The Power of Keystone Habits

“Instead of doing a small amount of work for a lifetime of benefits, people avoid the small amount of work for a lifetime of pain and frustration.” -Benjamin P. Hardy

Life can be very busy. You probably don’t have time to micro-manage every single area of your life to change. Even if you did, that wouldn’t be optimal, nor time efficient.

More effective than meticulously worrying about every daily behavior is developing a keystone habit that takes over and transforms every part of your Being.

As Charles Duhigg wrote in his book, The Power of Habit,

“Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.”

Basically, you acquire one of these habits, and all the dominoes of your life start falling very quickly.

The Domino Effect

“Every great change starts like falling dominoes.” -BJ Thornton

If you’ve ever seen a cascade of falling dominoes (which it’s likely you have), you’ll know that the momentum caused by flicking the first domino creates a chain reaction leading to a frenzy of toppling and banging which leaves things very different to how they once were.

With habits, the same process can occur. How?

Change creates momentum; as you improve, the more you want to improve.

Let’s say a person starts exercising once per week. That choice of exercising once per week might lead to making healthier eating decisions. With that, she starts to feel more alert and awake.

She asks, ‘what’s next?’ And begins getting a full 8 hours of sleep each night. Now she’s really feeling alive when she wakes, so she stops having her morning coffee and complimentary cigarette.

She saves money and finds other areas of her life to do the same. She feels less stressed and with all the extra energy, becomes more productive at work and in her personal life.

All her goals quickly begin cascading and within a matter of months, she finds herself living very differently to how she once was simply because she started exercising once per week.

This is the power of keystone habits. This is how you get a lifetime of benefits from a small amount of work. This how you become a person people no longer recognize.

Lining Up Your Dominoes and Toppling Them Down

“Find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls.” -Garry Keller

The obvious question would be, “What keystone habits I should focus on?” “How do I find the lead domino?”

And the answer depends entirely on where you want to go. Not all dominoes are created equally. My set is likely to look very different to your set.

However, I can suggest that you start at your highest priority. Start with the thing you’re most excited about and compelled to achieve; if you’re not excited about your goals, you probably won’t be excited about doing the work.

Secondly, establish a target for the smallest viable action you can take towards those goals. This is something that can be easily repeated and measured daily. For example, if you’re compelled to be a writer, you might focus on writing 300 words per day.

It is crucial that you make this target goal oriented, rather than simply a measure of time. What you achieve in a period of time can vary day-by-day, while a set target is constant.

By meeting this daily target, you’ll get what is known as “small wins.” These signal progress towards your larger goals and lead to increased motivation and confidence.

With increased motivation and confidence, you’ll quickly develop momentum. With momentum, things really start to spiral out of control. You’ll keep doing what you’re doing while naturally transferring the same principals to other areas of your life as the dominoes keep falling.

This how you make your success almost predictable. As Gary Keller once wrote,

“Success is actually a short race — a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.”

In Conclusion

Every great change starts like falling dominoes. You flick the first one and the momentum will change things very quickly.

Where you are now could look very different to where you find yourself within a few of months simply by establishing one Keystone habit.

A keystone habit makes your success predictable. Your daily activities become automated, and success becomes a natural extension.

Where will you find the lead domino?