The Keystone Habit: How To Choose One

These are the 3 most important qualities of your Keystone Habit

Photo by Ave Calvar on Unsplash

When I met my coaching client Jill, she was beyond overwhelmed. She had a very stressful and demanding job, a family member with cancer, and a side project that she was passionate about but couldn’t find the time to create. Certainly, we could all understand why.

Less than two years later, her award-winning documentary premiered nationwide on PBS.

How’d that happen? How’d she transform from being overwhelmed to accomplishing her wildest dreams?

She started with a tiny commitment to work on her side project for at least 10 minutes each day — sending five emails, making two phone calls, whatever step was next on the list. And then to send me a quick note about what she accomplished.

The rest of the day could have been awful. She might not have much energy. None of that mattered. Her ten minutes were non-negotiable.

Jill’s story can be yours too.

The First Step is Selecting Your Keystone Habit — Your Bridge to Momentum

For a decade, I worked with over 1,200 clients directly as a habit coach. Then, becoming CEO of the platform gave me unique access to hundreds of coaches — their perspectives and their client feedback.

What has become increasingly clear to me is that the “setup” for change matters. In particular, the choices we make about how we’ll begin.

To get started with behavioral change, it’s important to identify the first daily action that will create initial momentum. We call this the Keystone Habit.

In my experience, the best Keystone Habits have three important qualities:

  1. They allow us to train for consistency.
  2. They start to support a new identity and beliefs.
  3. They foster a sense of camaraderie with others on a similar journey.

Let’s explore these qualities in detail.

1. Training for Consistency

Several prominent habit scientists have made us familiar with “tiny” habits — usually the smaller version of our goal habit. BJ Fogg calls them “the small changes that change everything.” James Clear often emphasizes that a new habit should be “incredibly easy” in the beginning.

One push-up. One sentence. One minute of meditation.

Certainly that is a better approach than ramping up to full intensity right away. Starting small reduces friction and helps reduce overwhelm.

With just a few couple more layers of thought, we can make our Keystone Habit much more powerful:

  • We can be very specific about when we’ll do our habit each day, ‘anchoring’ it to an activity we already do consistently.

One pushup after we brush our teeth. One sentence when we first sit at our desks. One minute of meditation after lunch.

  • We can establish ‘triggers’ that nudge us to do our habits.

A sticky note on the bathroom mirror. A cursor in the right spot on our screen, or a journal on our desk. A timely reminder from our meditation app or a coach.

The best Keystone Habits focus us on training for consistency — using anchors and triggers to support us in taking a pre-decided action each day.

On good days when things are smooth, and on rough days when we’re struggling.

If we can uncover the recipe to our own consistency, we’ve taken a giant step forward towards achieving our goals. Once we have the formula, we can apply it over and over again.

This explains why working with a coach can be helpful, especially if it’s a habit we’ve struggled with in the past. A good coach can help you identify the most ideal starting point — factoring in anchors, triggers, and common pitfalls.

2. Supporting a New Identity and Beliefs

When we first tried meditating, many of us felt like failures. We couldn’t sit still. Our mind was scattered. Our breathing was anything but calm and rhythmic.

What if instead of feeling frustrated, we recognized the progress? What if each time we caught our mind wandering, we counted it as a “mental push-up” and celebrated?

We might start to believe that we could become a person that meditates.

With a small adjustment to focus on “mental push-ups” instead of just minutes meditating, our Keystone Habit would be supporting us in developing a new identity and beliefs.

The key concept of Logical Levels developed by Robert Dilts is that all six categories need to be addressed.

The anchors and triggers we applied in step one often help address the bottom three:

  • capacity (capabilities),
  • habit (behavior), and
  • environment.

The best Keystone Habits also acknowledge and support the top three:

  • mission,
  • identity, and
  • belief.

This means that the most helpful Keystone Habits also include a ‘reframe.’ This is an approach that acknowledges a common challenge and finds a way to integrate it positively into the habit.

3. Fostering Camaraderie

There’s an old proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. And if you want to go far, go together.” The same is true for upgrading our habits.

In addition to crafting the details of our Keystone Habit carefully, we can also use what Dr. Henry Cloud calls “the power of the other.” As in, the power of involving other people.

By joining a cohort, challenge, or community, we can access added benefits of accountability, alignment, and support.

According to some studies, the completion rate of self-paced courses average 15%, while cohort-based courses trend much higher. For instance, in our own programs, we see completion rates of 50–75%.

With accountability, there’s extra motivation to complete the daily commitment. By interacting with peers or coaches, we access extra perspectives and insights.

And frankly, it’s often more fun — which is helpful too. According to researcher Katy Milkman, “making hard things seem fun is a much better strategy than making hard things seem important.”

There you have it — the 3 most important components of building an outstanding Keystone Habit.

The more of these qualities that we build into a habit, the more likely we will be to create momentum — and sustain it through challenging situations.

Ready to Unlock a Year of Transformation with Just 5 Minutes a Day

Every day for a year, you will receive a well-structured, actionable piece of knowledge focused on one habit a week that will take you 5 minutes or less to read. You will get support from our coaches and like-minded people through private community and monthly office hours.

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