Keystone Habits Posted on 07 Oct 15:39 , 0 comments

Did you make your bed this morning? 
I’m serious.

Research has found a correlation between making your bed each day and happiness.

Check out this article from Psychology Today which cites research which found:

  • 71 percent of bed makers consider themselves happy;
  • 62 percent of non-bed-makers admit to being unhappy.
Research also finds that bed makers are more likely to enjoy their work, own a home, exercise regularly and feel well rested.

The article goes on to say that non-bed-makers are more likely to dislike their jobs, avoid the gym and wake up tired.

It's amazing what one small habit can do to change your life.

Admiral William McRaven gave this tip at his 2014 commencement speech for the University of Texas.  Check out McRaven’s excellent speech here. (It's worth the 20 minutes!)
Making your bed is a keystone habit.
Keystone habits are what I like to call the secret sauce. 
A keystone habit is a habit that sets off a series of small wins. 

They are the habits that pull the rest of your life in order by bringing other habits, processes, and systems together.

Like a lot of people, my morning routine is a keystone habit for me. 
Each morning, I hear my husband wake up and start the shower in our en-suite. 

This is my trigger to wake up and meditate for around 20 minutes before getting up, showering and heading to the gym. (Some mornings my son even joins us... check him out)

After we exercise, we eat a healthy breakfast and then I walk to work. 
When I arrive at work, I’m alert, and I am in a good mood from having front-loaded my day with activities that make me happy.
Because I am in a good mood, I kick off the day with high value and often difficult tasks. 

I avoid email for at least the first 90 minutes of my day.
Every now and then I break this habit and can't get out of bed.  Perhaps I'm sick or have had a bad night's sleep.

This will usually lead to a less than healthy breakfast as I eat on the run, and I feel rushed by the time I get to work.  On these days I usually lack focus and may even be in a bad mood.

When I feel rushed the adrenaline kicks in and it takes me a while to gather my thoughts.  

Creative work is beyond me.  

I might as well just work on my inbox and tick off low value tasks until my head clears.  
What are your keystone habits?  What are the small habits that make a huge difference to your life and indeed your work?

Here are five ways to identify and leverage keystone habits:


1. Identify the habits which lead to other great habits 
The trick to identifying keystone habits is to keep asking yourself questions to understand the impacts small actions have on other areas of your life. 
It’s about experimenting and looking for small wins that lead to other wins.  Here are some examples:

  • Writing a ‘to-do’ list at the end of the day before going home is a great habit.   It clears your head so that you can feel in control and focus on your personal life once you get home.  
  • For one of my clients, her keystone habit is getting everything her family needs prepared for the next day done before she goes to bed.  This may include making school lunches, signing permission slips, getting out clothes and packing bags.

    That way, as soon as she gets up she can can get ready for work knowing everything is in control. (Well, as much as possible!)

  • Eating breakfast with his family every morning helps one of my clients feel good about his day. During this time he leaves his iPhone in his briefcase and talks to his family about their plans for the day.  That way, he feels good on his drive to work and his family enjoys "Daddy time." 
  • Regular scrum meetings help agile project teams stay on track every day.  Scrum leaders determine what everyone is working on for the day, what they achieved the day before and any obstacles that may be in their way.  

    It keeps moving things forward with a sense of urgency.  
Unfortunately, many people give up on their keystone habits when they get busy with life.  (For instance, when you start a family, or your job gets super busy).

When you realise that keystone habits encourage you to be a better performer at work (and often nicer to be around) you can carve out time for these habits without guilt.

 2. Front-load your day with a great morning routine  

Our research has found that over 70% of us are most productive in the morning.  Set yourself up for success by saving your mornings for high value work that requires optimal levels of concentration.
Mornings are also often the best time of day for you to carve out time for yourself for exercise, meditation, breakfast with loved ones and other “me time”.  These activities set you up for success each day and help you maintain balance. 

Consider setting your alarm clock 30-60 minutes earlier and creating some "me time" for yourself.  (This probably means you need to go to bed a little earlier!)

3. End well  

The end of each day is the perfect opportunity to take time for reflection.  Ask yourself:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go well today?
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • What am I grateful for? 

Create a gratitude practice.  

Take time to think about, and ideally write down, everything you are grateful for from the day you've just had.

Research has found that people who practice gratitude consistently: 
  • Have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
  • Experience higher levels of positive emotions;
  • Report more joy, optimism and happiness;
  • Behave in a more generous and compassionate way; and
  • Feel less lonely and isolated.
When my clients adopt this habit it changes their mindset and indeed their life.

It allows you to celebrate small wins, overcome any negativity you have have experienced during the day, and identify people you should say "thank you" to for the support they may have given you.  

Gratitude helps you balance your constant drive for achievement. 
A client recently told me this habit is key to his success: 

“Even when great things happen, I find myself caught up thinking about the losses I’ve had or the mistakes I’ve made. 

My gratitude practice ensures that I don’t forget to focus on everything great that happens to me, and all of the support my wife, team, and friends give me.

It puts me in a good mood to end the day well.”

4. Identify Team Keystone Habits  

Along with individual keystone habits, we have team and company keystone habits which encourage high performing cultures.
What are the habits in your business that lead to success across your team? 
In our business we celebrate wins by calling out the great things team members do that align with our values, or when we go the extra mile over and above our normal duties.  

Every day you’ll see group wide emails sent to call out great behaviours. 

These emails come from everyone- not just the leaders in the business. They remind us to strive to be better and add more value to our colleagues, clients and our market.  
5. There is such a thing as unproductive keystone habits


Keystone habits are not all good news stories. 

There are habits that lead to other bad habits that you should avoid.
For instance:

  • Many people say they only smoke cigarettes when they drink. 
  • Within teams, you may notice that keystone habits have developed whereby team members cover up mistakes for fear of retribution because of internal cultural issues. 
  • You may notice that when you get together with certain colleagues you always end up gossiping and talking negatively about others.

Look for the inter-dependency between habits, how you may be triggered by a small bad habit to act out a worse one. 

Replace your unproductive keystone habits with productive keystone habits and see your life change.  

Start with your morning routine. What's the best way to start your day so that you hit your desk feeling great, and ready to tackle any challenge?
Front-load your day with happiness, because remember:

Happiness leads to success twice as much as success leads to happiness. (Here's an article I wrote about Happiness for the rich list)

Keep moving forward.  I believe in you.


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Additional Resources

Psychology Today article: Make Your Bed Change Your Life 

The Rich List article I wrote about Why Happy People Are More Successful

Admiral William McRaven's University of Texas Commencement Speech is well worth watching here

Charles Duhigg has two excellent books about Habit Change that I constantly refer to: