Sometimes there are mini-habits that act as “keystone habits”—habits that have the power to shift or dislodge our routines and create a chain reaction. For example, a keystone mini-habit to ensure that I perform my morning meditation–and this would apply to you if you are exercising in the morning–is to turn off all screens at 9:15 p.m. the night before. I turn my computer all the way off. I set my iPhone to go into “do not disturb” mode automatically so that I don’t get any texts, calls, or alerts. I don’t let myself turn on the TV, which I find too stimulating at night. This keystone habit dislodged a whole series of bad habits that I’d gotten into, both at night and in the morning.
My rule of no screen time after 9:15 p.m. opened up time for me to read more in the evening, spend more time with my husband and stepdaughter (my other children are asleep or reading in bed by then), and talk to my daughter who is away at school and likes to talk at night. All these things contribute to feelings of ease and happiness in my life. It also meant that I naturally started going to bed earlier, when I was tired (imagine that!). These things are all very rewarding and therefore motivating to me. Going to bed earlier in turn made it easier to get out of bed in the morning, which made it possible for me to re-engineer my morning routine to be more relaxing. See how a small habit can create big change?
Lest you think that I have some sort of superhuman discipline around technology, please know that I’m not exerting a lot of willpower to do this. My computer is set to automatically go off at 9:15 p.m. My iPhone automatically goes into silent mode. My colleagues at work and my friends and family know that not only will I probably not read and respond to email at night, and they are encouraged to make fun of me if they notice that I’m breaking my own rules. So it’s not that I don’t ever check my email or send a text after 9:15 p.m. (Lord knows I sometimes do.) It’s just that I’ve set myself up to follow my rule more often than not, especially when I need to get up early in the morning.
Another example: I noticed when I was getting into the habit of meditating in the morning, a key factor for my success was simply setting an alarm. This might sound really obvious, but before I engineered this habit, I would often wake up without an alarm and get through my morning fine. But changing my wake-up time every day required more energy and undermined the solidity of my key trigger. Waking up just fifteen minutes late would derail my whole morning. So I learned (the hard way) that a keystone habit was simply setting an alarm the night before.
What To Do Today
Task #1: Use the page labeled “What are your ‘Keystone’ Mini-habits?” in your workbook to identify the mini-habits that are critical for your success.
Task #2: Keep exercising! If it is feeling really easy and you are itching to do more, today is a good day to do so. But remember: Expand really, really slowly. By a minute or two, not a mile or two. Keep it fun and rewarding. For example, if ultimately you’d like to be taking a 30 minute walk, and you started with a 5 minute walk, expand by another couple of minutes today. (You’ll thank me in five years, when you are still in your exercise habit.)