How To Find Your Keystone Habits

And What It Can Do For You

In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he discusses the idea of keystone habits. Keystone habits are certain routines that lead to a cascade of other positive actions. In other words, keystone habits are a catalyst that can unleash a chain-reaction of habitual goodness!

This made me curious and I began to look for my own keystone habits. I found three: exercising 5-6 days a week, following the 2-minute rule for productivity tasks and flossing my teeth every night (weird I know, and see what Michael Hyatt about this one).  I realized that when I have these habits in place, everything else is easier for me…..the discipline carries over.

All keystone habits have the following three basic characteristics:

  • Small wins
  • Leveraging platforms
  • A contagion of excellence

What do you need to do to get keystone habits working for  you?  The first thing is to identify them by examining your own patterns.   A great example to illustrate the basic characteristics of keystone habits are portions of Michael Phelps swimming routine:

1111 SEI TrainPrinciples I

1. Small wins-  they are defined as “a steady application of a small advantage.” Smalls wins have enormous power, contribute disproportionately to accomplishments and give one a mounting sense of victory. To find and capitalize on yours, look for patterns of activity that give you a small sense of victory when done. Phelp’s consistent daily stretching and eating routine were part of the many “small wins” that were nearly automatic for him. “Winning” with these created a mounting sense of victory for him.

2. Leveraging platforms- Platforms are exactly that: a structure that allows you to expend a little effort that is then multiplied several times into a force that yields a disproportionate advantage. In the area of habits, an example would be meditating or deep breathing that then can be leveraged into a calming influence when stressed.  This in itself can become it’s own habit.  In Phelp’s case, his habit of “watching the videotape” every night before bed and upon waking was a leveraging platform. Not a real videotape, but a mental visualization of the perfect race. When race time came he just “put in the tape”, which allowed him to calm down and settle into near perfect form.

3. A contagion of excellence- moments when personal momentum, courage, accomplishment or some other virtue seems to build on your sense of self and what is possible. This becomes incredibly powerful to draw upon when obstacles occur and you need leverage to overcome them. Because Phelp’s was consistent in his other habits, it was no problem when his goggles filled with water on the final lap of his Olympic race. Everything else had gone well that day so a minor inconvenience like swimming blind on the last lap should be no different. And it wasn’t – he won another gold and set the world record.

The reality is the our lives are filled with habits. We are aware of some and others go unrecognized. If we want to be economical and effective with our efforts and conserve our limited reserve of will power, then making progress with keystone habits makes a ton of sense.  This, in essence, is applying “The ONE Thing” principle to habits. The ONE Thing principle is asking yourself “What is the one thing, that if done, would make everything else easier?”

What’s the “ONE Thing” you need to do to find your keystone habit(s)? If you already have one in place, what would it do for you to have more?  If you don’t have any keystone habits, what’s one you could start putting in place?

I’ll share some of the most common keystone habits next time. In the meantime, leave a comment and let me know what you’ve found out about your own keystone.