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Keystone Habits – The Definitive Guide

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There are some habits and routines that make success in life much easier, despite any challenging circumstances you may encounter.

There are probably some habits that you currently do – that you are unaware of that are contributing to your success.

An important ingredient to being successful is being able to understand how to fully exploit these particular habits.

Once you do you will be able to improve all areas of your life; from your career, health, relationships, finances etc.

Being able to fully exploit those habits means having an awareness and understanding of keystone habits. 

Let’s dive in and look at keystone habits in more detail.

What are Keystone Habits?

First coined by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, keystone habits are habits that lead to a series of positive effects and behaviors in your life.

They are the core behaviours that you can build to create a collection of good habits.

Once you are able to implement these core behaviors on a daily basis you will start to notice a domino effect whereby there are positive changes all across your life.

Focusing on building and sticking to your keystone habits is a highly productive use of your time as you are effectively doing two things at the same time as one positive habit leads straight into another one.

A keystone habit is essentially a habit that helps to streamline every other goal you want to achieve in life.

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Charles Duhigg on Keystone Habits

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains that there are three core elements to every habit; a cue, routine and reward.

This sequence is commonly known as the habit loop.

Once you form the habit loop, you will begin to desire the reward that you get from performing the routine.

That desire stems from something that triggers the cue. 

Commonly the triggers fall in the five main categories below:

  • A time of day
  • A place
  • An emotion
  • Other people
  • A behaviour or action

If you have built the habit of doing yoga every morning, the trigger that sparks this habit is more than likely your alarm going off.

The sound of the alarm means your brain goes into an automatic state, whereby it would actually take more effort for your brain to dispute the trigger. 

This means it feels normal to get out of bed, do the routine of the yoga, and feel the rewarding satisfaction once you have finished.

The reward you get is why your brain decides that going through the routine is worth going through again in the future. 

The reward provides the positive reinforcement of the action.

This means that there is a higher probability you will do the same actions again in the future to get the same reward.

Duhigg says that a keystone habit can be especially robust because it impacts your self-image in a positive way.

Once the positive habit is developed, the chances of noticing another area of your life that can be improved go up considerably.

Charles Duhigg goes on to explain that the power of keystone habits are particularly important because anybody is able to make the change if they are able to recognise the habit loop framework. 

If you are able to understand the habit loop process, then it is possible for anyone to make positive changes to their life by implementing new keystone habits.

How To Identify Your Keystone Habits

Start looking for a behaviour in your life that tends to have a ripple effect and leads to you changin other behaviours with little to no effort.

Also start paying attention to how you see yourself when you do a particular habit.

Does your personal perception of yourself change? Do you start to feel better about yourself when you are eating healthily every day or when you read every day?

From personal experience I know that exercising is one of my keystone habits.

When I am exercising regularly (four or more times a week) I feel much better than those weeks where I didn’t manage to exercise as much.

When I exercise more, it is easier to make and eat a healthy breakfast.

The workout made me want to eat a healthy breakfast as subconsciously I am thinking of myself as a healthy person.

My mood also improves. After a good workout, I feel as if I have accomplished something.

The biggest benefit of exercise as one of my keystone habits is I don’t have to try to be in a good mood, or to eat healthy, they happen naturally.

It becomes easy.

That is the power of forming keystone habits.

Examples of Keystone Habits

Make Your Bed

This one sounds so easy doesn’t it? And it should do because it is.

Dr. Randall Bell has spent nearly thirty years studying the world’s high achievers to understand what they do that makes them so successful.

You guessed it – making your bed was one of those habits.

In his findings, he says that making your bed every day puts you in a productive mindset for the rest of the day and can also spark other productive behaviours. 

Making your bed may sound simple but if it helps to increase your productivity and enables you to get more done every day, then why not take advantage of this easy hack.

Another benefit of making your bed according to the Navy Seal William H. McRaven is that by completing this task every morning it allows you to accomplish that very first task of the day.

This gives you a sense of achievement and pride to get more done throughout the day.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash


I mentioned previously that exercise is one of my keystone habits.

Research backs this up by suggesting that regular exercise of at least 3 times a week means people will start to eat better, be less stressed, smoke less, drink less alcohol, and be more productive.

On the flip side, whenever I start to slack off the exercise I find myself slacking off in other areas of my life too.

My eating habits get worse, I have less energy, I am less productive.

So for me exercise is a really important keystone habit and by focusing on exercising more, it creates a domino effect of other positive habits in my life.

Morning Routine

Having a good morning routine is another keystone habit that has numerous other positive benefits. 

A morning routine is powerful as it allows you to start the day on the front foot, on your own terms.

You are proactive, not reactive.

When you start your day and work on your goals and self-development, it tends to mean you are more productive throughout the rest of the day and you get more done.

A good morning routine can put you in a positive flow state throughout the rest of the day.

By eating a healthy breakfast, hydrating, exercising, working on your goals, journaling, you are putting your mind and body into peak performance.

By being in this peak performance state, you will find it’s much easier to work effectively and start smashing through your goals.

So just by waking up early in the morning and having a routine you follow every day, it will lead to multiple other positive benefits throughout the day.

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Other Keystone Habits:

  • Meditating
  • Reading
  • Planning your day
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Gratitude
  • Sticking to a routine
  • Learn a new skill

How to Make Your New Keystone Habit Stick

Duke University says that habits account for around 40 percent of all of our behaviours every day.

Therefore, it’s vitally important we find a way to make our new habits stick.

One really useful tool to make your habits stick is by tracking them.

Download this habit tracker to help you track your progress with a new habit.

Final Thoughts On Keystone Habits

To try and work out which keystone habits you may already have,

Assess which of your behaviours seem to have a domino effect and require little to no extra effort to implement.

In The Power of Habit Duhigg says that the most important habit of all is willpower.

In order to achieve success, it all comes down to your willpower and self-discipline by doing what is right even when you don’t feel up to it.

A great way to get started is to pick one keystone habit and start implementing it today and observe over the coming weeks how it improves other areas of your life.

As a final thought always beware that you can adopt negative keystone habits too.

These could be smoking, sleeping in, procrastinating etc, and will do exactly the same as the positive habits and spill out into other areas of life.

Identify and kill these off fast.

Don’t Miss A Thing

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Last Updated on September 14, 2020 by TheGrowthReactor

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