I’ve been pretty obsessed with habits and rituals lately. I’ve been reading books and experimenting with different habit-forming goals and analyzing where I get stuck.
I coined my 31st year of living on this earth the Year of Daily Rituals, and I’m spending the year establishing better habits. An interesting concept I’ve been playing around with lately is something called a cornerstone or keystone habit.
A keystone habit is one habit that can naturally lead to other habits. By doing one thing, like making the bed every day, you then are more prone to keep the rest of your space tidy. So it’s like setting multiple goals without the stress and overwhelm of feeling like you have to do a million things.
Now doesn’t that sound nice? Some other examples might be exercising every morning, meditating for 10 min. before bed, or listing 3 things your grateful for each day.
So why does this work? And how do you know what would be a good habit to start with? Well, in a Lifehacker article, Charles Duhigg lists three characteristics to look out for when choosing a keystone habit.
1. The Science of Small Wins
Charles writes: “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
2. Create New Platforms
Charles says to look for “patterns that create new platforms from which other habits can emerge.” An example would be the practice of getting on your yoga mat or going to your meditation space every day. All you need to focus on is getting to that physical space, but once there you start to form the pattern of a daily breathing exercise or a morning stretching routine.
3. Establish a Culture Where Excellence Is Contagious
Charles says to “look for those moments when excellence – or change, or perseverance, or some other virtue – seems to become contagious. Keystone habits are powerful because they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible.”
This could look like going to the gym every day, struggling through the first few days and weeks, but then all of a sudden feeling stronger and seeing results. Then when you go to doing something physical like hiking or a race or even yard work, your body is prepared to do that task with excellence. With your keystone habit, you’ve set a foundation to be successful and to build upon that foundation.
This week, take some time to think about some keystone habits that might serve your bigger goals. Journal or have some intentional pondering time to list some habits that contain those three characteristics.
Choose one or two and keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm your goals with multiple, unnecessary goals. Stick to the keystones until you feel they are embedded into your life. Then move on to the next.
Keystone habits take the pressure off to be perfect. They create space for change to thrive and evolve. What an exciting adventure!