This is the third and final installment of the  3-part Habit Series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 in case you missed them.

Today I want to discuss an idea called Keystone Habits.

Charles Duhigg discusses this in great detail in his book, The Power of Habit. Basically, it’s the idea that certain habits, when implemented, can have far reaching effects on our lives in both related and unrelated areas.

Let’s start with an example. 

A friend of mine decides to take a photo of everything he eats for 2 months (this is something everyone should do by the way). Throughout that time, he notices his food choices begin to change. Once he starts eating better, he has the desire to exercise more frequently. He then decides to quit smoking and start drinking less. As a result, both his sleep and relationships improve. This all stems from his commitment to take a 5 second picture of his food.

This is a keystone habit.

This might sound like a fantasy, but I see it play out every day. I’ll tell a personal training client,

“Fix breakfast tomorrow. I don’t care about the other 26 meals this week, just eat 5 eggs for breakfast tomorrow.”

What happens when I see them the following week? Not only have they eaten their breakfast, but they also fixed another 5 meals throughout the week, and started riding their bike 20 minutes a day. For that person, the simple intention of preparing a healthy breakfast allowed them momentum to make a series of impactful changes. This is how tiny changes can have huge impact.

I don’t know if anyone can say exactly how this works, but we can make some general observations.

We are all creatures of habit, but we are also creatures of momentum. When we start down a path, we tend to stay on it- sometimes to our own detriment. If we acknowledge our nature, we can use it to our advantage. We can give ourselves the tiniest nudge in the right direction knowing that’s all it’ll take for the power and energy to build and create the massive change we really want. Eating a good breakfast was something that was completely doable and it was all it took to start making more impactful decisions.

We are also creatures that are shaped by our identities. When we define our identities, we start making decisions unconsciously that match that identity. I see myself as a fit person so I go to the gym and workout. I certainly enjoy it, but it’s often a struggle to get there. Frequently, the only reason I go is that’s what I do. I go workout. It’s who I am.

Keystone habits change our identities. As soon as we make that tiny decision, we redefine who we are and start making more and more decisions that match our new identity.

I’ve used the food example twice, but anything can be a keystone habit. This concept applies to every area of your life. Maybe it’s showing up to work on time. And you redefine yourself as a more productive employee because of it. Then you start making that extra call or work instead of check your email for the 432nd time. The key is finding one thing that will stimulate everything else.

Finding keystone habits can be tricky, but here are a few tips:

Make the habit so easy for you that you’ll never not do it.

It needs to be associated with an area of your life that needs improvement. Making your bed in the morning might not make you a better parent.  Sitting on the floor and playing with your kids for 3 minutes will.

Just focus on that one thing. Don’t worry about all the other changes that will come with it. Just focus on your one keystone habit and let the rest take care of itself.


Yours in health,