How To Use Keystone Habits To Win At Life

Do you want to achieve greatness in life but you don’t know what to do? Well, why don’t you try learning a few keystone habits?

Keystone habits is a term coined by Charles Duhigg (author of The Power Of Habit), he describes these habits in his books as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives” 

In this article, I’ll be digging deep into keystone habits and how understanding this concept can improve all aspects of your life and off course make you more productive 🙂 

What are Keystone Habits?

Keystone behaviour or Keystone habits are small habits that you add to your routine to bring positive growth and development in other aspects of your life.

Keystone habits create a chain reaction that affects your life by either enhancing or damaging it depending on whether you learn good or bad keystone habits. 

This means it’s important you recognize how your daily actions can, directly and indirectly, affect your life on a broader scale. Every decision you take in a day needs to somehow help you become a better version of yourself. 

So what habit qualifies as a keystone habit? Charles Duhigg explains that keystone habits change how we see ourselves, it changes our mentality, our behaviour and other aspects of our life. So any habit that does these things certainly qualifies!

If you wake up at the same time each morning, make your bed, smile and say positive things to yourself, eat a healthy breakfast and dress smart for work, you’ve already carried out five keystone habits. And if you follow a morning routine and these 5 things are in it, you’ve carried out six keystone habits!

On the flip side, if you have a habit of binging on Netflix every night at 9 pm, you’re doing more harm than good (unless you want to be a movie director) because you could’ve spent that time reading a book or learning a new skill. 

Why are Keystone Habits So Important?

If your goal is to be successful, I’m sure you’re already following a few of these keystone habits. But by knowing how to learn these habits effectively, you can elevate your success rates and be a better, smarter and more productive person in a few months.

Nowadays I say affirmations to keep myself positive and productive. I’ve heard consistently using affirmations in your day can keep you confident and optimistic. 

I didn’t believe it at first but I’m two weeks into this whole affirmation thing and I have to say, it works and it works DAMN well. 

Positive thinking has led me to be happier, improved energy levels (which helps me to exercise better), clear thinking, lower stress and simply being positive in every situation. Just a small change in my day can lead to growth in so many aspects of life, it’s fascinating.

The focus here is to make good decisions, work on developing good habits so that your overall personality improves.

Examples of Everyday Keystone Habits

1. Let’s say you want to start exercising regularly. By doing this, you get healthier, you pay more attention to the food you eat, you drink more water, sleep more, consume less alcohol. All this will make you a stronger and fit person but you’ll also be a more productive person.

2. If you plan to reduce spending time on social media like Instagram, you’ll find more time in your life, maybe you’ll learn new skills, read more books and start a side hustle to make more money.

You see one action will not only change your life in that area but it will also affect other parts of your life that are directly related. Again if you follow bad/negative keystone habits, the same effect will take place.

How to Identify your Keystone Habits 

I’ll share with you the 4 steps that have helped me identify my keystone habits. Follow these steps and I’m sure it will help you too.

Step 1: Energy Levels

On some days, my energy levels are through the roof while some days they’re low. Figure out what causes those high energy levels, that will help you identify your keystone habits. When I tried this, I found out that sleeping early, exercising daily and listening to podcasts were the key things that gave me high energy levels. 

Step 2: Your Future Goals

Break down your future goals to identify the habits that you need. Let’s say you want to be a real estate salesman. The Number 1 habit you need to learn is listening. Now you need to focus your energy and learn to listen. 

Read articles on google, talk to people but most importantly practise listening. Similarly, if your goal is to be a millionaire, guess what you need money saved up for. So the keystone habit you need to focus on is Saving Money.

Step 3: Experimentation

The third step is all about experimentation. You need to try out different keystone habits, see what works and what doesn’t and adopt the best habits. 

Maybe you see someone being super productive, ask them the reason behind it and try to follow that. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, try learning another habit. Below I’ve listed down the best keystone habits, these habits should help you become a better version of yourself.

Step 4: Scrutinize and Analyse

Step 4 is somewhat similar to step 1 with a small difference. Let me explain. You need to scrutinize all the things you do in a day, maybe you go to bed at the same time every day or you check your email/social media first thing in the morning. 

Perhaps you go for a coffee/tea break at 3 pm. Write a long list of such habits. Then let’s say the list belonged to an old employee and your boss gave it to you and told you to analyse the list and give points to the old employee. 

For every good habit, give +2 and for every bad habit, give -1. Based on your scores, the boss will decide whether to fire or promote the old employee. 

Be honest and give the scores. Are you proud of your scores? In school, if we got bad marks, we would work harder, do the same here. Ditch those bad habits and learn new keystone habits.

9 Best Keystone Habits for Productivity (that works for me!)

keystone habits cooking

Identifying your keystone habits has more to do with observing your actions and your future goals and less to do with reading articles on the best keystone habits. Nevertheless, I have written down the 9 best keystone habits that worked extremely well for me.

1. Make Your Bed

Admiral William H. McRaven has been in the Navy for 37 years. He has published a book called “Make Your Bed”. He says that “If you wanna change the world, start by making your bed”. 

He also stresses the importance of creating good morning routines and how ticking off a few tasks in the morning can positively benefit your entire day. 

Even Dr Randall Bell, who has spent 25 years studying successful people says that making your bed can be a head start for a productive day. If you want my honest opinion on this – I have to say that making your bed (even if it’s not a fun task) does help!

2. Dress Smarter

Dressing better will boost your confidence in a matter of seconds. When we look at someone for the first time, how do we judge them? We look at how well they’re dressed and accordingly make our judgements. 

There’s a great quote written by Santosh Inani that I like, he says “Dress for the position you want, not the position you have”. He is trying to say that you need to look sharp and smart. 

Now dressing smart doesn’t always have to be a blue suit with a white shirt, a tie and formal shoes; You can wear a simple t-shirt and jeans and yet look sharp. Take some time to learn about how to wear clothes that make you look smart. 

Dress better and people will start noticing you, they’ll respect you, heck they’ll cancel fun time just to talk to you. Who doesn’t like to talk to beautiful people!

3. Family Dinners Every Day

One of the easiest keystone habits you can start implementing from today is having family dinners. It’s a great time to interact with your family and talk about life. The beauty of doing family dinners is that it positively affects your entire family. 

Take it up a notch by helping your family cook and serve healthy meals (that means avoid junk food!). Cooking for yourself is also a keystone habit and I love cooking food for myself. It’s a fun way to escape work and learn some cooking skills. 

You will gain more control over what you eat which will be a bonus for the next point. 

4. Start Exercising in the Morning

Exercising has been a game-changer for me. It takes just 45 minutes and has so many benefits to it. Once you start exercising you not only become fit, strong and shredded but you also are more active, your brainpower is elevated and you eat nutritious food. 

You develop a conscience that tells you to avoid junk food so you save money. Exercising every day may be a challenge for you, maybe you don’t have enough time. 

Try to do some form of exercise at least 3 days a week for a minimum of 15 minutes preferably in the morning (your energy levels are highest in the morning!).

5. Learn a New Skill

Keystone Habits learn a new skill

Successful people usually know a variety of topics. They manage to keep learning even after they have achieved massive levels of success. That’s because they know that in today’s times, you need to be multi-skilled. 

Having a single skill set in 2021 won’t get you massive success. That’s why they read books, invest in new ventures and attend conferences. Learning a new skill is so easy today, you have youtube channels, blogs, online classes and in-person tutorials to learn new skills.

6. Determination. Affirmation. Forgiveness (DAF)

Your mind is the strongest power source you have. Anything you plan to do has to run through your mind. That’s why you must train it well. Use determination to drive your energy, it keeps you calm because your mind knows that success can’t be sold short. it helps you push through obstacles to the goal you wish to achieve. 

A lot of times, people are so busy thinking about what they don’t have that they forget to cherish the things they do have. Learn to be grateful for things you already have. I use affirmations on a day to day basis, not just when I’m sad or when I make a mistake. 

The faster your mind adapts to positivity, the easier it will be for you to take criticism and hate. Forgiveness is one keystone habit that is not easy to do. 

Someone you trusted has betrayed you, of course, you’re disappointed, but you’ve got to learn to forgive people. Mistakes happen, learn to look forward, use positive quotes and forgive people. 

Whatever happens, happens for the best – Remember That!

7. Creating a Simple Daily Routine

Keystone habits won’t be extra special without a good routine. Planning your day is so crucial as without it you do what the day wants you to do. Have a daily routine and you’ll put your priorities first. 

Creating a daily routine is easy, all you gotta do is block time slots for your tasks, fill up all the time slots and follow the daily routine. It is said that by scheduling your day, you’re reducing the chance of procrastinating by a good percentage. 

It’s better to write down your tasks but on the days I have few tasks, I just remember them. On the days I don’t have a task list to follow, I am lazy and bored and binge a lot. 

So I highly definitely 100% recommend you to create an easy-to-follow daily routine so you can get more done.

8. Good Night Sleep

You’re not sleeping enough! I don’t need your apple watch to tell me that or some statistics to prove your lack of sleep every day. Getting a good 7-8 hours of sleep is a keystone habit you need to learn. 

A good night’s sleep can make your day so productive while bad sleeping habits almost always toss up your life. Why would you want to ruin your life? I used to sleep less because I heard that successful people sleep less and hustle more. 

Honestly, every time I followed the hustle more sleepless mentality, I found my body being tired. I was exhausted even when I didn’t do anything for 6 hours (while I was sleeping). I did a little thinking and realised that I waste 2-3 hours every day binging on Youtube & Netflix. 

So I got back to the routine of sleeping enough (not too much), cut back on binging by 2 hours (So now I binge an hour) and work for 2 more hours. Thus I sleep well, enjoy watching videos and get more done. It’s a win-win situation.

9. Read Books or Listen to Podcasts

Reading books or listening to podcasts are similar to learning new skills but I’ve separated them because I want you to learn a new skill and also read books simultaneously. 

Reading books is an important habit because it provides you with life lessons from the most experienced people on the planet, you can read their successes, their failures, how they solved a problem, etc. 

Fantasy books are also great as it expands your mind to new possibilities. Reading and listening to podcasts also improves your communication skills, reduces stress, boosts confidence and increases IQ. 

If you don’t have time to read books, start listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Get Audible if you’re interested in listening to audiobooks, right now they have a 30-day free trial, click here if you want the 30-day free trial. Spotify too has an enormous library of content for listeners that I’m sure you’ll never get bored of.

How to Make Your Keystone Habit Stick

The key to making any habit stick is repeatedly doing it. You’ve got to do it over and over again, every day for months. Once it becomes part of your daily routine where you do the habit without thinking, that’s when you know you’ve made your keystone habit stick. 

Three points I want you to keep in mind to ensure your habit sticks faster.

Believe that Change is Possible

This sounds silly but the biggest difference between wanting to change and actually changing is believing that change is possible. You’ve got to be hard with yourself, trust your instincts and know that whatever you do, it will be in your best interest.

Have an Emotional Attachment

Do you know what distinguishes keystone habits from normal ones? Charles Duhigg said, “Keystone habits have emotions at the core of them”. That means if you want your keystone habit to stick with your for good, you need to have an emotional connection attached to it. 

Look for your problems and try finding solutions through habits. Let’s say you lack confidence, all your colleagues belittle you during work. You decide to make a change and you work hard to improve your confidence. The emotional connection here is that your colleagues belittle you and you want them to stop.

Common Mistakes People Make With Keystone Habits

A major mistake most people make is doing too much at once. They try to make a lot of differences in their life and take up a lot of habits to improve them. What happens is managing so many habits at once is tough. 

You may do it for a week or two but you’ll eventually burn out. So take it slowly. I suggest you start with two or three keystone habits, work it out for a month, if all goes well, take two more and repeat the process.

This is a common mistake I’ve seen people make. They surround themselves with things that go against their goals. Let’s say you want to eat healthy food but your house is stocked up with junk snacks. 

Replace all of these junk foods with nutritious foods like fruits and nuts. If you want to get work done but your workroom has a comfortable couch where you could sleep all cosy, guess what, you’re not going to work!

Another messy mistake you may make is doing things that go against your core principles.  Like you want to learn sales but you join real estate. You don’t like real estate but you’re selling because you want to learn sales.

Some Negative Keystone Habits Example

While good habits make us better, negative keystone habits pull us down. Let’s say you watch a movie late at night so you wake up late the next morning, you’re late, stressed and in a state of panic, you forget to have breakfast and meditate for 5 min and you rush to the office. What do you think, how will your day go? I’m sure you got the point.

What if you start drinking every day? You’ll risk having heart diseases, you might put on fat, your mental health and relationships will take a steep downturn and you won’t be at optimum productivity! 

Both these examples clearly show the domino effect taking place when one bad decision is taken.

You need to focus on improving your qualities but at the same time ensuring you don’t develop negative habits that cause detrimental effects to your life.

Small Keystone Habits Make a Huge Difference

We all have different keystone habits that are unique to our personality and ambitions in life. The goal with any keystone habit is the same, they spread across multiple areas of our life, creating a chain reaction of positive habits.

Again don’t start following a bunch of habits because you believe you’re capable of doing more. 

Start with one or two habits, let it spread across nicely, once you see a better version of yourself like Rylan (that’s me!) becomes Rylan 2.0, you can start adding new keystones to your list.

If you want to learn more about habits and how to develop skills to improve yourself, these resources should help you.

Check out my review on Atomic Habits if you’re confused if it’s a great book to read.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you asap!

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