Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit,describes a subset of habits that he refers to as Keystone Habits. These are habits that, when incorporated into our daily routine, have a domino effect on most if not all other areas of our lives, even if those other areas seem totally unrelated.

I have been a snooze alarm hitter for most of my adult life. I was so bad about this that I would even set my alarm an hour earlier than I needed to just so that I would have time to hit snooze!

About two or three years ago I read about something called sleep inertia which happens to those of us who hit snooze. It is the cycle that occurs when we wake up, hit snooze, and immediately fall back into REM sleep. To then wake up, hit snooze and repeat.

It takes our brain four hours to recover from this, which explained that awful groggy feeling I had every single morning when I woke up. This was occurring because of my snooze habit.

Right then and there I decided I was going to get up the minute the alarm went off the first time. I put my alarm in another room to ensure that I do this. And I’ve never looked back.

What happened after that evolved slowly and I didn’t notice it at first. But this seemingly tiny little change has affected my entire life. I get up and hit the ground running. I get most of the things on my to do list done each day.

Perhaps, however, this habit change has had the biggest effect on my nighttime routine.

I now eat dinner at an earlier time, end each day with a cup of tea, and am always in bed by 10:00 at night at the very latest. The whole quality of my sleep has vastly improved. Most days I’m awake before my alarm goes off.

Simply because I stopped hitting the snooze button. For me, that turned out to be a keystone habit.

Identifying Your Potential Keystone Habits

There are certain habits that “experts” typically identify as universal keystone habits. Some of these include:

  • Making your bed each day. This one is on every list and is often first. I’ve never not made my bed, so am unable to wrap myself around why this would make a difference, unless it just sends your brain a message that sleep is done for today.
  • Exercise – also on every list.
  • Journaling – my alarm habit has led to my daily journaling habit.
  • Meditation
  • Sitting down to family dinner each night.

The list goes on. However, what may be a keystone habit for someone else may not be for you.

How to Identify Your Possible Keystone Habits

Brain dump some possible overall goals that you have for yourself.  Maybe you want to lose weight, eat healthier, read more, drink more water, exercise, or have a solid morning or evening routine. Start with the overriding goal and break it down into smaller pieces.

For example, if you want to be healthier, that might involve exercising daily or eating healthier. Pick one and start there. If you want to be “more productive,” write down what that might look like. Then pick a small goal and start with that.

Keystone Habit “Rules”

Always Phrase Your Habit in the Positive

For me, instead of saying “I’m never hitting snooze again,” I might say, “I’m waking up each morning as soon as the alarm goes off.” Tell yourself the results you want – not the results you don’t want.

Target One Habit at a Time

Taking on more than a single habit at a time will set yourself up for failure.

Choose a Daily Habit

The habit must be one that you do daily, at least for the first few months. Keep this in mind for goals like exercising. Be realistic about what you will do. If your new habit is a big one like exercising, start off with a goal such as, “I will do 15 minutes of activity each day.” You can increase it as the habit becomes ingrained in your daily routine.

Be Creative

Make it fun and rewarding. Getting up and dancing to your favorite song first thing every morning can be an amazing keystone habit to get your day started off on the right foot.

What habit change would you like to make? What might be a keystone habit for you? How might that domino across your daily routine? Please share with the community!

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