Previously, we have written about the Kaizen approach and the Pareto Principle. These two methodologies one thing in common. They are based on the core belief that making small changes will lead to greater positive outcomes. Subsequently, if you are trying to make improvements in your life, taking a small step has more impact than a large step. That is also the core belief behind forming keystone habits, which will be discussed in this article.
What Are Keystone Habits?
A term coined by Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, keystone habits refers to small changes or actions that people do that has an effect on other areas of their lives. An architectural concept, a keystone refers to a stone in the middle of the arch that holds the entire structure together. If the stone were to be removed, the entire arch will collapse. As such, a good keystone habit will ensure the development of other good habits and holds all of them together.
An example of a good keystone habit would be exercising for thirty minutes every morning. You get fitter and realise that you want to improve your health in other ways. So, you incorporate healthier foods in your meals. Subsequently, you begin sleeping earlier because you know that you have to exercise in the morning. You slowly come to find that you have more energy during the day and are more productive as well. As a result, your mental and physical health improves, and you begin implementing more positive changes. This is an illustration of just one keystone habit. Imagine if you implement a few of them!
The Habit Loop
Before you can begin forming keystone habits, you need to understand the habit loop. Duhigg believes that 3 elements make up this habit loop, the cue, the routine and the reward. This is illustrated in the diagram below.
The reward is an essential component of the habit loop because it signals positive reinforcement to your brain. The reward compels you to continue doing the habit because you crave the reward. The habit is caused by a cue, a certain trigger, which causes you to perform the routine in order to get the reward. These triggers can be put into 5 categories:
II. Time of the day
III. Emotional state
IV. Other people
V. A preceding behaviour
Using the previous example of exercising every day, let's say that you are interested in cultivating such a habit. First, you need to identify a cue. The easiest would be setting down a specific time to exercise. So, you'd set an alarm for 7.30 am. Once you hear the alarm, you know that you need to do your exercise routine. After doing the routine, the reward can be the feeling of satisfaction from completing it. You can also implement another reward that will be more compelling in getting you to exercise. As a result, the habit loop is a framework that you can utilise to break down the essential components of forming a habit and figure what actions need to be taken.
The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can't extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it. - Charles Duhigg
It is very likely that each person has a bad habit that may be hindering their growth. It can even be a keystone habit! Such bad habits can be eating junk food every day or sleeping late despite knowing that you have to wake up early. Just like one small good habit can lead to other good habits, one small bad habit can lead to other bad ones. Going back to the analogy of the arch, if you were to remove the keystone (the bad habit), the series of bad habits will collapse as well.
Subsequently, the habit loop helps you to identify the components of the bad habit and figure out what needs to be changed. Duhigg came up with a 4-step framework that will help you analyse the bad habit and evaluate what needs to be changed. They are illustrated in the infographic below.
In conclusion, it is better to tackle one habit at a time rather than try to change several habits at once, especially if that one habit is responsible for several. The habit loop framework forces you to reflect deeply on your habit and think critically about what and why you need to change the habit. Being aware of our actions is the first step to changing them. It is also important to note that big changes take some time to happen. So, don't punish yourself whenever you fall off the wagon. Pick yourself up and go back to the drawing board. This way, you will be able to make lasting change.
Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. - Charles Duhigg