Keystone Habits

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.30.20The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg

My mother was right; making your bed every day is a good idea. I think her reasoning was to do with keeping the house tidy, but it turns out there’s a better reason to do it.

Making your bed is a “keystone habit”, the sort of habit which will spill over into other good habits.

Many of the activities we do each day are governed by habit, it enables our brain to go onto an automatic mode while we get up and out the door in the mornings. Each individual habit means little by itself, but together they form strong patterns. Patterns in our daily life but also patterns in the neurons in our brain. So the automatic behaviour becomes harder and harder to break.

But if you can change one habit, you’ll disturb the whole pattern and notice changes in other habits. There will be matching changes in your brain. Really. In one of the cases discussed in the book a woman, Lisa, (who smoked, overate, didn’t exercise, and struggled financially), decided she needed to quit smoking in order to achieve her dream of trekking in Egypt. The changes in her brain chemistry showed the “habit” centre continued to light up, but as she stopped smoking another area in the brain believed to be involved with impulse control also began to light up. As she shed her “bad” habits that became stronger.

an unmade bed

could making your bed every day change your habits?

So our habits become so ingrained that they’re part of our brain chemistry, that’s why they’re so hard to change. But if you can change one habit your brain adapts in a way that makes it easier to change subsequent habits. The habits that will do this are the keystone habits. Making your bed is a habit that will make you feel just a little more organised about your day, a little happier, and ultimately more productive.

The book explains the formation of memory and habit, how we need a trigger to change a habit. It also goes into detail on how marketers have used this habit formation to get us to buy their products; Pepsodent taught Americans to brush their teeth, based not on health benefits but on removing a naturally occurring and harmless film that forms on your teeth.

It’s a fascinating delve into how our minds work, and how we could “reset” the bad habits by making tiny, incremental adjustments, one habit at a time.

image DAY 11 ~ where you sleep /Ainslie/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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