Keystone habits both represent and demonstrate the way that people can take control over their lives—and leaders can take control over their organizations—by adjusting their habits.
Keystone habits are the initial, often insignificant habits that individuals and organizations modify in order to pave the way for much broader transformation. For instance, Lisa Allen gained the confidence to lose weight, improve her sleep schedule, and plan for her future by embracing a single keystone habit change: quitting smoking. Similarly, Alcoa transformed under Paul O’Neill’s leadership by focusing on the keystone issue of worker safety. In both these cases, the keystone habit might have seemed irrelevant or insignificant, but it was actually the key ingredient that brought about the deeper transformation that both Allen and Alcoa needed.
Charles Duhigg argues that keystone habits help people achieve broader change in three ways: they build people’s confidence by giving them “small wins,” help them create new systems and structures that allow other habits to form later on, and change organizations’ culture. But all three of these advantages are based on the same common principle. Namely, by changing some aspects of their lives, people build the capacity and confidence to change other things, too. Thus, Duhigg uses the concept of keystone habits to reaffirm his belief that people have much more control over their habits, feelings, and identities than they think. Just as people can learn to control their individual habits by carefully changing their routines, Duhigg affirms, they can take control of their entire lives by identifying the most important keystone habits to change first.
Keystone Habits Quotes in The Power of Habit
She needed a goal in her life, she thought. Something to work toward.
So she decided, sitting in the taxi, that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert.
It was a crazy idea, Lisa knew. She was out of shape, overweight, with no money in the bank. She didn’t know the name of the desert she was looking at or if such a trip was possible. None of that mattered, though. She needed something to focus on. Lisa decided that she would give herself one year to prepare. And to survive such an expedition, she was certain she would have to make sacrifices.
In particular, she would need to quit smoking.
Where should a would-be habit master start? Understanding keystone habits holds the answer to that question: The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.
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.
O’Neill’s experiences with infant mortality illustrate the second way that keystone habits encourage change: by creating structures that help other habits to flourish. In the case of premature deaths, changing collegiate curriculums for teachers started a chain reaction that eventually trickled down to how girls were educated in rural areas, and whether they were sufficiently nourished when they became pregnant. And O’Neill’s habit of constantly pushing other bureaucrats to continue researching until they found a problem’s root causes overhauled how the government thought about problems like infant mortality.