The Three Steps To Permanent Change Using Keystone Habits


Photo by Michael D Beckwith

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather have these because we have acted rightly; these virtues are formed in us by doing our actions; we are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

– Will Durant, “The Story of Philosophy”

Some may not like to hear this, but it is inescapable.  Your life is the sum of your habits. Your brain defaults to habits because it saves energy.  You can try to fight millions of years of evolution, or you can learn to work with it. I would suggest the latter.

Let me first state that trying to identify keystone habits can be a little tricky.  I liken it to the idea of trying to bite your teeth. It is more a matter of discovering them then identifying them. It will take a little work on your part. Keystone habits do not necessarily have a direct cause and effect relationship in your life.  They are the springboard to creating other helpful habits. It is also essential to understand how craving works in the habit loop. Craving is the energy which spins the wheel.  It keeps us in the habit loop.

First Step:

Discover a pattern that allows you “small victories” as Charles Duhigg describes in his great book “The Power of Habit.”  The example he uses in the book is exercise. By starting a small, simple exercise program in the morning, it will allow those little victories.  You will be able to get your engine running a little quicker in the morning which leads to greater awareness and presence. You most likely will change your eating habits to get in line with your exercise program.  If you engage in an unhealthy habit such as smoking, you may be able to quit. Exercising when you are a smoker is challenging. I know from personal experience.

Second Step:

Discover habits that create a platform for other practices to spring from.  The example that Charles used in the book was a visualization method that Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman developed early in Phelps career.  It was a visualization technique that Michael would use every morning after waking up and before he would go to sleep. He would visualize swimming an entire race that he wins.  They called it “watching the videotape.” Before each race, Bowman would simply tell Phelps to “put in the videotape.” The words would trigger a calming effect in Michael since he had in his imagination already performed exceptionally and won thousands of races.

Third Step:

Keystone habits are contagious.  Keystone habits are the habits that feed other behaviors and ways of thinking.  To quote Charles Duhigg; “Keystone habits are powerful because they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible.”  I’ll use the example of meditation. A habit which clearly has had the greatest impact on me personally over the last several years.  On the rare occasion that there is a day that I don’t meditate it feels like I am trying to catch up with myself for the remainder of the day.  When I do meditate I feel that no matter what may occur that day I will be able to maintain balance and peace of mind. And on those occasions when I lose my balance and peace, I now possess the habits to be awareness to redirect my thoughts to get back to the center.  Although as with everything in our lives we often fall. Fall seven times, get up eight.

Until Next Time,

Rich Decker

Mindful Accord

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