Creating habits, especially keystone habits that help propel you towards your goals is critical for staying on track and achieving the level of success you desire in all areas of your life. You spend anything from 50% to 95% of your day in habit mode, auto-pilot. Consequently, if you aren’t in charge of your habits, and you don’t focus on creating healthy habits, you will wobble, fall off the path and maybe even quit. The quote below from John Dryden illustrates this nicely.
“We first make our habits and then our habits make us.” John Dryden
I have written extensively about creating healthy life habits in my book. Here are a few tips:-
- Get crystal clear about what you want and why you want to change.
- Understand what drives you and what your values are. Values are simply what are important to you.
- Start small and be consistent.
- Prove to yourself that you are the sort of person who can stick to your new behaviour.
- Only then should you consider increasing the frequency or duration of your new behaviour.
Keystone Habits offer small wins
In addition to the above, finding your own cornerstone habits, or keystone habits is a powerful way for other habits to build from. Keystone habits are discussed in great depth in a fabulous book called ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg. They 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 build confidence. When you feel more confident you are more likely to keep going. These small wins are like the scaffolding that support other habits to evolve and flourish. Furthermore, they help you take action on doing what is important and doing the things you know you should.
“4 small wins a day leads to 720 in 6 months so continual small gains create greater success.” Mandy Napier
When you slip up or ‘wobble’ off your path, as we all do, it is your keystone habits that often help you get back on track. They become powerful reference points to hold onto. Furthermore, they will help you start a process that over time, can transform your life in a positive, meaningful way.
Bowman focused on creating habits that would create exceptional results
Charles Duhigg shared a great example of the Olympian, Michael 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. Moreover, 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. He instructed him to watch this every night before he went to sleep and when he woke up.
Phelps watched a ‘videotape’ of the perfect race every night
The entire race videotape wasn’t real. Rather, it was a mental visualisation process where Phelps visualised his perfect race. Each night before falling asleep and each morning after waking up, Phelps watched the videotape. He would imagine himself jumping off the blocks and, in slow motion, swimming flawlessly. ‘First, he would visualise his strokes, the walls of the pool, his turns, and the finish. Next. 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. Then, 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, things really clicked. All other habits, his diet and practice schedules, the stretching and sleep routines, fell into place. Moreover, all of this adding up to lots of small wins which over time creates enormous power and builds firm belief.
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 makes the difference. Together they create the winning edge and gold medal performances. Habits are run by the subconscious mind, which is the part that runs your life. Consequently, programming this part of your mind is a huge key to 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. They had a plan for creating habits so they became an everyday act, exactly like cleaning your teeth. Furthermore, 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. He didn’t let this potential setback affect his performance and won gold. Moreover, an important part of this was his commitment and consistency in his training, both mental and physical.
Check your routines to see if you already have keystone habits
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 for your outcomes. Stick at them until they become a regular part of your day. They might even become enjoyable, so much so, that you miss them if you don’t do them. If this happens, you are definitely onto a winner! Remember, at first, starting new behaviours can feel hard or like a chore, so stick with it.
‘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 keystone habits
- Upon waking immediately 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? And to read more on how to get into action, click here.
About the Author
Mandy Napier is a Global High Performance Mindset Coach who is dedicated to supporting high achievers fulfil their potential and achieve extraordinary results professionally and personally. Transformations are the norm, and results guaranteed.
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