Finding a Keystone Habit
I’m always excited to hear about others make big changes in their lives. The sacrifices I have made in my life have been so worth it when I finally saw the results that those sacrifices brought. (If you are reading this and are telling yourself, “Eh… life is going pretty well… There isn’t anything that I need to work on…” then you should read my last post before continuing).
So, I’m assuming you have some changes you want to make in your life. The great thing about improving yourself is that every time you fix something you will find a new area that you can work on; allowing you to grow even more. James Clear wrote about this in his article Keystone Habits. A keystone habit is a change you make in your life that puts everything else into place. For example - you decide to start working out? You may find yourself eating healthier foods, sleeping more, and/or having less stress in your life.
Imagine how much easier and more fulfilling your lifestyle could be if you discovered one or two keystone habits that naturally put the rest of your life in place.
Humans are incredibly driven creatures; that drive has caused our ancestors to travel and explore oceans, forge massive empires, and completely transform the face of the world we live on. Airplanes, electricity, agriculture, and engines were not invented through Netflix and chill - they were created by people that were driven to work more, learn more, and become more.
Unsure what one of these habits may be for you? This list may be some food for thought:
- When is the last time you read a book?
- Have you considered learning a new language?
- Do you know how to play a musical instrument?
- What could you do for 5 hours a week to earn an extra few hundred dollars a month?
- What is your body fat percentage?
- How often do you cook?
- Do you have a budget?
- Are you out of debt?
- Are you doing everything you can to live your dream life 20 years from now?
At this point you’re (hopefully) saying to yourself, “Okay, okay… maybe there are a few things that I could work on, but I don’t even know where to start”. Well, I have a few actionable steps that should help you get on the right direction.
easy simple steps to get anything done:
1. Have a plan
A goal without a plan is just a wish. The only person responsible for making changes happen in you is you. You have to have a plan if you want to make those wishes a reality.
Here is another short quote from an article by James Clear - he’s got a lot of good stuff - I would recommend at least checking out his website.
A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through. Meanwhile, people who read motivational material about exercise, but did not plan when and where they would exercise, showed no increase compared to the control group.
Maybe all of this just sounds like click bait so far - and honestly - most articles and posts about motivation and goal setting are. But - ninety one percent. That’s huge. Put daily/weekly time on your calendar for you to achieve your goal. Google Calendar is such a simple life hack; it keeps track of all the things going on in your life so you don’t have to. Don’t think you have time in your day? Start with 15 minutes - there are 15 minutes somewhere in your day that you could set aside - even if that means giving up a few minutes of sleep.
2. Create intentional friction between you and time-wasting activities
It’s easy to be distracted by all the information we are surrounded with - maybe that’s scrolling through social media, having the TV on, or watching videos on YouTube. These are easy and mindless forms of entertainment. Don’t think that’s you? How many times have you pulled your phone out, put it away, and realized within a few moments you have it open to the same app you just closed?
Our brains want to be stimulated; they have been conditioned to get that stimulation from all the distractions around us. We should try to make it difficult to access these easy forms of satisfaction so we can turn to better and more productive activities.
Some ways you can bring more intentional friction in your life:
- Take your batteries out of your TV remote.
- Unplug your TV from the wall.
- Turn on “screen time” parental controls on your phone. (Limit social media to 10 minutes max a day)
- Re-arrange your phone so all the apps you constantly get on are in folders where you don’t see them as often.
- Tell people you won’t answer your phone during a certain time of the day.
- Set up a focus/productivity add-on on your web browser. (Limit websites that you are constantly on to 10 minutes a day)
- Consolidate the amount of times you have to run errands, check your email, cook, etc. (We often do these things just to make ourselves feel productive even though we are wasting time more than anything)
PSA: I am in NO way saying any of the things I am suggesting you separate you from bad. In fact, if you feel like watching TV, using social media, playing video games, or browsing the internet is helping you become the best person you can possibly be then by all means please continue. I just know that 10 years from now I am not going to care about how often I checked Instagram or browsed Reddit, but I am going to care about how much (or how little) I worked towards making my life what I want it to be in the future.
3. Remove friction between you and the things you want to do
Let’s say you decided to start running every day after work. There are a lot of things you still have to figure out:
“When am I going to do it? What am I going to wear? How long should I do it for? What should the route be?”
It may be easy to start running when the weather is sunny and 75 or when you have a running buddy… But what about when it’s cold, or when you can’t find any clothes to wear? What if life gets busy? Will you just put it off for another week until things are more convenient?
“Tomorrow I will, I just didn’t have enough time today… And I need to find clothes… And I don’t know the route I am going to take…” Fast forward to tomorrow and you friends ask you to go out for “taco Tuesday” - I mean, who can say no to tacos, am I right? “Okay, just one more day - I will run tomorrow when I have more time…”
Instead, remove as much friction as you can from these activities so don’t even have to think about what to do. Make the daily grind easy; make it repeatable. Here are some ways you can remove friction from daily tasks:
- Set out your running shoes and your running clothes next to your front door, or in a spot where you will see them daily
- Set a daily reminder on your phone to study something
- Wash and cut your fruits/vegetables right when you buy them so they are easily accessible
- Set up automatic deductions to your retirement accounts so you don’t even see that money leaving your bank account
- Have a scheduled plan for your workouts so you know what to do each day at the gym
Our brains want to do as little thinking as possible in a day - removing this friction will make working towards your goals “easy” choices.
4. At least START
Why does it seem like starting something is the worst part of doing a task? All of my projects and essays I had in college seemed SO much worse before I started them. What stopped me from starting those projects 3 weeks early instead of the night before they were due? The project would loom over my head and I would keep worrying about it until I had almost NO time left. I would stay up all night - wired on dangerous levels of caffeine - and knock the project out.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
I’m not saying you have to do everything immediately, but at least START. Try beginning your day by knocking out 3 or 4 things that you know you have to do but really don’t want to do. It’s like a band-aid; you gotta’ rip it off.
5. Consistency is the key
A lot of people fail at accomplishing their goals because they try to dive head first into something instead of building a routine. Sure, it’s great to put a lot of effort into whatever you are doing, but if you go 0 to 100 and don’t build in some type of consistency you are (probably) going to stop within a few days. It is easy to hop on the motivation hype wave, but after the honeymoon phase is over you have to be willing to power through the plummet phase (the realization that you can’t progress nearly as fast as you originally thought you could).
So - how do you keep riding the hype wave? Small and consistent steps. Don’t start with a goal of going to the gym for an hour each day. It becomes really easy to tell yourself “I can’t make it today - I have too much to do” when you HAVE to go for at least an hour. If you start with a goal of only 10 minutes you have no excuse. Start small; once you establish the habit you can make those goals more difficult. You can always do MORE than your goal - that’s just what you absolutely have to do.
6. Start today
The best day to work towards a goal is today. It’s right now. Don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself another day will be better when life is less busy. If you give yourself an excuse as to why you can’t start today you can give yourself an excuse why you can’t start tomorrow, or the day after - you get it.
7. Make it measurable
I’m sure most of you have heard of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals before; this step is focusing on the first two points of that acronym. Instead of making a goal like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be in shape”, make your goal something you can track and something you are completely in control of - like “going to the gym 4 times a week”.
Maybe you want to lose 30 pounds this year… What if by the end of 2019 you built a habit of daily exercise but only lost 22 pounds? Did you not reach your goal? You can’t (precisely) control how fast your body gains/loses weight, but you CAN control how many days a week you exercise.
8. Track everything
How are you supposed to know what changes you want to make if you don’t even know everything about your situation? This means you might have to have some difficult realizations:
- Tallying up credit bills you don’t want to think about
- Stepping on a scale and writing down your weight
- Keeping a daily log of what you spent your week doing
- Adding up the total amount of calories you are eating on a daily basis
Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, you should want the opposite of that. I’m not saying you should be stewing on these things or that you should be sad about your life, but you should be aware of your current situation. You can’t make a perfect plan without all of the details. Get hyper-obsessed at first. Don’t tell yourself that $5 or 5 calories are “nothing to worry about”; you need to account for EVERYTHING. You don’t have to do this forever - just long enough to get a true understanding of what you are trying to change.
Not sure where to start? Try Microsoft Excel. Unsure what to track? Start with a simple calendar and mark if you did or did not do your daily/weekly tasks. If your goal is to go to the gym 4 times a week it is very easy to track that on a weekly basis. Within a month you will be able to see if you have built a habit or not. Did you did hit your goal every week? Increase the duration or frequency. Too hard? Cut a day off. The key is to constantly make adjustments; your goal should be attainable but should also be slightly difficult to achieve.
9. Make it accountable
Don’t just tell someone about your goal - tell them about your progress towards reaching that goal EVERY week. Set up a weekly check-in with a friend or mentor. Hell, if you can’t think of anyone you can reach out to me. This Medium article has a great list accountability apps you could try out too.
I haven’t personally used any of these apps, but the idea of the first one on list is awesome. The app (StickK) has 4 steps:
- Set up a goal you are going to work towards
- Add a financial incentive (optional) that gets donated to a charity if you don’t reach your goal
- Add another person as a referee
- Add friends to track your progress for support.
The only step you have to do is the first step, but here’s the kicker: You can elect to have the money you put up as collateral be donated to a charity that you hate. Not a fan of Trump? How about you put $50 dollars up to the American Crossroads charity (the Super PAC supporting Republican Party)? Sounds like great motivation to me.
10. Write down your goals down
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with number eight, but write you goals down. You need to think about that goal every day! Keep a small journal with you and write down those goals. Have your goal hung up in your room. See the goal, think about what you are doing to reach that goal daily.
Ready to start?
Still here? Congratulations - you made it. Those are the steps. They’re not crazy - in fact I’m sure you have probably heard different variations of each of them before. The point is you don’t have to do anything that special - you just have to start - and the best time to start is today.