Changing Keystone Habits

Happy New Year! ‘Tis the season for making resolutions, and over the next few hours, days and weeks, a lot of us will be making resolutions (and hoping to stick to them) to improve our lives in some capacity. This post, helping you address your New Year’s Resolution in a meaningful way, is as ubiquitous as the resolutions themselves. But I felt it important to address the notion of resolutions, why we make them, and why we often fail. Importantly, shifting the focus to a Keystone Habit, rather than a goal itself, can be a simple yet effective method for achieving success in the new year.

New Year’s Resolutions are well-intended and most often center on highly valued, meaningful aspects of life, such as improving health, gaining fitness, reducing stress, or building relationships (with the most common new year’s resolution to to lose weight, which for many, fails). These goals are intended to improve our lives in someway. But we often focus on specific goal attainment (ie. lose 20 pounds) rather than dialing in the habits necessary to achieve such goals. This can backfire – when we don’t find ourselves reaching the goals or deriving immediate satisfaction, we quickly give up and never develop the habit fortitude that is necessary for achievement. Further, by not focusing on the establishment of habit, we are not able to turn these activities into long term, sustainable change, and often default to our baseline behaviors.

This New Year, I encourage you to address a Keystone Habit. A Keystone Habit is a single behavior or daily target that is easily identified, and easily tracked. A Keystone Habit is not necessarily tied to any specific goal; rather the goal of a Keystone Habit is simply to engage in the habit on a regular, measurable basis. Keystone Habits are important as they become essential to the development of multiple other good habits. In essence, focusing on one keystone behavior in your life leads a domino affect of other healthy habits gradually, and more sustainably. Some examples of healthy, realistic, and measurable Keystone Habits to focus on in the New Year include:

  • Exercising a specific set amount of times per week (while foregoing the focus to lose weight)
  • For those already exercising, making sure you stretch on regular, set intervals
  • Drinking water consistently throughout the day
  • Going to bed at a consistent time to ensure adequate rest
  • Waking up at a consistent time to ensure adequate time in preparing for your day
  • Reducing alcohol intake to weekends only (especially if you are a habitual nightly participant)
  • Putting an allocated amount of money into a savings account on a weekly or monthly basis
  • Having family dinner most nights of the weekend (without the distraction of screens)
  • Meditating or practicing mindfulness deliberately 3 times per week

As you can see, the habits themselves are relatively straightforward and tied to no illusory outcomes that impact our self-esteem. By choosing just 1 keystone habit to employ in the new year, and holding commitment to engaging that habit in a regular, consistent way, you will likely find yourself better able to make and sustain other small, yet meaningful change to helping you live a more meaningful, healthier life.


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