Keystone or Cornerstone habits are small changes that have a big impact as posited by Charles Duhigg. It’s a small change that has a ripple effect. Like when you start exercising for 15 minutes in the morning. It ripples out to the rest of your day. You feel more energized, you are more productive, you aren’t in a crabby mood and make better food choices. Research has shown that about 50% of habits are unconscious. So the key is to make these keystone habits unconscious. You don’t want to stop and think about it.
We all start the day with about 100 units of energy. Each time you have to stop and think and make a decision, you’ve lost one more unit. You don’t get them back. So if you depleted all your units of energy by miscellaneous decisions like “what should I wear today” or “what should I have for breakfast” you are using up those valuable irreplaceable units of energy on minor decisions. So when you sit down to work on that big proposal at 3 PM you are spent. The sooner you can incorporate the itzy bitzy keystone habit into your life, the better.
Here they are:
1. Make your bed. Your bed is probably the largest piece of furniture in your life. It takes up a lot of your visual field. When the bed isn’t made, it’s visual clutter. It’s a downer. A made bed on the other hand is a productivity starter. Karen Miller in an article called Your Bed is Your Head, says “Transform your reality. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows.”
2. Get 7 hours of sleep. When you are well rested, you think better, you have more energy, you procrastinate less and you have a more positive attitude. The problem is that it’s easy to get sucked into watching “The Walking Dead” or binge watching “House of Cards” on Netflix. When you are at the end of your day your energy and will power are gone. Set up a bed time and stick to it. If you can add 15 minutes of reading a fiction book and keep your technology out of your bedroom, all the better. Set a bedtime and stick to it.
3. Get some kind of movement first thing in the morning. Spend just 10 minutes walking or running or doing push ups. Get your blood flowing. Maybe it’s yoga or walking in place. Put your sneakers next to your bed. Queue the exercise dvd the night before. Set out your gear the night before so that it’s effortless to get up and go. As a client of mine decided, she set up her coffee to automatically brew the night before to save time in the morning to get in some exercise. Move.
4. Separate from the Judge in your head. Give your Judge their voice. As instructed by Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence, I have been reframing my judgments by giving The Judge a voice. So instead of thinking “I think I look fat in this dress,” think “the Judge thinks I look fat in this dress.” Or “I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough,” think “the Judge thinks I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough.” Now the Judge is out in the open and, most importantly, you realize it’s not you. Having a positive outlook versus a negative defensive outlook will transform your life. Out your Judge.
5. Give up on perfectionism. Perfectionism is paralyzing. Regardless of what your mother told you, you are good enough. Mistakes are for learning. You will never regret that your spice rack isn’t alphabetized but you will regret not spending quality time with your partner. Giving up on perfectionism gives you more space to connect to others and isn’t that what life is all about? So don’t worry if your proposal isn’t perfect. Send it off.
6. Try some kind of meditation. At the beginning of your day or at the end or maybe on your lunch hour, find 5 minutes to slip into your body and out of your head. I have to tell you that I have been practicing Shirzad Chamine’s 15 minute meditation for the last few weeks. After meditating, I do three brain challenges from Lumosity. Since starting this new meditation, I’ve been achieving high scores on Lumosity. That’s tough to do since I have been using the app for over 2 years. Clearing out my head helps me think better.
7. Try habit stacking. As James Clear writes in his article, Habit Stacking: How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones, “This is a concept called ‘habit stacking’ because you stack your new habit on top of a current habit. Because the current habit is strongly wired into your brain already, you can add a new habit into this fast and efficient network of neurons more quickly than if you tried to build a new path from scratch.” It’s kind of like a two for one. As Clear recommends, fill in this sentence:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
So after I meditate, I will play Lumosity. Before I go to bed, I will lay out my exercise gear. After my shower, I will make my bed. Try stacking your habits.
These itzy bitzy keystone habits are much easier if you just try a small slice. One tiny step. So try meditating or exercising for 5 minutes and not 15 to start. I remember getting back to running after surgery a few years ago. I started with just getting out the front steps. The next day, I walked to the mailbox. Within a week I was back to walking two miles. As Darren Hardy says in The Compound Effect, “slow and steady wins the race.” These habits over time will compound and the half a bagel you cut out of your diet today will equal an 8 pound weight loss two years from now.