Keystone Habits


I finished Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit last week and I enjoyed the insights from his research and real life examples. One area that I especially appreciated was his talk of keystone habits. These are habits that typically impact other areas of life beyond just being a silo habit. It has a ripple effect. A prime example is exercise. When people begin to make exercise a habit in their lives, it ripples into other areas of life: people typically start eating better, drinking and smoking less, spending more time with family, and making other positive choices. Other habits don’t have the same impact…the habit of cleaning your house once a week is not a keystone habit. For some reason, the commitment to exercise bridges into other significant areas.

About two years ago, I decided I would start exercising. Before that exercise had been pretty hit or miss…a lot more miss than hit. I had done a lot of testing of exercise videos from the library to see what I liked to do before committing to buying anything. I knew I didn’t want to pay for a gym or a big system. I wanted to do something that had longevity and that would allow me to be consistent. I wanted to do something I liked…and honestly exercise wasn’t something I really liked. In fact, my answer to when people were dieting around me was to be the person to order the bigger dessert or french fries. I would feel bad for servers if our table wasn’t ordering anything but diet coke. Eventually, I got over that. I just order the bigger dessert because I like it.

My desire was to be strong and healthy. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was developing a keystone habit. The three things I did: I started walking, I bought Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred, and eventually I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app. I’ve done variations on those three things. I’ve worked out for free at a gym I had access to, I’ve exercised with a friend, I’ve walked with a friend, I’ve tracked what I’ve eaten and how I’ve exercised. All of these things built exercise into a keystone habit.

Working out in the morning meant I needed to go to bed at a good time to function in the morning. I had to get going in the morning to meet my friend and meet my goal. I was more aware of what I was eating and why because I was tracking it on my app. It influenced the food that I bought and what I prepared for my family. It also helped me overcome negative self talk about not being “someone who exercises”. Last winter I decided to look for a gently used elliptical machine to use in my garage. I found one within my budget. Now that the weather has changed I can use it rather than walk in the dark outside in the rain and cold!

Some times have been easier than other times. Flexing through challenges to habits is important. Not being derailed, but adjusting to real life is important without losing the priorities. I’ll share my evening routine in this new season. Going to bed is still influenced by what I want to do in the morning.

Do you exercise? Do you have any keystone habits? What motivates you?


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