To Accelerate Your Success, Build A Keystone Habit

Srinivas Rao
May 29, 2017 · 5 min read

When I started writing 1000 words a day, I had no idea that such a ritualistic and simple daily habit would invite so much opportunity and serendipity into my life.

A keystone habit can do the same for you. One keystone habit can have a ripple effect on every other area of your life. It can help you accomplish multiple goals, pick up new habits and change any behavior you want to change.

Nearly all of my creative work, the articles I’ve written, books I’ve published, speeches I’ve given and even podcasts I’ve recorded, are the result of one habit: writing 1000 words a day. This is my keystone habit- my one habit that sets off a chain reaction.

Before I started surfing in 2009, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have 3 drinks on a night and smoke a few cigarettes. One morning after a night like this, I got in the water. I immediately felt the side effects of my behavior from the night before. It wasn’t long before I went from being a person who had 3 drinks, to being a person who had one drink on most nights and was up at 6 am.

Surfing created a positive ripple effect- I had found another keystone habit. And I’m not alone- many people who exercise regularly find it much easier to change their diet because they literally feel the impact of a bad diet when they work out.

Writing 1000 words a day and surfing were my two keystones that led to everything else. Because of them I had a proven and reliable system for making habits stick. And systems are essential for creative output.

By now, it should be pretty obvious that keystone habits can create a powerful positive domino effect in your life.

So how do you develop yours?

1.Choose your keystone habit

Ideally, the keystone habit you develop is related to some goal you want to accomplish in your life.

  • If you’re an aspiring musician, your keystone habit could be putting in 10–15 minutes of practice a day on your instrument.
  • If you’re looking to make changes to your health and fitness, your keystone habit could be going for a short run every morning.
  • As a blogger and aspiring author, I knew writing daily would be a keystone habit that would pay off in spades.

If you’re not sure what you want your keystone habit to be, just pick something. The important thing is that it causes a positive ripple of changes in your behavior.

Short side note- if you struggle with making habits or productivity, you’ll love my newsletter. You’ll receive weekly articles like this as well as immediate access to a swipe file, where you’ll find my best tips on honing your productivity & creativity, and finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Get it here.

2. Look for Positive Externalities

In economics, there’s a concept known as “positive externalities.” These are unexpected positive benefits that occur as the result of some action.

  • A positive externality of writing is that it helps me to come up with ideas to incorporate into my keynote speeches.
  • The positive externalities of surfing are that it forces me to get up in the morning and eat healthier meals.

When choosing your keystone habit, make a list of benefits that you didn’t expect. As you experiment with introducing these habits, ask yourself- did I benefit from this in any unexpected way? Then, choose the one with the highest number of positive externalities for what you’re trying to accomplish.

3. Build Momentum

Momentum is the lifeblood of any startup or creative endeavor. It’s essential to developing and sustaining any habit. When you show up everyday and take action, you experience momentum and progress. Don’t underestimate the power of small consistent action.

People tend to be overly optimistic when it comes to developing new habits and making a change. They often try to change everything at once. As a result, nothing sticks. Momentum is the byproduct of little things done repeatedly, which lead to big changes in our lives. Frequency matters more than intensity when it comes to building momentum with any new habit.

Start small and make it easy for yourself to succeed.

4. Track Your Progress

Tracking your progress accelerates it. As Dan Kennedy famously said, “absent any other changes, measurement improves performance.” Not only that, visible progress is a great motivator and tracking allows you to see the progress you’ve made.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been documenting my process of learning the guitar on Instagram. My current skill level is nothing to brag about, but posting videos enables me to see my progress. I’m happy to say that day 19 is much better than Day 1.

5. Focus on the Process

On any given day when I sit down to write, I have no idea how things are going to turn out. Some days I wonder what my publisher was thinking paying me to write books. Other days, I feel like I’m doing exactly what I was born to do. For each day that I write an article like this one, there are 7 where nothing I write that day is worth reading.

The one thing that doesn’t change is the process. When you’re focused on the process and not the prize, you’re not going to get derailed by any individual day. All that matters is that you’re following through on your keystone habit.

By showing up consistently to do the work, you’ve already won.

6. Stack Habits

There will be a point when your new habit becomes a part of your identity. James Clear refers to this as identity based habit creation. In the beginning, your mind will think “I have a habit of writing every day.” But once it becomes a part of your identity, your mind goes “I am the kind of person who writes everyday.” This is a subtle but powerful shift.

Once you’ve made this shift, you’re able to start stacking habits. In many ways, stacking habits is a process of designing your days to design your life.

Stacking allows you to design an environment that’s conducive to the person you want to become.

Over time, the repetition of stacked habits become one mega-habit. Show up for the first, and the rest will happen. We call this a system, or a daily ritual.

One small habit done long enough becomes a keystone.

A keystone habit ripples, creating other positive habits.

These habits stacked, create a system.

A system is how you design your days.

By designing your days with intention, you design your ideal life.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please recommend and share it to help others find it!

If creating powerful habits or being more productive is important to you, you’d love my newsletter. You’ll receive a weekly article like this as well as immediate access to a swipe file, where you’ll get my best tips on honing your productivity & creativity, as well as a guide on finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Get it here.

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Srinivas Rao

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The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple. Mission.org