Remember when you were a kid and your mom practically forced you to make your bed every morning, much to your chagrin? Then she would ask you to do other annoying task like clean your room (the horror!), fold your laundry (ugh), and maybe even (when you were younger, anyway) make you go to bed at a certain time. Well, she may have had a point in asking you to do these things—a very, very good point.
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Charles Duhigg, author of the motivational book The Power of Habit, came up with the term “keystone habits,” which are the mundane, everyday habits we’ve all been conditioned to either perform or avoid, depending on our general attitudes. Duhigg argues that it’s these seemingly unimportant tasks that can actually have a major impact on your overall life success.
That’s not to say that people who make their beds everyday are necessarily more successful—the thing about keystone habits is that they vary from person to person, based on a combination of your life experiences and personality. (One person’s “making the bed” might be another’s “doing the dishes.”) But there are a few traits that all keystone habits have in common—read on to see what they are!
1. They cause small wins in large quantities.
One of the most common characteristics of successful people, Duhigg writes, is that they have a life that is rich in “small wins”: tiny victories that, on the surface, don’t seem like much of anything—but once added together, amount to a whole lot. “Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach,” Duhigg writes.
A small win can be something like the tiny sense of achievement you feel when you get up right when your alarm goes off, instead of pressing snooze. Or being in your car at just the time you need to be to get to the office on time, instead of five minutes late. Programming your habits so that you feel these tiny victories on a daily basis is what leads to larger victories down the road.
2. They create “platforms” for other great habits.
Keystone habits also work by creating what Duhigg calls “platforms” for other positive habits to form. An example: if you make it a habit to wake up every day as soon as your alarm goes off, your day is guaranteed to start a little bit earlier than you’re accustomed to.
That extra time—whether it’s 15 minutes, an hour, or even as little as five to 10 minutes—becomes a platform from which you can form other good habits, like meditating in the morning, eating a solid breakfast before work, or taking that time in the evening to read a book or take an online class.
3. They make other positive virtues feel contagious, or commonplace.
One of the most powerful aspects of keystone habits, Duhigg says, is that they make virtues like excellence, transformation, and perseverance, seem commonplace. “Keystone habits are powerful because they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible,” Duhigg writes.
In laywoman’s terms: if you fill your life with good habits that make you feel tiny sense of victory, you’ll become used to it, and start to replicate that feeling more and more in your life—on multiple scales. Not only will you know how to form the habits that make you feel good, you’ll form the ones that make you achieve good things—both big and small.
Interesting right? Check out Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit for more detailed advise on the ability habits have to change your life for the better!