Have you ever noticed how some habits tend to “spill over” and affect other behaviors? In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg refer to these behaviors as “keystone habits.”
For example, sleep is a huge keystone habit of mine. Whenever I get good sleep, a bunch of positive knock-on effects follow. I’m way more productive, I choose healthier foods, I work out more, and I enjoy life more in general.
Much like a keystone at the top of an arch holds the other stones in place, sleep is the keystone habit that holds the rest of my life in place:
The Power of Keystone Habits
If I just make sure to get good sleep, I don’t have to force myself to get things done, I don’t have to think about eating better, and I don’t have to drag myself to the gym. All of those things will take care of themselves.
That’s a very valuable insight, and it’s why I always recommend starting any behavior change endeavour with identifying your keystone habits. In the words of Charles Duhigg:
“Where should a would-be habit master start? Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”1
Unfortunately, not all keystone habits are beneficial. Just like a good habit can influence other behaviors in a positive way, a bad habit can influence other behaviors in a negative way.
For example, I often feel the urge to open my email first thing in the morning. And whenever I do that, a slew of negative knock-on effects follow. It shatters my focus, ruins my morning writing session, and creates a lot of unnecessary stress as I play catch-up for the rest of the day.
What Are Your Keystone Habits?
If you put a good keystone habit in place, it will support other good habits. If you knock a bad keystone habit out of place, other bad habits will come crashing down with it.
So, whenever you’re trying to change your behavior, begin by identifying your keystone habits. Ask yourself what behaviors has had the most positive and negative ripple effects on your life in the past.
Work on those habits first, and everything else will follow as a natural side effect.