Vince Lombardi is considered by many to be one of the best and most successful coaches in the history of professional football.
During the 1960’s, he led his team, the Green Bay Packers, to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years.
During this time, his team also won the first two Super Bowls following the 1966 and 1967 NFL seasons. Today, Lombardi is part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Super Bowl’s trophy is named in his honor (1).
Those are some pretty outstanding achievements. So, what was it that made this coach one of the greatest of all time?
A Ruthless Focus on the Fundamentals
In his book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi (2), author David Maraniss describes what happened when Lombardi walked into his team’s training camp in the summer of 1961:
He took nothing for granted. He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before… He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”
This is a football. Imagine being told that as a professional football player. You might just think that this guy is nuts. Yet, this methodical focus on the fundamentals was the start of Lombardi’s streak as one of the greatest football coaches in history.
And he’s not alone. A ruthless focus on the fundamentals has been a recurring theme of many successful coaches. Basketball legend John Wooden, for example, even taught his players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes (3). How’s that for fundamentals?
The Power of Keystone Habits
It’s very easy to forget about the basics. Still, mastering them is and has always been the fastest way to improve your life.
This is because when you’ve got your fundamentals down, it tends to create a positive ripple effect across all areas of your life.
Author and habit expert, Charles Duhigg, refers to these behaviors as ‘keystone habits’ (4).
For me, exercise has always been a huge keystone habit. Whenever I work out regularly, I tend to eat better, sleep better, feel better, be way more productive and so on. Conversely, whenever I’m missing workouts, all these other areas tend to take a hit as well.
If you think about it for a minute, I’m sure you’ll identify at least one habit that tends to work the same way for you. And if not, I’ve listed out four keystone habits below that you might want to experiment with.
How to Improve Your Life: The Principles
Now, just because you identify a possible keystone habit, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to stick to. If it were, it would probably already be part of your life. That’s why, before we get to the list of habits, I highly recommend you keep these principles in mind when implementing them:
- One change only. That’s all you need. If you execute well on one keystone habit, the rest will likely fall into place by themselves.
- Make it so small you can’t say no. When you’re starting out, always aim for a goal that is so small that it requires no willpower at all.
- Use a trigger. Anchor your new habit to a behavior that is already a natural part of your daily routine. For example, exercise (new habit) right after breakfast (old habit).
- Track your efforts. Use an app like Coach.me or Beeminder to keep track of your efforts. This will help build momentum and motivation.
- Review your progress. A weekly review is an excellent way to do this. If your habit fails, figure out why, and improve your method. Or try another keystone habit.
Sound good? Let’s get to it!
4 Fundamental Keystone Habits
1. Eating healthy
It’s easy to forget about this, but the food we eat heavily influences how we feel and perform every day. As I write about in The Science of Willpower, the Glycemic Index (GI) (5) is a great resource for choosing what to eat. Low-GI foods associated with decreased risk for disease (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, depression and more) and it also helps strengthen your self-control (6). So, add a vegetable to one of your meals. Eat a healthy snack in the afternoon. Pick one high-GI food and cut it out. Keep making a tiny dietary tweak like this every week and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your diet (and your tastebuds) changes.
We all know physical activity is essential to our health and well-being. What’s perhaps more surprising is that neuroscientists have found that it’s also crucial for the brain’s ability to learn (7). So, if you want to be at your best — physically as well as mentally — exercise needs to be a regular part of what you do. Establish an exercise routine where you start too light, make tiny gains every week, and refuse to miss workouts.
This is perhaps the most overlooked keystone habit there is. If you want to be healthy and perform well, proper sleep is an absolute necessity. Start prioritizing your sleep by setting clear rules for your evenings. Set an alarm in the evening to remind yourself to turn off all your screens at least one hour before bedtime. Spend this last hour winding down (reading, meditating, journaling, or something else you find relaxing). Turn your bedroom into a haven for sleep by making it slightly cool and as dark as you can to help your body relax deeply.
This simple practice is a very powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety, increase creativity, sharpen mental focus, strengthen social relationships and much, MUCH more (8). I find myself recommending regular meditation to clients all the time. Take a couple of minutes each day to sit in silence and focus on your breath. When you find yourself lost in thought, gently and non-judgmentally return your attention to the flow of the breath. Repeat this process until the time is up.
- If you want to be great, focus ruthlessly on the fundamentals.
- Keystone habits are behaviors that tend to create positive ripple effects across all areas of your life.
- Stick to the principles: One change at a time, make it so small you can’t say no, use a trigger, track your efforts & review your progress.
- The four fundamental keystone habits are; Eat, Move, Sleep & Meditate.
Let’s get back to the basics!
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” — Jim Rohn
Do you want to master your habits? Get my book The Habit Blueprint.
- Vince Lombardi
- When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi
- Coach John Wooden’s lesson on shoes and socks
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
- The Glycemic Index
- The Science of Willpower
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
- The Science Behind Meditation