45% of what we do every day is habitual. This means we often don’t have to think about our behavior; we simply do what our brains are programmed to do.
This is great news from an evolutionary standpoint. It means that we expend less energy deciding what to do and more energy actually doing what needs to be done.
This also means that if we create habits that contribute to our goals, we have a greater chance of reaching them. If we don’t create habits that support our goals, we’ll make minimal progress and spend much of our time on autopilot.
If you’re looking to build healthier habits in the new year, creating keystone health habits is one way to set yourself up for success.
From nutrition to fitness to stress-reduction, let’s explore some habits you can weave into your busy life to improve your health every day.
Hold on…What Are Keystone Habits?
Keystone habits are small changes that give way to bigger improvements in your life. Think of a keystone habit like a trigger habit that can set off an avalanche of transformation (whether good or bad).
The happiness we experience in life is primarily determined by our habits. To that extent, we want to optimize our keystone habits for greater health and happiness.
Without taking the time to consciously decide the habits you want to implement in your life, there’s a good chance you’ll remain stuck in old patterns. The good news is that your brain loves habits. And by taking the time to invest in ones that serve you, you’ll be able to reap the benefits.
To make the transition from current habits to new habits, you’ll want to focus on building new keystone habits.
Here are three characteristics of keystone habits:
- They bring your brain a small sense of victory. Your keystone habits should make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, even if these accomplishments are small victories. Think of the satisfaction you experience when you check something off your to-do list. These positive actions create a slight dopamine boost in your brain.
- They’re the soil from which other habits grow. Your brain will use this new, small supply of dopamine to form your next habit. This is why many life coaches recommend making your bed right after you wake up. It allows you to experience something positive at the start of your morning, which becomes the foundation for other positive behaviors during the day.
- They give you the energy and confidence to do more. The small win of a keystone habit will drive your brain to seek out other positive experiences. This is where the avalanche effect can take place as your brain learns to seek out other positive actions and make them habits.
Why Focus on Keystone Habits?
Since keystone habits lead to other habits, you get the highest return on your effort if you invest your time in positive keystone habits.
Accomplished habit builders know how to leverage keystone habits to push themselves to greater self-improvement. For example, building a keystone habit of exercising five times a week could lead to habits of daily meditation, a new yoga practice, better nutrition, or even a more robust social life.
The opposite is also true. If you focus on eradicating bad habits, it can cancel out the negative behaviors that often follow the keystone habit. For example, for some people, drinking alcohol can lead to unhealthy eating, smoking, poor sleep, etc. It’s a wise investment of your time, then, to focus on eliminating a keystone habit that starts any cycles of bad habits you wish to break.
9 Healthy Keystone Habits to Cultivate
Keystone habits create a chain reaction, changing and rearranging your other habits. All in all, you can expect to get the highest return on your effort when you prioritize keystone habits.
Here are some ways you can integrate keystone habits in your life to bring you a high return of good health.
1. Exercise more
According to research, exercising on a regular basis is an excellent keystone habit because it triggers healthy eating, more productivity, and emotional regulation, and it reduces alcohol and caffeine consumption, smoking, and stress levels.
Furthermore, regular exercise can bring you a physical sense of accomplishment and help you sleep better.
Get actionable tips to help you energize and reprioritize self-care. Sign up for The Wellness Return newsletter today.By providing your email address, you agree to receive email communication from Arootah
2. Meditate daily
Establishing a mindfulness or meditation practice as a keystone habit can help you cultivate self-awareness. People who practice mindfulness tend to be less stressed and are more likely to be productive.
Even if you only have 10 minutes to yourself, using that time to meditate can help you increase your awareness of your overall habits.
3. Wake up 10 minutes earlier
It’s no secret early risers have cornered the market on positive habits and productivity. Those who start their days earlier have been shown to have more proactive mindsets and become more successful people overall.
If you can’t swing a 4 a.m. workout yet, try developing a keystone habit to wake up 10 minutes earlier than you normally do to journal or read a personal development book. From there, you may find yourself layering on other positive habits with which to begin your day.
4. Cut back on alcohol
Alcohol, when used in moderation, may feel good in the moment. But many people slip into the heavy usage category — for women, that means consuming eight or more alcoholic drinks per week, and for men, 15 drinks or more per week — unknowingly.
Heavy alcohol use can lead to weight gain, difficulty focusing and sleeping, and other issues. Longer term, alcohol misuse can lead to heart disease, liver failure, and other health problems.
Creating a keystone habit of drinking less may inspire you to eat better, wake up earlier, quit smoking, or change other unhealthy habits. You’ll likely feel better as a result, too.
5. Stretch in the mornings
Taking time to get in tune with your body and how you’re feeling by stretching in the mornings can help you wake your body up and make you feel more alert. This can help you can plant a seed for other healthy habits — maybe you won’t be as interested in scrolling social media, for instance, and will want to reach for a healthy breakfast or go for a run instead.
6. Drink 1 more glass of water each day
Set a designated time each day to catch up on your hydration. Maybe before you open your laptop for the morning, for example, you can commit to drinking an extra glass of water first. Perhaps, then, that habit will inspire you to stretch before every meeting throughout the day.
7. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier
If you tend to hit snooze when your alarm goes off, create a keystone habit of going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night. This habit can help you wake up feeling more rested and better prepared to take on the day.
8. Eat more plants at every meal
Filling your plate with non-starchy veggies at every meal can help you feel fuller (while giving you a better nutritional bang for your buck). And when you feel fuller, you may find yourself overeating less and not gaining weight.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to building healthy habits, small decisions add up over time. But making drastic changes overnight rarely results in lasting changes.
Instead, creating keystone habits can add up to a lifetime of sustainable change. For an added layer of accountability, download Arootah’s habit tracker app to become more mindful of your emotions and triggers, measure your progress towards goals, and build (or break) the habits you need to get there.