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Habits are life.

No, literally, habits are life. It’s estimated that over 40% of what we do is because of habits, NOT our conscious thoughts like we’d like to believe.

That means we’re going through life on auto pilot nearly half the time!

And thanks to a recent read by habit expert, Charles Duhigg, I’m able to share with you the scientific notion behind an earlier article I wrote about the trickle down effect of activity.

Keystone Habit

According to Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, a keystone habit is a small change or habit “that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I figured this out prior to reading Duhigg’s book, albeit in a much smaller scope – with activity.

In my previous article I mentioned how just the simple act of doing thirty minutes of activity every single day can begin to have a trickle down effect into other areas of your life – maybe you begin eating healthier, or drinking more water, or you find your mood improving.

The effects of that one habit trickle down into other areas of your life in powerful ways… aka keystone habit.

What Makes it a Keystone?

While not all keystone habits are positive, let’s assume we’re only in the market for the good ones here and define what it takes to be a keystone.

(If you’re looking for an example of a negative keystone habit, consider smoking as a form of stress or anxiety relief and the trigger of subsequent bad habits that can come along with it such as drinking, eating bar food, not taking good care of yourself, etc.)

In order to be a keystone habit, it should make it easier to start other new habits (aka the trickle down effect), it should be small enough that it won’t overwhelm you and instead builds confidence (so overhauling your entire life isn’t ideal), and it should make other positive behaviors addictive.

Notice how thirty minutes of activity, which is a positive behavior for getting healthy, makes other positive behaviors for getting healthy more attractive – eating better, drinking more water, sleeping better, etc.

And not only does it make them more attractive, they DO become addictive. It’s how people have turned themselves from couch potatoes into health nuts – once you get the confidence boost of feeling good and accomplishing something, you want MORE of that feeling, so you find more ways to become that healthier version of you.

Other Examples

Activity was an obvious one to me because I’m so close to it and I’ve seen the power of instituting an activity habit and the changes it can spark in everyday life.

But another example might be sleep. Think of the ways sleep (or lack of) can alter the course of your day. The effect of waking up on time, refreshed and ready to face the day versus waking up late, groggy and in a panic. A good night’s rest can improve focus and attention and thus our productivity and ability to learn. Or the alternative of being sleep deprived and unable to do any of the former. 

Another example is practicing gratitude in your daily life. Maybe you start by writing down three things you’re grateful for each day and so slowly over time you begin noticing the little things in life (stopping to smell the roses kinda thing). Then you begin not just noticing, but actually engineering activities or moments in your day to be grateful, which in turn elevates your mood and mentality, making you an overall happier person.

One that doesn’t seem health related at first glance is making your bed in the morning. I first started this habit after I heard someone reference making their bed in the morning as their bare minimum accomplishment for the day. If they got nothing else done that day, at least they made their bed and could check one box as a success.

So I began the habit and it has rolled down hill into a multitude of other habits such as keeping a tidy room, which gives my OCD brain a sense of organization, which carries over to other parts of my day like at work. Plus, because I’ve come to enjoy the neatness, I keep a tidy desk, I do the dishes right away instead of letting them pile up, and laundry gets put away the same day it gets done.

We Choose Habits

I began this article by mentioning how we’re on autopilot nearly half our lives. But the beauty of autopilot is that we get to CHOOSE how our individual autopilot operates because we can in fact choose our habits. 

If we set ourselves up with some great keystone habits that trickle down into other areas of our lives, we don’t leave it up to willpower or motivation and instead it happens automatically. We literally have the ability to automate getting healthy.