We should initiate our transformation by focusing on developing our keystone habits, as these are what distinguish the ‘extraordinary’ versions of ourselves from the ‘regular’ ones. Keystone habits create a domino effect, leading to the formation of other good habits and significant improvements in many areas of our lives. Moreover, keystone habits are what help us in moments of difficult decisions or uncertainty.

What is a Keystone Habit as Defined by Charles Duhigg

In his book ‘The Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg discusses the concept of ‘keystone habits’ in Chapter 4, entitled ‘Keystone Habits, or The Ballad of Paul O’Neill: Which Habits Matter Most’.

According to ‘The Power of Habit’, “keystone habits” are “the habits that matter most“, “matter more than others in remaking lives“, “the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns“, “have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits“, “start a process that, over time, transforms everything“. “Keystone habits” “influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate“.

Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.… Attacking one habit and then watching the changes ripple through… Start by focusing on one thing… Start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout“.

Charles Duhigg

How to Identify Keystone Habits

Keystone Habits and Small Wins

“Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins . Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.
One Cornell professor wrote in 1984: “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach. 
Small wins do not combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal,” wrote Karl Weick, a prominent organizational psychologist. “More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered … like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up.

Charles Duhigg

Examples of Keystone Habits

Willpower Habit

Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.. all-important habit

Charles Duhigg
Why is Willpower a Keystone Habit

As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives—in the gym, or a money management program—that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.
Oaten and Cheng did one more experiment. They enrolled forty-five students in an academic improvement program that focused on creating study habits. Predictably, participants’ learning skills improved. And the students also smoked less, drank less, watched less television, exercised more, and ate healthier, even though all those things were never mentioned in the academic program. Again, as their willpower muscles strengthened, good habits seemed to spill over into other parts of their lives.

Charles Duhigg

Keystone Habits of Michael Phelps: Habit of Visualization and Habit of Relaxation

When Bob Bowman started working with Phelps and his mother on the keystone habits of visualization and relaxation, neither Bowman nor Phelps had any idea what they were doing“.
“We’d experiment, try different things until we found stuff that worked,” Bowman told me. “Eventually we figured out it was best to concentrate on these tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers. We worked them into a routine. There’s a series of things we do before every race that are designed to give Michael a sense of building victory. “If you were to ask Michael what’s going on in his head before competition, he would say he’s not really thinking about anything. He’s just following the program. But that’s not right. It’s more like his habits have taken over. When the race arrives, he’s more than halfway through his plan and he’s been victorious at every step. All the stretches went like he planned. The warm-up laps were just like he visualized. His headphones are playing exactly what he expected. The actual race is just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and has been nothing but victories. Winning is a natural extension. 
Michael Phelps’s routines had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with his success.

Charles Duhigg

Cal Newport on Keystone Habits

Habits Domino Effect