Some habits are more important than others – they have the power to transform your life.
Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” calls these “keystone habits.” They are correlated with other good habits. For example, regular exercise often goes hand-in-hand with better eating habits. Keystone habits don’t create a direct cause-and-effect relationship, but they can spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold,” Duhigg writes.
Here are eight simple keystone habits that can change your life for the better.
- Having family dinners
Gathering your family around the dinner table every night may seem small, but it has a big impact. As Duhigg writes, “Families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.”
- Making your bed every morning
Making your bed every morning. Why waste the time making your bed if you’re just going to mess it up again at night, right? Wrong.
Making your bed is correlated with increased productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and better budgeting skills, Duhigg writes. “Bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested,” Psychology Today reports.
- Exercising regularly
Exercise triggers people to start eating better, Duhigg writes. He adds that people who exercise have increased patience, less stress, and are more productive at work. Moreover, according to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, exercise is correlated with better mood, less stress, more confidence, and better sleep.
- Tracking what you eat
Duhigg cites a 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health in which participants with food journals lost twice as much weight as those without. Why? They began noticing routines in their eating habits, like that they would eat regularly at one specific time. Participants would keep a snack, like an apple or banana, handy during those times, Duhigg writes. It allowed them to plan for a healthy snack in advance. The food journaling “created a structure that helped other habits to flourish,” Duhigg says.
- Developing daily routines
Whether it’s getting to bed at the same time every night or following a regular morning routine, having consistency in your day produces a cascade of positive effects. “The way we organize our thoughts and work routines has enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness,” Duhigg writes. Say you wake up every morning at 7 a.m., drink a homemade smoothie, and read the newspaper: Day-in and day-out, this exercise will provide a consistent jump-start to your day.
A morning meditation could help put your mind at ease for the rest of the day. Plus, meditating has been shown to provide health benefits like reduced blood pressure and a stronger immune system. Furthermore, meditation is correlated with increased memory and awareness, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased goal-setting.
- Planning out your days
Sitting down for a few minutes and developing a detailed plan for the rest of the day, or the next day, can help you highlight and focus on the most important tasks. And in the best-case scenario, you can use this keystone habit to set aside time for another good habit, such as exercising or meditating.
- Having strong willpower
Duhigg says “dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.” It all comes down to self-discipline. How do you know if you have it? One way to measure self-discipline, Duhigg writes, is to put people in a room with cookies and radishes and assign them one of the foods. Those who eat the other food, which will likely be the cookie, aren’t using their willpower.
He cites a 2005 University of Pennsylvania study that says students with high self-discipline perform better than those with a high IQ. “They had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and more hours on homework,” Duhigg writes.