Unlocking Your Keystone Habit


Illustration: Denise Eliane

As a driven, Type-A human,  I crave structure. I love planning my week, writing to-do lists, and generating goals.  If left to my own devices, I will impose structure on an otherwise freeform day. For me, there’s something comforting about exerting control over my time and environment.

And yet, as a human, I am far from perfect. I get tired. I make excuses. It’s tough to be consistent every day, and sometimes it feels better in the short term to just go to bed instead of flossing or exercising. Consistency and mental toughness are psychological muscles that, if not flexed, grow soft and squishy rather quickly.

This year, I wanted to cultivate a more focused morning routine. I hypothesized that the right combination of rituals will set me up for a better day, but I’ve pulled many levers to find a good fit. For example, I learned that while I am able to run early in the morning, I don’t enjoy it. There’s always a bit of resistance to a daily routine, but too much makes it not enjoyable. Instead of hitting the ground literally running, I prefer to ease into my day.

Before 2017 ended, I started doing yoga first thing in the morning. It didn’t matter how long the practice was, but I had to hit the mat right when I got out of bed. The first few days were physically and mentally challenging. I hadn’t stretched in a long time and was quite inflexible. I also found it difficult to focus on the video as my brain jumped ahead to future tasks.

But over the past month, I’ve noticed a shift. My body feels different; it’s less creaky and my muscles feel stronger and more limber. I also feel a bit more mentally present. When I start the video, I try to concentrate on my breath and put my to-do list aside. While I usually have to refocus over the course of the practice, I genuinely look forward to starting my morning off in this fashion.

The most interesting part of this consistent practice is how it’s filtered into other parts of my life. Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, describes this phenomenon as the result of a keystone habit, habits that lead to development of other good habits. Since I began this practice, I’ve also consistently meditated, journaled, flossed, and read every day. I use Productive to track my consistency, and there’s something about seeing that streak in front of me that makes me not want to break it. With only a month of data, it’s too early to draw conclusions, but I feel more confident about this routine that I have in the past.


What’s your keystone habit?

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