Want to Make Some Changes this Year? Start With Your Keystone Habits

Do you have a long list of resolutions for the year?

I do. Here it is:

  • Learn guitar
  • Practice piano every day
  • Make music on Garage band
  • Write every day
  • Grow this blog
  • Lose the baby weight
  • Stay clutter free
  • Improve Spanish
  • Learn Italian
  • Record my family history
  • Start a side business
  • Become a wine snob

Sure, it’s a little crazy, but at least I know enough about willpower and goal setting to be realistic about what I will and will not be able to accomplish. So while I probably won’t attempt all of these projects this year, I do think that I can make a serious dent in it.

Correction: I can make a serious dent if I improve my self discipline.

All of my good habits went flying out the window once I delivered my son. But now that he’s getting older and I’m feeling like myself again, it’s time to get my groove back.

The question is – where do I start?

Start With Your Keystone Habit

keystone habit is an idea made popular by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, who says that some habits are more effective than others because they create a ripple effect that produce other positive outcomes.

In an interesting study out of Australia, scientists Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng asked groups of people to exercise self control in a variety of ways (exercise, money management, and studying). In the end, they all not only improved in their own programs but they also got better at doing other things such as ignoring distractions, procrastinating less, eating healthier and drinking less alcohol.

That one keystone habit has the power to shift, undo, and remake behavioral patterns.

Why? Because it creates small wins that add up. The wins become contagious. The habits sink in. Our confidence and drive grows. And in time, the process of change becomes easier, and better habits begin to form.

Keystone habits are powerful because they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible. – Charles Duhigg

January Challenge: Get the Food Right (and Lose Weight)

My keystone habit is eating well. 

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9 weeks postpartum, my eating habits have become sloppy. Actually all of my habits have become sloppy since I’ve stopped being strict with my food choices.

And I’m carrying a lot of extra weight.

I’m supposed to work out in an hour, and all I can think about is how much I do not want to work out.

I’d rather eat a cheeseburger.

But I know that when I put good things into my body, I am more energetic, disciplined and patient. When I eat well, I can’t wait to hit the gym. My sinuses clear up. I think more clearly and I’m more productive.

The difference is significant, as are the spillover effects.

This challenge is about re-establishing the habits and routines that allow me to stay healthy, energized and productive so that I can be the mom, writer, and “ambitious tinkerer” that I aspire to be.

And it’s about fitting into my jeans again.

Here are the rules for the month:

  • No gluten, dairy, added sugar, white foods (potatoes, bread, white beans, cheese etc.) and grains
  • 6-7 cups of vegetables and fruits each day (mostly vegetables, measured raw)
  • One glass of wine permitted per night*

*I should go completely alcohol free, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I have a glass of wine on a Friday night. After all, I have three kids now who are extremely skilled button-pushers. 

Food is an excellent cornerstone habit because of the way it makes us feel physically, mentally and emotionally. Get your nutrition right, and things fall into place more easily.

However, it’s one of the most difficult habits to change and stick with.

Not only are certain foods addictive (here’s why you should care about sugar and here’s the low down on gluten), it’s social. Meals are meant to be shared, so it’s tough to say no to the pasta and the bread when it’s offered to you.

And if eliminating the bad stuff isn’t difficult enough, we have to infuse our body with all of the nutrients it needs in order to operate as effectively as possible. I can tell you right now, it’s VERY HARD to shove 7 cups of vegetables down your throat every day (on average, we eat about 1.8 cups).

So, if you’re looking to make some changes this year and nutrition seems too intimidating a starting point, consider some popular and effective keystone habits outlined by Duhigg to help you get started.

Regular exercise: Exercise triggers better eating habits (for me the opposite is true). It improves productivity, creativity and patience, and decreases stress.

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Food tracking: People who keep food journals lose more weight and exercise more than those who don’t because they’re able to identify healthy patterns and routines that allow them to make smarter food choices.

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Family dinners: There’s something about eating as a family that gives children increased confidence and self control, as well as an academic and emotional boost.

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Making your bed every morning (my 6 year old has to do this): Studies have shown bed makers to be more productive – the act of making your bed first thing in the morning gives you a sense of accomplishment.

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Meditating: Meditation has so many powerful benefits like reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, increasing productivity, and improving creative thinking.

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Developing daily routines: Whether it be waking up at 7am or drinking the same smoothie every morning, this kind of consistency allows us to be more organized, productive, and conserve our mental energy.

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Planning out your days, so that you can prioritize your to do’s and know what to focus on.

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Maybe change doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it out to be. Maybe all it takes is that one small habit that we can latch onto. That we can build on slowly, over time.

So that we get to a point where the rest just falls into place.

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