Creating habits that support your goals is critical to ensure your success in every area of your life and keystone habits are a key. You spend around 50% of your day on auto-pilot – habits – so if you aren’t in charge of your habits, and you don’t focus on creating healthy ones, watch out goals!
I have written extensively about creating habits and specifically:-
- Starting small.
- Proving to yourself that you are the sort of person who can stick to your new behaviour or action.
- Only then do you consider increasing the frequency and duration.
- Getting clear about what you want.
- Nutting down why you want what you say do you.
- Getting clarity on your values, what is important to you.
Today I will focus on keystone habits, another helpful strategy for creating and maintaining practices that support your goals. Keystone habits are discussed in great depth in a fabulous book called ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg. Keystone habits have helped many successful people including Olympians, entrepreneurs and CEO’s achieve their goals and level of success reached.
Part of the reason that creating keystone habits is important is that they offer ‘small wins.’ Small wins make you feel good and encourage you to continue and do more. They become like scaffolding that supports other habits to evolve and flourish.
When you will slip up or ‘wobble’ off your path, as we all do, it is your keystone habits that will help you get back on track. They become powerful reference points to hold onto. Creating keystone habits will help you start a process that over time, can transform everything in your life in a positive, meaningful way.
Charles Duhigg used a great example about Michel Phelps. Already a phenomenal athlete, his coach, Bowman focused on creating other essential habits that would help him stand out from all the other elite swimmers. Michael Phelps was already doing well. He had the determination and commitment to show up and keep training despite how he felt. Bowman chose to focus on helping Phelps create mental habits, the right mindset that would give him the winning edge. One particular mental habit included creating a ritual to help him remain calm and focused before a race. Another one involved a specific mental rehearsal where Bowman encouraged Phelps to watch a ‘videotape’ of the perfect race every night before he went to sleep and when he woke up.
The entire race videotape wasn’t real. Rather, it was a mental visualisation of Phelp’s visualised perfect race. Each night before falling asleep and each morning after waking up, Phelps would imagine himself jumping off the blocks and, in slow motion, swimming flawlessly. ‘He would visualise his strokes, the walls of the pool, his turns, and the finish. He would imagine the wake behind his body, the water dripping off his lips as his mouth cleared the surface, what it would feel like to rip off his cap at the end. He would lie in bed with his eyes shut and watch the entire competition, the smallest details, again and again, until he knew each second by heart.’
When swimming, Bowman ordered him to put in his videotape. As he did, he got faster and faster. Eventually, Bowman only had to whisper, ‘get the videotape ready,’ to Phelps before a race and he consistently managed to crush the competition. Once Bowman established a few core routines in Phelps’s life, all other habits, his diet and practice schedules, the stretching and sleep routines – seemed to fall into place on their own. All of this adding up to lots of small wins which over time builds to enormous power.
In a sport like swimming, where the difference between a gold medal and silver is a millisecond, it is the extra strategies, physical and mental rehearsal that create tiny shifts that make the difference. The winning edge and gold medal performances. Habits are run by the subconscious mind, which is the part that runs your life. Programming this part of your mind is a huge key to your success.
Keystone Habits create winning edge performances
After much trial and error, Phelps and Bowman figured out it was best to focus on tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers. Creating a routine so that eventually, the habits became a natural part of Phelp’s ritual. Just like cleaning teeth every night is. Indeed when Phelps won one of his gold medals, he still did this despite his goggles filling up with water. Because he had practised the routine, both physically and mentally, he knew exactly what to do, and he didn’t let this potential setback affect his performance. He won gold.
Now, it’s over to you. What keystone habits can you create or do you perhaps already have? In my life, one of my keystone habits is my morning exercise. Being an athlete and sportswoman all of my life, I know the difference in every aspect of my day, exercising first thing makes.
Just like Michael Phelps and other phenomenally successful people, you may have to try a few different action steps and behaviours until you find the ones that you stick too and are essential. When they become like a regular part of your day and even enjoyable; perhaps missing it if you don’t do it, then you are onto a winner! Even if at first, they may feel arduous or a bit of a chore!
‘Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favour another small victory.’ Cornell professor wrote in 1984.
Here are a few examples of possible keystone habits:-
- Upon waking to get up and exercise
- When you first sit down at your desk, you make a habit of planning your day.
- When you get up from your desk, you have a glass of water.
- As you are working at your desk, you set your timer every 90 minutes when you take two minutes out refocus and consciously breathe.
- When you arrive home from your work, you instantly put on your exercise gear and go for a walk.
- On a Sunday night before dinner, you take ten minutes to organise your upcoming week.
I would love to hear from you as to what keystone habits you have created in your life. Which ones did you specifically create? What other habits did you create as a result of this keystone habit?
To finish in the words of John Drysden, ‘First, you make your habits and then your habits make you.’