the gym and I’m writing this article in my kitchen, sitting down at the table with a hot cup of coffee (Nespresso of course). My brain is switched on and I’m stress-free, completely organised and ready to take on the day. Why do I feel so good? A lot has to do with my Keystone Habits.

Charles Duhigg, the best-selling author of ‘The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business’ explains how certain habits are able to create a chain reaction of positive change in your life. More specifically, Charles explains how Michael Phelps became an Olympic Swimming Champion by incorporating a habit of visualisation, and how Paul O’Neill; former CEO of Alcoa, quintupled profits by focussing on Workplace Safety. Those specific habits are known as keystone habits and are looked at as an important part of transforming your life.


What Are Keystone Habits?

They are those habits of which we put in our lives that change not only our behaviours but also how we look at ourselves. When these practices are put into place, it sets off a chain reaction that causes other patterns to change. The Keystone habits we recognise for ourselves are the most important. They start a process over time, which transforms us. So how do we identify our Keystone Habits?


Identifying Keystone Habits 

Say this question back to yourself. What habits do I have that benefit multiple parts of my life? By asking yourself this question, you should be able to identify your keystone habits. Personally, Exercise is a keystone habit. If I’m exercising regularly, my mind is clear, I make better food choices, and my stress and anxiety levels are controlled. It is such a powerful habit. Whether it’s boxing 6 days a week, weight training 4-5 times a week or getting outdoors and my body moving; I’m more positive in my mindset and achieve my goals more consistently. It’s the small wins. I’ve noticed a correlation between my moods on the days I don’t exercise vs. the days I do exercise.

We can all identify out Keystone habits. We just need to understand how they affect our behaviour. By understanding, we then need to follow our habits. Which is one of the biggest challenges.


How To Follow Your Keystone Habits

It’s easy enough to understand that the key to following your habits is to do it regularly. But how can we make sure we do this? We can follow our keystone habits just like we do with any others.


Make It Easy

I exercise roughly 60-90 minutes each session. But truthfully, I only need a quarter of that (if I do it right) to feel the benefits. I only do more because I enjoy it (It’s also a habit!). If we don’t go overboard and understand how much of one habit we need, this can make it easier for us to stick to our keystone long term.


Know The Real Reason Why Your Previous Habits Have Not Stuck

By addressing the root cause of our previous habit failures, we can understand how to make our current keystone habits stick. For example, I use a process of questioning myself, which addresses the root of why my habit did not stick. My questioning process is;

  • Why did I not exercise this morning? Because I went to bed late
  • Why did I go to bed late? Because I was up writing late
  • Why was I up writing late? Because I didn’t get a chance to write in the afternoon
  • Why didn’t I get a change to write that afternoon?Because I was too busy doing other tasks
  • Why was I too busy doing other things? Because I didn’t manage my time effectively 

There it is. Not managing time effectively was the root of the problem.

All our keystone habits are tied to each other and can lead us to make excuses until we get down to the root of the problem. By following this process and asking ourselves ‘why?’ our habits become more present within us and we are able to establish a better connection with them, helping us to follow our habits on a daily basis.


Plan Ahead

By planning ahead, we can be prepared for unfamiliar situations that are presented to us that challenge our habits. This makes me think of author Alan Laekin’s quote: “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”. I once had a goal of cutting out alcohol for six months. I planned ahead, which I would exercise early on a Saturday morning. I kept myself accountable by scheduling in boxing training on a Saturday morning with my coach at the time and this made it easier for me to get myself into bed early on a Friday night, rather than staying out all night partying. I was focused on achieving this goal and did it. By planning ahead, it made me stick to my keystone habits so much easier and I was noticing all these small wins.


Know Your Habits and Practice Them

Research shows that on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behaviour becomes automatic, 66 days exactlyAs to how long it takes for a new habit to form can vary depending on the behaviour, the person and circumstances. So what I’d like to suggest is you use this post as a starting point to identify your own personal keystone habits. Start to practice them and shift them from the back of your mind to the front. If your keystone habits are at the forefront of your mind, you will start to look at yourself differently and positive patterns in your life will happen. Your behaviours will start to change and will make it much easier for you to achieve those goals you have, no matter how big or small.


Getting You Started  

Below are a couple of examples of different Keystone habits. See if you can identify with any and share them in the comments, or let me know if there's anything not on the list that you can relate to.

  • Getting 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Tracking what you eat
  • Getting to work on time
  • Exercising
  • Saving Money
  • Planning your Day



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