The Power of Habit

by

Charles Duhigg

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Keystone Habits Symbol Icon

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

The The Power of Habit quotes below all refer to the symbol of Keystone Habits. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Habits, Human Behavior, and Success Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of The Power of Habit published in 2014.
Prologue Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Lisa Allen
Related Symbols: Keystone Habits
Page Number: xiii
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Paul O'Neill
Related Symbols: Keystone Habits
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker)
Related Symbols: Keystone Habits
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Charles Duhigg (speaker), Paul O'Neill
Related Symbols: Keystone Habits
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
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Keystone Habits Symbol Timeline in The Power of Habit

The timeline below shows where the symbol Keystone Habits appears in The Power of Habit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: The Habit Cure
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Habit Change and Personal Growth  Theme Icon
...active. Like everyone else in the scientists’ study, Allen started by changing a single “ keystone habit .” (For her, it was smoking.) This taught her how to reprogram her other habits.... (full context)
Chapter 4: Keystone Habits, or the Ballad of Paul O’Neill: Which Habits Matter Most
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Social Habits and Cultural Influence Theme Icon
...with one small but powerful habit, which created a chain reaction across the organization. Such keystone habits are valuable because they can help people “shift, dislodge, and remake” other habits. (full context)
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Keystone habits also make a difference in people’s lives. For instance, people who start exercising tend to... (full context)
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Phelps’s keystone habits were successful because they offered small wins. Small wins convince people to keep trying by... (full context)
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Habit Change and Personal Growth  Theme Icon
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...helped dramatically reduce the U.S.’s infant mortality rate. They show that beyond providing small wins, keystone habits also create “structures that help other habits to flourish.” (full context)
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People can also apply keystone habits to their lives. For instance, doctors used to ask obese patients to lose weight by... (full context)
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...the executive who failed to report it. This demonstrates the third and final benefit of keystone habits : they change organizations’ culture. For instance, the greatest predictor of success at the U.S.... (full context)
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...to become the U.S. secretary of the treasury. Other companies have adopted his focus on keystone habits , and Alcoa’s safety record continues to improve because of O’Neill’s inspiration. (full context)