My Top Three Keystone Habits

Okay, so you know that you need to create good habits, and you know that the way to do this is to:

1. Find the cue.

2. Alter the routine.

3. Keep the reward.

If this information is new to you, or if you need a refresher, see my blog entitled The Power of Habit, which is a review of Charles Duhigg’s book of the same name.

So, now it’s time to create good habits! Let’s get going!

…not so fast. If you try to change too many things at once, you will most certainly fail. Michael Hyatt, author of Your Best Year Ever and whom I have dubbed The Guru of Goals, recommends working on three or four goals per yearly quarter (every three months).

This prevents what is called “Front Loading”: the over-implementation of too many changes at once, which causes your willpower to easily deplete after a week or less.

Think about all the failed New Year’s Resolutions. I personally have journals filled with massive plans for life changes, but with very few positive results recorded–until recently, that is.

I’ve always known that there are plenty of good habits out there to implement, and as voracious a reader as I am, I’m always learning about more!

The end result is stagnation and paralysis. Where to start? It’s especially difficult getting off the ground after so long in stagnation, because you know you need massive change, but habits take time to make a noticeable effect, as author Jeff Olson points out in his book The Slight Edge.

After reading Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, I came across the concept of a “Keystone Habit,” which is a habit or change you make in your life which has a rippling out effect.

For example, it totally makes sense that implementing an exercise routine will tend to boost self-esteem, make you more conscious of health practices, and help you to manage stress and anxiety.

But what about making your bed?

It turns out that making your bed correlates to more productivity, better self-esteem, and lowered stress. It even correlated to a more balanced budget.

And there are several habits that have this rippling effect.

As I’m beginning to walk my own journey of self-improvement, I’ve researched the absolute best habits to solidify before proceeding onto other things. Here are the top three:

1. Meditation. The health, psychological, and possibly spiritual benefits of meditation are by now well documented. But I want yo focus on a few key things:

First, meditation forces you to strengthen your prefrontal cortex. According to Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, it is your prefrontal cortex which houses your willpower muscle.

Obviously, increasing your willpower is going to make other goals and habits easier to implement down the road, so it makes sense to focus on that early on.

Second, meditation has been shown to greatly reduce stress. This is because it helps you to take control of your emotional impulses before they throw your thoughts into a negativity loop. Emotions are the roots of thoughts; cut the roots, kill the fruits.

2. Exercise. As mentioned above, exercise has many benefits, but it also is key in strengthening your willpower. In fact, exercise grows your brain! It has been shown that exercise grows the grey matter in your brain, and this is by now a widely accepted fact.

By forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do, you are using the executive processes of your prefrontal cortex, instead of defaulting to rote and automatic behaviors. And this, it turns out, increases willpower!

3. Change your diet.

okay, I’m no diet expert, so I’ll stick to what the actual research is showing. According to Kelly McGonigal, eating a plant-based, vegan diet is the best diet for increasing your willpower.

It makes sense, of course, that eating nutrient rich foods like fruits and vegetables would be the best option for your brain.

But of course, there is a lot of controversy surrounding a vegan diet, and since I have no expertise in this arena, I will simply point out what I think is obvious: add more fruits and veggies, cut out the sugar and the processed foods, and eat sensibly.

Nothing too controversial there, I hope.

Now, I am currently building up all three of these habits–exercise gives me the most trouble, but I’m about to double down on it. I’ll be recording my progress in this blog as a willpower experiment, putting some of the tools I’ve learned to practice and sharing my results.

Before closing, I want to point out that the purpose of these keystone habits is to increase willpower. That way, you’ll hopefully have an easier time sticking with other goals down the road.

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Thanks, and namaste!

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