3 ways to identify your “keystone habits”, habits that change everything

by | Jan 30, 2014 | Become More Awesome

Takeaway: Keystone habits create a chain reaction; changing and rearranging your other habits as you integrate the habit into your life. They have 3 characteristics: they give you numerous small senses of victory; they serve as the soil from which other habits grow; and they give you energy and confidence to do more.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 6s.


One of my favorite ideas from Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit is the idea of a “keystone habit”. Keystone habits create a chain reaction; changing and rearranging your other habits as you integrate the habit into your life. According to Duhigg, “[k]eystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate”, and they “start a process that, over time, transforms everything.”

How can you identify the keystone habits in your life? In a guest post for Lifehacker, Duhigg named three characteristics of keystone habits that you should look out for:

1. Keystone habits give you “numerous, small senses of victory”. Look out for habits and routines that provide you with a pattern of small wins. According to Duhigg, “small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves”, and these are “places where momentum can start to build”. Small wins “fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince [you] that bigger achievements are within reach”.

2. Keystone habits are “the soil from which other habits [grow]”. Keystone habits aren’t just a new habit, like drinking water right after you wake up; they’re a platform off of which other habits can grow. For example, I work out every morning at 6 am. This started as a new habit, but over time my morning workout has spawned other productive habits, like drinking a pre-workout drink, eating an apple before the gym, stretching in the morning, and preparing a protein shake and a healthy breakfast afterwards. I’ve even recently started to define my three outcomes for the day while I’m on the treadmill in the morning.

3. Keystone habits give you energy and confidence to do more. I’m paraphrasing what Duhigg here, because the third characteristic of a keystone habit is a bit more nuanced. Duhigg recommends that you be mindful of “moments when excellence—or change, or perseverance, or some other virtue—seems to become contagious. Keystone habits are powerful because they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible”. Keystone habits don’t simply stop providing you with energy and motivation after you finish up with your routine; they provide you with an infectious drive to be better and get done long after you’re done.

Some great examples of keystone habits from reddit users: cleaning, cooking, developing real relationships with partners/friends, and my personal favourite keystone habit suggestion: drinking a six-pack of Keystone every day after work. Haha!

Keystone habits have the power to rewire how you work, play, live, spend money, and communicate. Identifying which ones you have can set off a chain reaction that will make you much more productive, automatically.

Which keystone habits do you have? Which ones have you had in the past?

If you haven’t read it already, check out my interview with Charles Duhigg for how you can use habits to stick to your goals. The interview is 8m, 24s, but that’s time well spent in my opinion.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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