“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu
Keystone Habits: The Gateway to Success
We all have habits. Some of our habits are good and some of them are bad. But, when it comes to the habits that help us in achieving some of those lofty goals we tend to set for ourselves, five of them, in particular, stand out.
These five habits are what are called keystone habits. Keystone habits, like the similar architectural term “keystone,” help to hold the other good habits in place. In architecture, the keystone is the centermost stone that supports all other stones in an arch but bears the least weight.
When it comes down to it, keystone habits are integral to success in any area of our lives. They help to support the other good habits that can develop once the keystone habit is set in place. Focus on the keystone habits, and you can breed a successful life.
The Habit-Formation Process
Considering that habits are so integral to our lives, it’s the formation of those habits that takes center-stage in any discussion on habit development. In order to form habits, one study has suggested that it can taken anywhere from 18 to 254 days, with an average of 66 days for the habit to solidify.
For most people, 66 days of repeating the same behavior is difficult, let alone doing it for 3 months or even 4 months before the behavior becomes autonomous. That’s why so few people are able to form good habits or break their bad habits.
But, if you can stick it out for at least 90 days, you can almost guarantee that a habit will take hold. Now, considering that keystone habits are no more difficult to form than any other habit, the focus must absolutely be on the formation of keystone habits. But it won’t happen overnight.
Success through Habits
Whether we’ve tried to achieve something grandiose in life or not, a certain set of habits will help to solidify our dreams into reality. People who embody these habits are much more likely to succeed in the long term than people who don’t.
So, why are habits so important to success?
As you may already know, much of our behavior is steeped in habits. In fact, according to one study, 40% of our behavior is habit-based. From what we wear, to what eat, to what route we drive to work, most of our decision-making processes are habit-driven.
Considering that we’re so immersed in our habits, it’s those very same habits that can make or break us. Success habits will breed success, whereas limiting habits will breed a disempowered life. Build up enough success habits and you can build a successful life. It’s that plain and simple.
Keystone Habits List
So, success habits breed success, that much is clear. But, embodying these keystone habits can also aid in boosting our overall progress in life much quicker.
Now, if you were to stop and think about it, you could probably come up with dozens of great habits that you could incorporate into your life right now. And, of course, there are a multitude of habits that we know we must get rid of that are most likely holding us back from succeeding.
When we clump them all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, throw our hands up in the air, and give up in silent resignation. But, when the focus turns to keystone habits, and the development of those keystone habits over time, one by one, a remarkable transformation occurs.
The goal here is not to allow the enormity of a task to overwhelm you. Simply take it day by day.
There are plenty of great keystone habits that you could start immediately weaving into the pattern of your life, but my focus here is on 5 very central ones that are most important. Focus on these, and watch your life transform before your very eyes.
#1 – Active Goal Setting
The first keystone habit involves goal setting. But this isn’t just your passive goal setting that you might do obscurely in your mind. This is active goal setting, and it must be done on a daily basis.
Yes, on a daily basis.
But, before you can engage in active goal setting on a daily basis, you must have a long-term plan for your life. If you’ve never done any goal setting, now is the time to set aside a good block of time to accomplish this feat.
Why? Well, when you set goals, and you do it on paper with a pen, or on a digital screen on some device in your possession, a visceral shift occurs in your mind. That’s because, when we write something out, it becomes more real. It’s less of an idea and more of an achievable reality.
Set long-term goals first. You need a 5-year plan and a 3-year plan. Feeling more enthusiastic? You could also work on a 10-year plan as well. Why all of these plans? Well, you have to have a target that you’re aiming for in the long term.
You see, goal achievement doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time. But, you must know the direction that you’re traveling in. Without that, you’re like a ship lost at sea with no ability to navigate.
So, setup your long-term plans so you know what direction you’re traveling in. Then, you can engage in active goal setting on a daily basis. This keystone habit will transform your life.
In the morning, when you awake, you must ask yourself one very important question: “What have I achieved today?”
When you ask yourself that question first thing in the morning, you’re projecting yourself into the future, and it’s far easier to see just what’s important to get done that day. Once you ask yourself that question, and you can answer it, plan out your day with a set of achievable goals.
How do you expect to achieve that today? What steps need to be taken?
#2 – Time Management
Beyond active goal setting comes the keystone habit of time management. Time is our most precious resource. And those who can wield it efficiently enough can see themselves making the most progress in life.
Since all of us have an equivalent amount of time in this world – no one person has more time than the other – using that time wisely is quite possibly one of the most important principles to getting ahead in this world.
Yet, developing the habit of time management can be hard. Because, it’s clear that most of us are easily distracted. Things seem to just get in our way and we lose our focus. But, for those few that can effectively manage their time, the world becomes their oyster.
So, how does this actually work?
Well, I’ve blogged about time management in the past. But, in essence, the concept is simple and dates back to something called the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, which was later popularized by Stephen D. Covey in his celebrated 1994 book entitled, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The concept states that all daily tasks take on two areas on a matrix. The first is importance, the other is urgency. All decisions, then, can be boiled down to one of either two of those elements: urgency and importance.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix breaks this out into 4 separate quadrants:
- Quadrant 1 – Urgent and Important
- Quadrant 2 – Not Urgent but Important
- Quadrant 3 – Urgent but Not Important
- Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important
The goal in time management is to try to stay within Quadrant 2 as much as possible. It’s the important but not urgent tasks and decisions that help to progress our long-term goals in life. These are the tasks that don’t have to be done right away, but if they are, help greatly move us closer to our biggest hopes and dreams.
To effectively manage your time, and build up this habit, you should first start by auditing your time. Every day, write out everything that you do. Next to that task, indicate whether it’s a Quadrant 1, 2, 3, or 4 activity. Then, see which quadrants you’re most typically engaged in.
After a while, you can begin organizing your day by front-loading it with Quadrant 2 activities, focusing on the long-term goal-related activities at the very beginning of the day.
#3 – 30 Minutes of Exercise
The first part of your day should be devoted to some type of exercise. Regardless of how strenuous this is, it should happen before you head to work in the morning. Why? Well, the keystone habit of doing 30 minutes of exercise helps to accomplish a few things. It helps to improve your health, clear you mind, and give you an early sense of accomplishment.
When you can exercise for 30 minutes at the first part of your day, not only do you feel better, but as a result, you’ll make healthier diet decisions and have a clearer mind. It helps to circulate the blood in your system, reduce your risk of illnesses and diseases, and gives you momentum to start your day.
This is a keystone habit that shouldn’t be passed up. Ensure that you do 30 minutes of exercise. If you have to, start small. Use a concept called micro-changes that sees you building up to the habit. Remember, the habit won’t take hold for about 90 days, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t start out with 10 minutes of exercise each day for the first two weeks. Then, ramp up to 20 minutes the next two weeks, and in your fifth and sixth weeks, push out 30 minutes.
For some people, the micro-changes approach is the best way to tackle habit development. It helps to build the habit momentum little by little while also working your way up to it. Give this approach a try for any keystone habit and you’ll see some remarkable results.
#4 – Daily Gratitude
It’s easy to take on the poor-me attitude when it comes to our lives. Everywhere we turn we seem to be hit with another disappointment. But, daily gratitude doesn’t mean that you have to be problem-free. In fact, problems are a sign of life.
In order to execute this keystone habit, you have to pick one time of day and take 10 or 15 minutes to simply state what you’re grateful for. If you say that you have nothing to be grateful for, then you’re not searching hard enough.
Why is daily gratitude so important? Well, it takes us from an attitude of expecting to appreciating. When you can actively search for things to be grateful for, a real physical shift occurs in your mental thinking. The mind moves away from a state of lack and into a state of abundance. This helps to fuel us in our pursuits of all things and approach life with a generally more upbeat attitude.
Again, this keystone habit, like any other habit, takes time to solidify. Take 90 days and write out what you’re grateful for every single day. Do this without fail. If you’re heavily in debt, you could be grateful for your family, your health, or the fact that you can read and speak intelligently, and so on.
As long as we search, there’s always something to be grateful for. This keystone habit will help to initiate the onset of so many other positive habits into our lives.
#5 – Learn a New Skill
The last, but certainly not least, keystone habit is learning a new skill. Successful people take some portion of their day, no matter how small it may be, and devote it to a new skill. When the focus in your life moves to education, so many remarkable improvements occur.
And, learning a new skill isn’t that hard. It can help to open your mind to other possibilities that exist out there, or simply help to improve your existing understanding of whatever field or business you may be in. You might even decide to learn a skill that is entirely unrelated to the line of work you’re in right now, or you might even opt for a foreign language.
This doesn’t have to involve a tremendous amount of your time. This keystone habit can also take the micro-changes approach. Start with just 10 minutes each day and build from there. Pick something that you’re interested in or passionate about, and enjoy the process of learning something new. This will help bring on so many other positive habits into your life. But it all begins with the simple decision to act.