Ep. 127: Creating Keystone Habits

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Every wonder how some people get so much sh*t done? Like how do they meditate AND run a business AND have three kids AND get in a yoga session in every day? 


This week, I want to talk to you about habits – but not just regular habits: keystone habits. While habits are actions we take regularly without thinking, keystone habits are the ones that hold all our other habits together, and can even give new positive habits the momentum they need. 

We all have habits that make our lives more manageable. Keystone habits are the central stone (hence “keystone”) that holds everything together. They don’t have to be big or impressive. They simply build the foundation for a habit that makes all the others easier to carry out.  


When I was deciding whether or not to go back to get my doctoral degree, I had to ask myself, “Am I able to do this without sacrificing my time with my kid or my health?” I sat with it for a long time and realized I would need to commit to a very structured schedule and not waste time watching TV to relax. If I couldn’t stick to that routine, I might compromise my values. I’d likely not spend as much time with my daughter as I wanted,; I woulnd’t have time to regularly exercise; my sleep would be poor quality, etc).  


I had to be okay with withdrawing from the program and going back at another time if I coudln’t don it in a way I was proud of – and that would require some key habits. 


So, in order to finish the doctoral program my way, I chose to sign up for a 9-month online program about developing Ayurvedic habits in one’s life. It was a large financial investment, but I knew I would commit to it and put in the effort when I had skin in the game. 

In the course we focused on 3 key habits: 

  • Early and light dinners 
  • Early to bed 
  • Start your day right – dinacharya – daily habits/morning & evening routine 

They seemed simple, but for me, they were kind of difficult because of one thing: wine. It was one or two glasses a night, with maybe one more on weekends, but I noticed that when I treid to implement these three habits, it was tough. After I drank wine, I found I would eat later, eat more, get to bed later, sleep less soundly, and wake up with less energy. 


So, for me, going to bed early would need to become a keystone habit, and in order to do that, I would have to let go of the wine. Then I could get up early and focus on self-care, work on my doctorate, and rely less on carbs and caffeine for energy since U’d have better sleep… Plus my anxiety was lower and I was in a better mood. 


My healthy sleep routine (the keystone habit) caused a ripple effect of other (secondary) positive habits. 

Those secondary habits don’t have to be related to the original keystone habit, either. They can develop in completely different areas of our lives. 


As we cultivate keystone habits, we start to notice that our identity and self-concept is also shifting. It’s important to know how to step into this new identity to increase our chance of sticking to the new habit. If we don’t shift our identity, it will be out of alignment with our new habit and it won’t stick. Let me give you an example. 


When we are wanting to stop an unhelpful habit, we can start to learn how to drop the “I can’t” (which is still the former self that craves the thing we want to stop) and instead we move to “I don’t,” which is more about choice. 


When we want to start a new habit, instead of saying “I have to” we can say “I want to.” This is a more empowered perspective and feels a lot better, right? Even if there’s a part of us that doesn’t want to do something like run in the morning– like the cozy part that wants to stay in bed all warm – there’s a part of us that wants to start the new habit otherwise we woulndt be trying. So we choose that part of us that wants to. 


When we do this, we are stepping more fully into what is more aligned with our values. 

Before we find out how to identify and create keystone habits, it’s important to know what a Habit Loop is. It has three parts: 

  1. Cue – a trigger telling your brain to act on something, like a location, time of day (wine after work, anyone?), a group of people (always feel like a spliff with that group of people?), emotion, or an action we already take regularly (like brushing our teeth). 
  1. Reward – something that satisfies a desire, like the energy we have after an awesome run. 
  1. Routine – all of it together and we do on repeat: the cue that leads to an action we take to get a reward. 


So how do we create a keystone habit and habit loops? 


This is important: We can’t resist habit. We can only change it. 


Here are 4 steps for doing this: 

// 1. Discover something that feels emotionally meaningful to you. 

Like all our behavior, keystone habits have emotions at their core. How we think we’ll feel or not feel are what drive how we act, and what we do or don’t do. A powerful emotion can make or break whether we change our habits or not – it can help fuel our mojo. 

Like when I was in Functional Medicine, I’d tell people listen the goal here isn’t to get your blood pressure into some ideal amount, or your cholesterol level to within this range. It’s to help you live your best life. 

So…why is a lower blood pressure important to you? Because being afraid of dying isn’t going to cut it long-term. That’s fear-driven.  

Wanting to live longer to play with the grandkids – to have more moments of joy with them? That’s a motivator. 

// This in the brainy part that involves identifing a cue, practicing a new routine, and determining a reward for completing the routine.  Just like babies don’t start off running. First they crawl, then walk then run! We don’t start off trying to run. Over time, one action done regularly can turn into a superpower! 

So, we can have a cue of brushing our teeth then running instead of checking email first thing. We don’t just decide to go for a run instead of checking email. We select a CUE that will let us know it’s time to run.  

This of course, assumes you brush your teeth every morning, which I hope you do;) 

// Create a sense of urgency. Like you’ve heard me say before, ideally we aren’t waiting for something like a serious medical diagnosis, a near-death experience, or the loss of a loved one to wake up to the urgency of the fleeting nature of this life. 

But most people aren’t motivated to change until something shakes them at their core.  So how can we create this sense of urgency without waiting until something shakes us? 

I have a free masterclass coming up next week where I help you get clear about what really matters – a sincere urgency coming from within – so you can sign up for that at WhatReallyMattersCLASS.com. 

// Believe change is possible. The major difference between wanting to change and actually changing is believing you can.  

This is huge 

A belief is a thought that we’ve had over and over. When we deeply believe we can change, that helps us from backsliding.  

This is why when people come work with me, and they want to change something they’ve been doing for a long time, we first work on their core beliefs about the self-concept, because if we don’t first believe it’s possible, it’s really hard to sustain that new habit. 

Any habit can change. Any 


What intentional habit shifts can you make to improve your life? Only you can decide what  keystone habit would be most beneficial for you, because we are all different; we are all motivated by different things.  


Maybe try this: think about your current habits – good and bad. Identify one habit that sets better choices in motion. (When I get up and go for a run, I always choose to drink a green smoothie after. I’m more alert at work and I sleep better that night.) Name your keystone habit and list the benefits set in motion. 


We could also identify one habit that sets poor choices in motion, like drinking wine which saps our energy and messes with our sleep. We can name that bad keystone habit and list the side effects set in motion. 


So, rebel one – I know you may resist this call to a shift. But it’s not a “should,” ok? It’s an invitation to check in with yourself about what’s next. What tiny – or big – shift could make all the difference for you in this one precious life? 

You will learn: 

// The difference between habits and “keystone habits” 

// Why your keystone habit is the one to prioritize over all others 

// What habits have to do with our self-concept and identity 

// How keystone habits can lead to other positive habits in completely different areas of our life 

// What a habit loop is – and how to create one 

// 4 steps to powerful keystone habits 

// When it’s NOT a good idea to get peer support 



// The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg 


// Simon Sinek Ted Talk, Discover Your Why 


// Episode 15: How to Drink Less 


// Early registration is open for the next cohort of the Adventure Mastermind at AdventureMastermind.com . Enter into the adventure of your life in a container where you’ll feel safe enough to explore your true self with entheogens and adventures during this one precious life we have 

// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist FB group, and tune in weekly when I go live on new topics. 


// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level on your own time? To study it and practice it together with a group of people with the same goals of freedom, adventure and purpose? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.