The second in a series on Habits.
Regular habits fuel our appearance, relationships, work ethic, health and countless other aspects of our lives. As William James eloquently observed, habits are a “system of reflex paths, so organized as to wake each other up successively.” These mighty motivators can propel us down a road to success or to ruin.
A keystone habit creates a structure that helps other habits flourish. It can stimulate a chain reaction of related routines that will magnify the impact that your habits have on your life. Keeping a food journal is a good example of a keystone habit: tracking your eating increases awareness of bad food habits and prompts healthier eating. Constructive keystone habits, no matter how mundane, provide you extra power to shape your own destiny.
Common positive keystone habits include:
- Regulary use your willpower
- Sleep seven to eight hours nightly
- Exercise 20 to 30 minutes daily
- Eat healthfully and mindfully
- Stay organized and be neat
- Stand straight, shoulders down
- Write down your dreams upon awakening
- Socialize regularly
- Pursue knowledge and education
A recent Vanity Fair profile on President Obama illustrates how good habits have been pivotal to creating his remarkable success. In this compelling portrait, Michael Lewis showcases Obama’s good habits, hard work, and strategic planning - all of which date back to his youth.
Don’t have presidential habits nailed down yet? No worries. Despite fears that you may be too old, it's never too late to start learning some new tricks.
With determination and persistence, you can acquire new keystone habits that can ultimately reduce your energy needs and help you coast effortlesly to where you want to go.
How to harness the power of keystone habits to maximize their benefit?
Notice what goes on below the radar: which useful habits that are absent from your daily routines? Taking a keen interest in your habits is central to aligning your inner life.
When deciding what positive keystone habits to integrate in your life, think about which one of your inner aspects (primitive, social, or reasonable) is most undeveloped. Then select a habit that will help promote growth for this undeveloped aspect of your personality:
- Help your primitive aspect by improving your posture, tooth care or artistic ability
- Help your social aspect with community service, joining a group, or improving your manners
- Help your reasonable aspect by reading more, playing Sudoku, following the news, taking a class
So, for example, determine a cue (awareness of slouching), a routine (straightening your spine) and a reward (hope and pride about looking and feeling better).
It is easiest to develop a new habit when all of your aspects pitch in. Check to see if your:
- Primitive is able to do the work
- Social has people to mirror and offer support
- Reason has faith in your ability to change
There are some hands-on ways your three aspects can support your effor:
- Make sure you are well rested and fed when you need to initiate your new routine.
- Join a group or build a culture with the habits you wish to acquire (gym, book club, church, self-help). Mirror neurons will hasten the time needed for a new habit to seem your own. Your wish to fit in (group membership) will provide added incentive for your new habits. In these ways, your social aspect will do some of the work for you, lightening the demands on your mental reserves.
- When building a new habit it is enormously important to believe in yourself. Research has shown that faith in your ability to change is the critical ingredient for maintaining newly established routines.
Taking steps to develop positive keystone habits will draining your mental energy initially, but it is so worth the investment! After your initial investment of focus and discipline, your new habits will be eco-friendly: operating automatically on cue without depleting your mental energy.