There is no question that any kind of success involves good habits and routines. 

But are some habits more important than others?

If the past thirty odd years of my life are anything to go by, my answer would be a decisive yes.

I instilled certain small yet key habits during my days as a professional athlete. Things like sleep, diet and exercise played a critical role in helping me win the UFC Middleweight World Title three times.

They continue to have a profound impact on many other aspects of my life.

Till this day, years after leaving the sport, I still maintain the same set of routine and habits


What Are Keystone Habits?

In his book “The Power Of Habit”, Charles Duhigg refers to these small yet important habits as keystone habits.

Like a rising tide that lifts all boats, keystone habits can influence and shape your life positively.

Keystone habits create a domino effect that leads to other positive actions and behaviors in other parts of your life.

As an example, making the bed is my early morning staple. Though on the surface just a small and simple habit, doing so has a huge impact on my mindset for the rest of the day.

It makes me sharp and alert. It bestows a sense of organization and cleanliness to start my day. Accomplishing this small but meaningful task gives me the confidence to conquer the day ahead. 

Many positive actions can flow from just one keystone habit. No matter your goals in life, I strongly encourage you to inculcate keystone habits into your routine.

How can we harness the power of keystone habits to effect positive change in our life?


Breaking Big Goals Into Smaller Habits

Many of us set big life goals that can feel overwhelming at times.

Breaking a big goal down into smaller habits makes it far more manageable. With a list of smaller actions, you can better identify one or two that will become foundational keystone habits. 

For example, if the goal is to lose weight before spring starts, then you need to prepare for a winter of working out and dieting. To break it down further, this could mean designing a resistance training program or starting a food journal.


Prioritize Your Habits And Routines

Think about which actions will inspire further changes that take you closer to your goals.

In other words, you need to prioritize your habits and routines by how impactful they are.

Focus on the habits that are foundational to your goals and daily functioning. 

Everyone knows that fitness is a pillar upon which the other parts of my life are built on. This makes working out my keystone habit. 

I feel better about myself whenever I complete a workout. This feedback loop is very rewarding, and it makes other ancillary habits much easier to accomplish. 

There is less of an inertia to overcome, and as a result, I pay more attention to my nutrition throughout the day. This might also explain why many people prefer to go to the gym in the morning. It primes you to be more focused, to sleep early and to manage your time better. When you sleep better, you feel more energized to conquer the next day. 

This cascading effect demonstrates the power of a keystone habit. Just by accomplishing this one habit, it can positively influence many other areas of your life.


Forget Willpower or Discipline

Having too many routines or habits can bog down the mind. 

I’ve shared how decision fatigue can be a problem on occasion. In addition, I’ve talked about how I prefer routines because I can operate without needing willpower or discipline.

Life is full of hard choices; we should be designing our habits to make our lives easier. Rather than resist the urge to snack on junk food late at night, it makes more sense to instill keystone habits that promote the reverse. As per my previous example, eating clean is a natural consequence from working out.

Rather than mustering the willpower to fight unhealthy urges, my energy is better spent on other demanding tasks like work.

Just think how much better it would be if you found one or two keystone habits that help put the rest of your life in place.

You’ve got to make change to inspire change. 

All you need is to kick things off with a keystone habit. Get that first domino to fall!


Be An Addict

 Addiction gets a bad rap. It is guilty by association with all kinds of social vices. 

But addiction to the right things can be a powerful force for change. Keystone habits need to be addictive. 

When our habits create a positive feedback loop, it encourages more of the same behavior. This makes completing the task less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

Ideally, you want habits that keep you coming back and doing them again. 

I look forward to my bedtime prayer as a way to unplug after a long day. Immediately after, I feel a sense of peace and calm. This puts me in the mood for a restful sleep, which further sets me up to feel refreshed and energized tomorrow.