We all have a set of habits that help to dictate the quality and state of our lives. Whether good or bad, much of what we do on a daily basis is defined by the same set of habits that have been etched into the neural pathways of our minds over years, even decades, of repetition.
While the bad habits help to hold us back from achieving our goals, the good habits help to propel us forward. And it’s the overall habit-balance, if you will, that defines how many steps forward we take towards achieving our dreams, or just how far backwards we fall.
Clearly, if we wake up early in the morning full of energy and enthusiasm because we had ample rest the night before, eat a healthy breakfast, meditate, then workout for at least 20 minutes, we’re going to be far more capable of progressing towards our goals than if we feel hung over, had a lack of sleep, and skip breakfast.
So, if we want to progress, we need to develop good habits that will help us achieve some of those lofty goals we set. But, we also know that developing good habits is hard. Things tend to get in the way. Our lives are filled with distractions and interruptions that often cause us to veer off track, reverting back to some of our old ways.
Although developing good habits isn’t easy, focusing on the best habits to develop will allow us to overcome the tendency to get overwhelmed and upset by building momentum in critical areas of our lives. And, when we focus on the overall best habits to develop, and we truly master those, it’s far easier to add on other good habits while quitting the bad habits. It almost happens naturally.
This concept of focusing on the all-important habits, which are also known as keystone habits, is quite possibly one of the best ways we can improve the state and quality of our lives. As the keystone habits solidify, other good habits will begin to form while the bad habits will begin to fall to the wayside. Focus on these keystone habits, and watch as your progress explodes.
Then, it goes without saying that of all the habits we can pick, these 7 keystone habits will allow us to build momentum slowly over time, becoming the catalyst to spark positive results that lead to drastic improvements in our lives.
While monumental changes won’t happen overnight, if you focus solely on building these 7 keystone habits, you’ll watch as your life slowly transforms before your very eyes in areas such as your career, finances, health, wellness, productivity and relationships.
#1 — Best Health Habit: 10,000 Steps
While there are several great health habits that we can have such as eating a healthy breakfast, taking our vitamins, drinking water with lemon, and so on, the health habit of walking at least 10,000 steps per day is one of the the best health habits we can develop.
The 10,000-step habit is also considered a keystone habit, which provides the most benefit to our lives without any extra effort than developing other ordinary habits. And by walking 10,000 steps each day, we’re helping to lay the foundation to a healthier and more active lifestyle.
But this habit is difficult to develop at the outset. Many of us are so steeped in our daily routines of either driving or using other means of transport to reach our destinations, that we forget the importance of walking. We also fail to realize how those steps we take each day add up over time.
Taking 10,000 steps per day isn’t something that’s going to lead to immediate weight-loss, but it is a habit that will set the stage for a more conscientious day when it comes to our health. When we focus on walking at least 10,000 steps per day we’re more aware of what we eat and drink, focusing on putting the right things into our body rather than pigging out, so to speak.
To build up this habit, get a good pedometer. If you have a smartphone, then all you need to do is download a good application for tracking your steps. Considering that most of us have our phones with us at all times, tracking how many steps we walk isn’t a difficult task. The difficultly is actually walking those steps.
So, what are some ways that you can hack your day in order to walk 10,000 steps?
- Walk in your neighborhood for 15 minutes in the morning (2000 extra steps)
- Walk up and down a few flights of stairs every day at work. You can start by walking down the stairs from your office if you work on a higher floor and up a couple of flights of stairs every so often until you build the endurance to do more (1000+ extra steps)
- Park your car at the furthest corner of the parking lot when you go to the grocery store (200-400+ extra steps)
- Walk in your neighborhood for 30 minutes in the evening after work (4000 extra steps)
- Walk to lunch from your office and back if the distance is reasonable (2500+ extra steps)
#2 — Financial Habit: Expense Journaling
An often-overlooked financial habit, and one that can benefit us enormously, is expense journaling. In fact, John D. Rockefeller, the world’s richest man to have ever lived with an estimated net worth (accounting for inflation) at the time of his death of $336 billion dollars, was taught this very habit by his mother.
As a child, while Rockefeller’s father was absent — he was a vagabond and a traveling salesman — his mother helped to instill certain values in him that created a foundation for success. One of those values was frugality, teaching him repeatedly that “willful waste makes woeful want.”
Rockefeller’s mother made him keep a journal of every red cent spent and earned at an early age. Through this, he developed a propensity for numbers, which, when combined with his knack for business, resulted in a career riddled with success. By the age of 31 years old, Rockefeller had already founded the Standard Oil Company, a company to later gain almost full control of the oil refining business in the United States.
His monumental success in life, however, was built on a foundation of habits that provided him with the tools he needed to succeed in businesses. For most, money is a source of contention. But, when you can look at the numbers objectively to see the inflow and outflow of dollars, little by little, we can amend our spending and saving behaviors to provide long-term growth and success.
Head to a corner store and purchase a small notepad and carry it with you everywhere you travel. If you want to opt for using an app on your phone, that’s fine as well. But the art of actually writing in a small notepad, then logging those numbers into a spreadsheet later will provide the most benefits to you.
Track every cent spent and earned. Really look at the numbers on a daily basis. Make charts and graphs, and see where your money is going. Then, adjust your spending and savings behavior to help achieve your long-term goals.
#3 — Success Habit: Active Goal Setting
I talk a lot about the importance of goal setting. But it’s not just passive goal setting where you set your goals once a year and then forget about them. No, in order to succeed, you need to be involved with active goal setting. Active goal setting is the act of first setting goals the right way, then ensuring you’re following a plan to achieve them and tracking your results every single day.
Of all the success habits, active goal setting is quite possibly the most important. But, to set your goals the right way first, you need to ensure that they’re SMART goals — (S) Specific, (M) Meaningful, (A) Achievable, (R) Realistic, and (T) Time-Based.
When you set SMART long-term goals, and those goals are meaningful enough for you to achieve, you’re likely to do anything necessary and within your power to achieve them. But, when you don’t follow along with the SMART method, pushing forward is a little bit more difficult.
For example, many of the people that set New Year’s goals indulge in passive goal setting. They set the goals once in their mind, then forget about them shortly thereafter. In fact, studies have found that only 8% of people who set New Year’s goals actually achieve them.
To take it one step further and involve yourself in active goal setting, you also have to set SMARTER goals. These are goals that are actively evaluated and plans are re-adjusted to achieve them. Daily goal setting and planning are both core factors of active goal setting, and part of the overall ingredient to success.
#4 — Career Habit: Time Management
All of us have the same amount of time in the world. Not one person, no matter how rich or poor, tall or short, fat or skinny, white or black, or anything else is going to change that. No matter where we reside in the world or what we do for a living, we all have the same amount of time in a day — 86,400 seconds to do whatever it is that we decide to do.
For that reason, time is the great equalizer. Use your time wisely, progressing just a little bit every day towards your goals, or waste your time and watch as those precious goals slip away. So, when it comes to advancing in our careers or moving our businesses forward, by far the best habit to have in that area of our lives is effective time management.
In order to manage your time, you need to first choose a time management system that works for you. While there are many to choose from, one of the best, by far, is the quadrant system, originally developed by the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but later popularized by Stephen R. Covey in his best selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In the quadrant system, activities are broken down into four separate sections (quadrants) that are based on two components: urgency and importance. The system defines everything you do as some combination (or lack thereof) of those two components.
For example, things can be both urgent and important (quadrant 1), which would include short-term crises and problems that might arise throughout the day. Other things that might be neither urgent nor important are categorized as time-wasters, such as excessively watching television, playing video games, and so on.
The goal? Focus on quadrant 2 activities, or the important-but-not-urgent activities. These are activities related to our long-term goals. Tackling these activities at the start of the day is one of the best strategies for achieving long-term success.
#5 — Wellness Habit: Daily Gratitude
Our minds are very intriguing creations, featuring intricacies and complexities that baffle scientists still to this day. But, this much is clear with the mind — you get what you focus on. Focus on negativity or lack, and you live in a state of negativity or lack. Focus on abundance, and a dramatic shift occurs, leading us into the clutches of a life overfilling to the brim with all that we want.
While the words might sound very new age to some, the truth of the matter is that the mind is very much like the lens of a camera. Wherever you point that lens, you’ll see more of that. Two people can be at the same event or gathering and have a completely different experience based on their focus.
And, the habit of daily gratitude has very much to do with what we focus on. While many of us are living in a constant state of lack, in that we’re striving for happiness based on the attainment of some thing, others are grateful for what they have in the here and now.
To be present and grateful almost sounds Utopian by nature. However, the more we can practice daily gratitude by being happy for the things we do have, rather than basing our happiness on the attainment of something we presently don’t have, the better our lives will be.
To practice daily gratitude, spend 15 minutes every morning writing out everything you have to be grateful for no matter how small it might be. Even if all you think you have are problems, be grateful for the problems. For most of us, we simply can’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone or in jeopardy of being taken away. So we have to be grateful for everything.
Be grateful for the air in your lungs, the heart beating in your chest tirelessly every moment of every day, or your kidneys and your liver. Be grateful that you’re six feet above ground, or that you have a place to sleep at night and food on your plate. Whatever it is, no matter how small, be grateful for it.
Over time, this small act of daily gratitude, of actually writing out every little thing that we have to be grateful for, can create a transformation in the mind. We shift from a state of lack to a state of abundance. Don’t just take my word for it. Do it for at least 90 days to set the habit, and put your heart and your soul into it.
#6 — Relationship Habit: Mindfulness
Studies have found that mindfulness not only makes men more attractive to women, it also eases conflict in relationships, allowing the mindful partner to better cope with stress and anxiety. And mindfulness is the simple act of being conscious of thoughts and emotions, allowing them to pass through the mind without overreacting to them.
Mindful people are more aware of their surroundings, succumbing less to their emotions while allowing their intellect to prevail. Mindful people are also more present, living far more in the here and now than their less mindful counterparts.
Being mindful, however, takes work. It’s not something that happens overnight, especially for people used to taking on the victim role, or who are steeped in anger, regret, and jealousy. But, by becoming more mindful, not only will you have healthier relationships, but you’ll also have peace of mind, not stressing so much about the future or replaying the events of the past over and over again.
You can achieve greater mindfulness by slowing down your thoughts. Take a breather and just sit and meditate. Cross your legs, fold your hands, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. It won’t be easy at first. Being mindful doesn’t mean you empty your mind or space out; it means that you allow the thoughts and emotions to come and go like the waves in an ocean.
Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, then release for 8 seconds. Repeat this technique over and over. Over the weeks and months, you’ll find yourself becoming more mindful, present, and at peace with yourself.
#7 — Productivity Habit: 80/20 Rule
The final habit to help round out the 7 best habits to have is a productivity habit. The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts. When we’re talking about productivity, if we can identify the efforts that are producing the large majority of our results, we can amplify those efforts to achieve high efficiency in our output.
In sales, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of the sales comes from 20% of the customers. And, when you take those 20% of the customers that are producing the 80% of the sales, the rule even finds that there’s an 80/20 that exists within them as well.
In fact, the 80/20-Rule exists in virtually every area of our lives. The key is identifying its existence by pinpointing the particular efforts that are leading to the large majority of the results. When we can do that, and we can expand upon those specific efforts, we truly can move mountains.
To do this, it’s important to analyze and track the things you do. This isn’t just about time management, it’s about input versus output management. What specific activities lead to what specific results? You need to audit your week to determine this. By being as analytical as possible, it’s far easier to pinpoint where the results are coming from. But, if we ignore the details, then it’s often overlooked.
If you want to be more productive, you should also avoid distractions. What most people find when they audit their day is that they waste a lot of time. Further, the focus should be on the Most Important Tasks (MITs) of the day, which is where a large part of the results for most people comes from. It’s those MITs that are helping to push us forward with the biggest evolutionary leap towards our goals.
Whatever works for you, find a system and stick to it. Analyze your input and output. Then, amplify what works, while doing your best to cancel out the distractions.