Family & Education

4 Keystone Habits That Can Change Your Life

These good habits may be the ‘key’ to unlocking others
BY Barbara Danza TIMEApril 8, 2019 PRINT

In architecture, a keystone is the central stone of an arch, where both symmetrical sides come together at the top, and upon which the integrity of the entire arch relies. Without the keystone, the arch would crumble.

When it comes to habits, certain habits can act as keystones in your life.

Habit expert and author of “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Charles Duhigg described the idea of keystone habits, arguing that you don’t have to alter every habit in your life to make significant change, but instead identify and focus on your keystone habits that will have a ripple effect on the other aspects of your life.

So what habits tend to be keystone habits?


Exercise is commonly identified as a keystone habit. James Clear, the author of “Atomic Habits,” shared his experience of identifying exercise as a keystone habit.

“I started to notice a funny thing,” he wrote on his website. “When I worked out, I wanted to eat better. Even though I could have rewarded myself with chocolate bars and ice cream, I felt like eating real, healthy foods.”

He continued to explain how working out also led to better sleep and increased productivity when awake. “Especially in the hour or two after working out, … my mind seemed to think clearer and my writing was crisper. Thoughts flowed easily,” he said.

So, without focusing on the ancillary benefits, exercise revealed itself to be a keystone habit that unlocked other positive outcomes without any attempt to adjust any other habits.

Regular exercise
Regular exercise is a healthy antidote to stress and can help prevent heart disease – the biggest problem is that too many people get too little of it. (pyrozhenka/Shutterstock)


Many people point to meditating as a keystone habit. Meditation has been shown to have a significant effect on mental and physical well-being and has been associated with numerous benefits including improved sleep quality, slowed brain aging, lower risk for stroke and heart disease, lowered anxiety, and increased happiness.

Making Your Bed

In a speech that went viral online a few years ago, U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven begins, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” In this talk definitely worth watching, he enumerates the many ways in which the simple act of making your bed ripples through your day, and indeed, your life to allow you to “do big things.”

A made bed starts your day off with a small win. A made bed makes your room look cleaner and, perhaps may encourage you to straighten the room further. Having made your bed will give you “a small sense of pride,” as McRaven says, and “may encourage you to do another task, and another, and another.” It reinforces the importance of doing little things well. “And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made,” he adds.

Eating Dinner as a Family

Happy family camping and cooking bbq. (Shutterstock)

Some things we used to take for granted have now become rare, due to our busy lives. Eating dinner together as a family might just be one of those things.

The nonprofit The Family Dinner Project encourages families to rekindle this important habit. It notes the many ancillary benefits that eating dinner together as a family has been shown to have, including “higher grade-point averages, resilience, and self-esteem” among children. “Additionally, family meals are linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression,” according to the organization.

Eating dinner with our families leads to a deeper connection, offers a sense of security and comfort, allows for better nutritional choices, and keeps what’s most important in life at the forefront, even when things get busy or stressful.

What habits would you like to improve in your life? Can you identify one simple habit that could have a ripple effect on the others?

Barbara Danza
Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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