Following on from our blog on keystone habits and how they can improve your health and wellbeing, we will be looking deeper into fundamental healthy keystone behaviours. To put it simply, a keystone habit is a habit which prompts a domino effect in our lives and triggers even more healthy routines to form.
An example of a keystone habit is exercise. How many of us say every year (and probably multiple times throughout the year!) that we want to start exercising more? A good exercise routine, like eating well and sleeping well, is something most of us aspire to, as we know the far reaching benefits it can have.
However, despite knowing its benefits, forming the habit is not always easy.
Define your motivation
Motivation is required in order to develop a new habit. The nature of this motivation will be individual to you and your life goals, but it’s important to define it if you want the habit to stick.
It could be as simple as wanting to get the most of your money if you’re paying for a gym membership, or more personal – perhaps a fitness goal or personal best that you want to beat.
Applying Charles Duhigg’s “Habit Loop” (cue, routine, reward) can help you to clarify your motivation.
The ripple effect of keystone habits
Your motivation can also feed into the keystone domino effect. For example, if you have sleep issues, these may be helped with regular exercise – research has shown that a minimum of two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise over a week can help to reduce symptoms of insomnia.
Furthermore, exercising regularly may also spark healthier eating, as you become more aware of looking after your body and fuelling it with good food.
These keystone “dominoes” can act as motivation – helping you to sustain your habit as you enjoy the far reaching benefits it prompts. Picture it as multiple healthy habits working in harmony together.
Create a routine that works for you
Although money spent on a gym membership could act as a motivation for some, it may be a hurdle for others. Not everyone can afford a monthly gym subscription, or wants to spend their money in that way.
Luckily, a great exercise routine can be created without having to leave the house – with the plethora of workout tips and videos available online.
It’s also worth checking out if your local authority offers cheaper gym fees. Some leisure centres offer subsidised gym slots for local residents.
Try being specific with your goals
Being very specific can be helpful. Declaring “I’m going to start exercising regularly” is far too vague, and so is “I’m going to exercise four times a week”.
Deciding on which days you’re going to workout on, which exercises you’re going to do, and at what time/place, can help you to stick to your goals as they are more clear.
Consistency is key
Whereas it could seem more realistic and manageable to exercise on three or four days a week, some people may actually find it easier if they exercise everyday. This way, the habit gets ingrained into everyday life and your normal routine.
Zen Habits blogger, Leo Babauta, says “the more consistent an action is, the more likely it is to be a habit” and this is certainly a valid point. If exercising everyday sounds daunting, you can make it more manageable by alternating between low, middle and high intensity workouts. For example, on Monday you could simply go for a power walk, on Tuesday do a quick workout video at home, on Wednesday go to a circuit training class at your local gym, and so on.
It goes without saying however that everyone is different – some people may find working out four times a week easy to sustain. Expect to spend some time finding out what works best for you.
Developing your new habit will most likely take some trial and error – the important thing is that you don’t lose heart and give up. It’s a paradox, but just because a behaviour is positive and will improve several aspects of our life, does not mean that it’s easy to implement.
Although it takes commitment, dedication and motivation to establish a keystone habit in your life, the positive ripple effect it sparks will certainly be worth it.