Identify, hone and solidify your keystone habits.
Not all habits are made equal. Some habits - what Charles Duhigg refers to as ‘keystone habits’ in his book “The Power of Habit” - have the capacity to accelerate our progress at a rapid pace. Keystone habits act like a centrifugal force, pulling further positive habits into their orbit.
When we identify, hone, and solidify our personal keystone habits, we have an almighty opportunity to level up our rate of productivity.
Making your bed each morning is one activity that Duhigg cites as a key example of a keystone habit. At first glance, this act may seem insignificant, but a quick look at the facts tells a different story. His research demonstrates that this particular habit shows a positive correlation with increased productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and better budgeting skills.
Additionally, Psychology Today reported that 71 percent of bed-makers consider themselves happy, while 62 percent of non-bed-makers admit to being unhappy. Bed-makers are also more likely to enjoy their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested, whereas non-bed-makers dislike their jobs, rent their home, avoid the gym, and wake up tired.
Why is this the case?
Does the act of making your bed gift you with previously undiscovered secrets to happiness and productivity? Well, no - that would be nice I guess, but the truth is a little more ordinary.
A repetitive action such as daily bed making may correlate with increased happiness and productivity but is not the direct cause of these outcomes. Instead, a simple but powerful habit such as bed-making serves to initiate three distinct chain reactions.
First up, a habit such as this leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. And because in this particular example you will complete the habit first thing in the morning, you start your day off in a positive frame of mind.
Secondly, because of your positive mindset, a growing sense of confidence and enthusiasm occurs. Using our example of bed-making, you’ve achieved something small but, in its own simple way, profound - an act of pure self-respect and courtesy for a future version of you. This feels good, and it leads to an active exploration of additional worthwhile deeds to be done.
This sets into motion the third chain reaction - a snowball effect of other powerful acts undertaken throughout the day. Maybe you’ll decide to exercise for 20 minutes before work. You might choose a healthier breakfast. The way you approach your first work task of the day is likely to be more productive.
So, if we all started making our beds each morning, would we notice an increase in our happiness and productivity?
Possibly. But there is, in fact, an even more important insight we can take from bed-making statistics - to recognise the keystone habits we already have available.
Take a moment to think about the shape of your mornings. What are the habits that make or break your personal routine? What are the simple acts that set you up for the day? Do you notice any trends that occur when you do or do not complete your routine?
I personally have two keystone morning habits that have a huge impact on my day - positively if I complete them, negatively if I don’t. The first is my gratitude list - before I open my eyes in the morning, I list 5 things that I’m grateful for. This leaves me with a sense of deep appreciation and acknowledgement of the gifts and resources I have available. Secondly, I do some form of exercise which sets me up for the rest of my day. Without these habits, I’m lethargic, ineffective, and suffer from low mood.
Think back to the personal keystone habits that you started to identify. How much more effective would your day be tomorrow if you made a point of following through on these actions? Now imagine if tomorrow you didn’t complete your keystone habit and consider the consequences.
If you are struggling to identify your keystone habits, don’t worry - this is perfectly normal, and there is a really simple way of discovering them. Over the next 7 days, keep a morning action diary. Write down every single thing that you do before 9am (or whenever you begin your working/active day).
Did you push snooze, or get up with your alarm? What was the first thing you thought about? Did you floss your teeth? Did you make your bed? Did you read an uplifting news story? What did you eat for breakfast? Did you allow time for other activities, such as exercise or making conversation with your partner/kids?
At the same time, track your mood and level of productivity at mid-morning. You should start to see some trends - a correlation between positive mood and productivity and certain habits. These are your keystone habits, and they hold the power to your living the life you want and deserve.
Daylio’s mood tracker and micro diary app is a great free tool to make this process even simpler.
If you choose to build on your keystone habits consistently - on a daily basis - you will see for yourself how much power they truly have.