Keystone Habits: Why they hold such Power (Blog and Podcast)

This is Episode 4 of 6 in the “Goals and Habits” series. Listen here.

If you missed any of the first three episodes in the series, you can find those here:

  1. Goals: How to set good ones
  2. Values: Why they’re important
  3. Habits: How and why they form

In this week’s episode, I cover keystone habits, explaining what they are and how they contributed to flow in life.

In Short:

  • Keystone habits shape identity
  • They have an iterative effect – good leads to more good and bad leads to more bad
  • You can use them as a lead in to bigger changes you don’t yet feel capable of making

In Detail:

What are Keystone Habits?

They are habits that have a ‘trickle down’ effect into other areas of life. In other words, they impact behaviour beyond the behaviour necessary to support the habit. It is thought this happens because engaging in these habits changes how we see ourselves – it alters our self-perception and identity.

For example, someone who starts exercising regularly might end up eating more healthily and engaging in other habits to improve physical wellbeing because instead of being someone who is “lazy” or “too tired”, they become someone who “takes care of themselves” and “values health”.

Although conscious effort isn’t required in order for keystone habits to have this iterative effect, it is useful to think about keystone habits consciously as these habits hold the greatest power when it comes to reducing resistance or creating flow in your life.

3 Step Process for using Keystone Habits:

  1. Identify the outcome goal you want to achieve
  2. Consider how you need to feel as well as how you need to feel about yourself (your identity) in order to achieve the outcome goal
  3. Choose a habit that starts you on the road towards feeling that way and flows in the direction of your outcome goal (even if it is not directly related to achieving the outcome goal at this stage)

What do Keystone Habits achieve?

These habits always achieve one or more of the following three things:

  1. Shape your identity
  2. Change how you feel / change how you feel about yourself
  3. Develop skills / behaviours that can be employed in other areas of your life

All three of these can have positive or negative impacts, depending on the habit.

Keystone Habits known to make a positive difference

With the advent of Positive Psychology, much research has been carried out – and continues to be carried out – into practices that lead to greater wellbeing and overall life satisfaction. Evidence suggests that each of these habits has positive knock-on effects in life and could therefore serve as beneficial keystone habits to adopt.

  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Practicing Gratitude
  • Brain-healthy diet
  • 10-15 minutes devoted to learning or personal development every day
  • Sleeping for 7 – 8 hours every night

You don’t need to do all of these things to experience the benefits but the great thing about keystone habits is that just starting with one can lead you to take up more of the others later on.

So What?

Sometimes we can become daunted by the goals we want to achieve or feel stuck in our efforts to make changes in our lives for the better. Understanding keystone habits gives you a place to start; a jumping off point that can shape your identity, give you greater confidence in yourself, develop your motivation and supercharge your energy so you’re better able to tackle those daunting goals when the time comes.


Although I don’t talk about it specifically in this episode, Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” is a great place to find out more on keystone habits and their effects on mindset and behaviour and is where I first learned about these habits.

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