Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Keystone Habits

In the last few months, I have gotten to do a decent amount of research on the formation of habits.  Habits can be our bane or (sometimes) the only thing that keeps us afloat.  Interestingly enough, researchers have found that some habits create a disproportionate amount of change in our behaviors.

These small-but-mighty habits are called keystone habits.  Keystone habits are new habits that act as the tipping point for other habits.  Take, for example, the interaction between making healthy changes to our eating habits and creating an exercise habit.

Interestingly enough, changing a small eating habit (let's just say you give up soda -- either sugared or diet....).  Paying attention to that one habit makes it much more likely you will start to change other habits -- like parking a few spots further out in the parking lot. 

Or let's say someone starts attending the lunch hour walking group at work.  After making that one small change in their routine, it is pretty common for that person to start (little by little) making small changes to their diet -- maybe they skip the trip to the vending machine one day because they grabbed an apple off the counter and stuck it in their pocket on the way out the door.

In these examples, the giving up soda and the lunchtime walking acts as keystone habits.  Other small positive health behaviors tend to grow out of positive dietary and small activity changes.

There are a myriad of reasons why this might be.  Perhaps the person feels more confident because they already achieved one small victory so they feel they can achieve another.

Perhaps when they engage in a new behavior, they start to notice other people making the same choices and they integrate themselves slowly into a community of people making similar changes.

Maybe, because we are feeling so good about our success, we want to experience another gold-star moment, so we look for other small changes we can make to get that same rush.

Whatever the reason -- it happens.

If you are struggling to overhaul your diet -- if it's just too hard -- maybe that's not the best place to start.  Maybe you'd be better off starting with adopting an exercise habit.  Or, conversely, if you're struggling with an exercise habit, maybe you should refocus on your dietary choices.

Or.....maybe you do need a deep dive into healthy behavior changes?  We can help with that too!  Check back here tomorrow to find out how!

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