The Power of Habit: Keystone Habits


Don’t miss the news about the winner of this week’s giveaway on Monday’s post, and check in with us next Monday for another fun giveaway!

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On Monday, Kelli posted on The Power of Habit, a book that has been passed around our office and has generated interesting conversation. We rely on habits to help us make it through our days, so that the activities we do regularly are not as taxing to accomplish and so that we can run on autopilot when we need to.

In the book, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits: small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives. Keystone habits have a ripple effect into other parts of life, creating positive change unexpectedly. And who doesn’t want this whole behavior change challenge to be a bit easier?

Two keystone habits that Duhigg highlights are exercise and food journaling. On exercise:

5447958713_a375185097_o“When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. ‘There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.’” (p. 109)

Once people invest time and energy in exercise, it appears that they are set up to make other beneficial changes, even without consciously doing it.

Food journaling seems a little more clear cut: if someone is focusing on weight loss, keeping track of what they eat increases the intrinsic reward of good behavior by creating an extrinsic reward, which is seeing the food consumption documented. But researchers of a large weight-loss study were surprised to see just how effective it was, and how it influenced other behaviors:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit.  Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.” (p. 120)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chore of recording food was difficult at first — as all new habits are.  But researchers found that six months into the study, people who kept food records daily lost twice as much weight as everyone else! And because of their heightened awareness, they were primed to make additional positive changes to their behavior.

Exercise and food journaling are just two examples of keystone habits, and they’re by no means simple to implement. But they’ve been shown to serve as catalysts for other changes.

What are the keystone habits that set you up for flourishing?

–Catherine Wilson

Top image by eccampbell, lower one by John’s Brain, both used with permission via Creative Commons.

8 thoughts on “The Power of Habit: Keystone Habits

  1. Wow, I never even considered how habits can affect other parts of our lives. It’s very interesting how something as simple as food journalling can have a major effect on our lives, I’m going to start looking into all my habits and see what other habits I can start to improve areas of my life 🙂


  2. I have definitely broke the habit of exercising a few times a week. Eventually I would like to build it up to about 5 times a week. But I have never had a food journal. Funny because I have been reading about it everywhere lately. I guess it means I should try it out! 🙂

  3. This book inspired us to start a habit and lifestyle better.We hope everyone can understand it, because many are not aware of diet and daily activities we are highly influential to the quality of our bodies.

  4. I’ve been a huge fan of the keystone habits concept since first reading “The Power of Habit.” When you realize that most of what we do every day is habitual … and that little keystone habits can support huge new structures (just like keystones support bridges) … you then think, “What keystone habits can I include in my life?”

    I’ve identified 3 keystone habits that really work for me (and others who read my blog):

    1) Reading my monthly goal out loud for 1 minute every morning
    2) Visualizing it for 3 minutes
    3) Walking while saying affirmations out loud for 10 minutes

    These 3 habits have been little catalysts for big changes in my life and my business.

    I wish you all the best!

  5. Catherine

    I am about half way through The Power of Habit and I have become fascinated by the concept of keystone habits.

    My husband and I are farmers, we raise grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chicken and turkey for meat and eggs. We originally got into farming because of our belief in the importance of healthy eating especially because of our three children.

    But Farming is so time consuming with many 12 hour days for both of us that we have been letting our eating habits slip back to “what can we do quickly so we can get back to fencing or moving the cows or some other chore.

    I am going to try to use the “keystone habit” concept to get us back on track to healthy eating.

    So I am going to start a food journal and renew my commitment to healthy eating.

    Catherine thanks for your post it helped me a lot

    Kristin Bohan
    Grass Roots Farm
    New Braintree, Massachusetts

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