I have been quite enamored of late with the “new” trend in simplification, organization, and getting things (fucking) done. Read enough blogs and self-help books, and eventually you will find yourself encouraged to declare and maintain a Keystone Habit. I thought it sounded hokey, which is a really polite way of saying, “I thought it sounded like the stupidest thing ever!” Because , I mean, just think about it. You’re supposed to just pick this ONE item to work on, and then all the other crap on your to-do list will magically follow along obediently?
Riiiiiiiiiight, m-kay. I want summa dat shit you smokin’.
Here’s the thing:
Habits don’t just get themselves lined up in orderly fashion and start to behave overnight. Habits are stubborn bitches that, much like a cowlick, refuse to go the right way, sticking up willy-nilly all wild and crazy. Some days, a habit (or cowlick) does just fine, but right when you get lazy and think you can count on it to act properly, it fails you. The habit (cowlick) proudly sticks its middle finger at you and, like the song by Fleetwood Mac suggests, goes its own way.
Okay, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s talk about just WTF a Habit is, and then WTF a Keystone Habit is. Habits are “routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.” Any routine or action you have acquired which is pretty much accomplished without thought or intention is a Habit. Usually you have to repeat the action often enough that your body begins to perform the activity sans overt input. There is also usually a trigger, whether or not you are consciously aware of it.
Examples of Habits:
When nervous or bored, you bite your fingernails or flip your hair or tap your pen on the table and make everyone in the general vicinity hate you because that shit is annoying as hell. The table tapping, that is. The other crap doesn’t really bother me one way or another. I bite my nails, which is why I like getting fake ones put on. They have to be uber-short, though. I don’t know how you people with long nails get anything done.
First thing upon getting out of bed in the morning, you stretch and then straighten the covers. I don’t actually personally know anyone who does this, but my research tells me these people do exist. You people? Are freaking weird.
Habits, Habits, Habits.
Upon getting dressed, you go all the way to socks and shoes, even though you aren’t planning to leave the house that day. My hubz does this. On him, I find it endearing. Flylady suggests you get more shit done this way, as you are all prepped and ready for action. My feet will not be tethered; much like my personality, they long to be free of restraints. Maybe it’s a mental issue. Actually, I’m *SURE* it’s a mental issue. I might put some socks on around the house, but shoes? Eff that shit. Not happening, and it ain’t because I’m worried about getting mud on my carpets, either. Just — NO.
So WTF is a Keystone Habit?
A Keystone Habit is a simple Habit that causes a chain reaction of other Habits to occur. As Charles Duhigg, author of the book THE POWER OF HABIT, states in his article for LifeHacker.com, “so-called ‘keystone habits’ create a chain reaction that can significantly influence the success of other habits. It’s like making five good decisions for the price of one.” Sounds kind of like Trickle-Down Economics, so I was a bit leery at first, since we all know how THAT theory pans out in reality (it doesn’t).
But my way wasn’t working.
I have this crazy idea that I can take on the world, change every single bad habit in one fell swoop, start all new plans of attack, and *Do ALL the work* merely by thinking, “Number One, make it so!” I mean, it sounds good on paper. Just wake up one morning with the energy to be who I want to be, and do all the things I want to do. Every Monday I get excited, because it’s the start of a fresh week, and I always swear to myself, “This is the week I get it right.” And of course, I never succeed. I get overwhelmed and bogged down. Instead of just picking ONE item on my list, I freeze in anxiety and hide under my desk. I call myself a loser and a lazy-ass. I’m mean to me. Because this should be so easy, and for me, it just simply ISN’T.
So, I decided to try getting a Keystone Habit.
I mean, when you already consider yourself a miserable flop at Getting Things (fucking) Done, it isn’t that hard to talk yourself into giving up. Obviously I’m not going to just turn into Little Miss Perfect Andi-Roo. Why not throw away my lists and agendas and sticky-notes and reminders? Why not concentrate on just ONE thing? Why not choose a Keystone Habit?
I sat on this idea of picking a Keystone Habit for a while.
Like, all through Fucking February and half of March. I had just started seriously toying around with this idea some more, when out of the blue my hubz gently broached a potentially hot topic of conversation.
“You aren’t doing anything,” he said, and since it was true, I couldn’t even have hurt feelings about it. “Maybe instead of running around in circles that accomplish NOTHING, you should try just picking ONE thing to worry about.”
And the clouds parted.
It was like the universe had spoken to me and given me a sign and bonked me on the head and poked me in the eye. It was like destiny and fate and serendipity in the most awesome ménage a troi imaginable. It was a grand coincidence. And it was just the motivation I needed to get my ass into gear. The only problem? With so many — so very, very many — projects to tackle, how could I just choose ONE?
Choosing a Keystone Habit #1: Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Sarah Welch, a tired but very organized and motivational mommy, decided to pick one Keystone Habit that she could do no matter how tired she was; “one that was simple enough to do while sleep addled and chasing after another toddler.” For Sarah, that meant making the bed each morning, and tracking her success rate. Making her bed naturally led to getting dressed, and also to keeping her bedroom tidy. That may not sound BIG, but BIG isn’t the point.
says author John Sowers, whose keystone habit — waking up early at a set time — helps him start the day off right. Waking up early and making my bed are both great habits, and both are simple. But neither appealed to me. So I kept looking.
Choosing a Keystone Habit #2: Know Thyself.
Charles Duhigg, admitting that identifying a Keystone Habit can be “tricky”, had this to say on the topic: “To begin, ask yourself a central question: which habits are most core to my self-image? […] keystone habits shape how we think about ourselves.” This question really appealed to me, because I knew whatever I chose would have to be something I’d feel really guilty not doing.
Or, as my hubz phrased it,
“If you only do this one particular thing the entire day, and you don’t get anything else done, what will make you feel as though you still accomplished something big?”
I wanted badly to say that working on my book or finishing up another blog post or interacting online or vacuuming or putting away laundry — that one of these useful and necessary tasks would be THE ONE. But I know myself. If the only thing I got done all day was dusting a shelf, I’d still feel like a piece of shit. And that’s when I realized, DUH, Andi-Roo! All that stuff is WORK. It all involves something unpleasant or involved. None of that shit is simple, and none of that shit is going to really improve who I am as a person.
Most common Keystone Habits:
- Wake up at an early (specified) time.
- Write in a journal.
- Take a shower and get dressed.
- Put on shoes.
- Brush and floss your teeth.
- Scrub the toilet.
- Make the bed.
- Wash, dry, and put away one load of laundry.
- Write (x) words.
- Have a fruit with lunch.
- Track food intake.
- Shine the sink.
- Run the dishwasher.
- Plan dinner.
- Pick up living room before bed.
- Go to bed at a decent (specified) hour.
Choosing a Keystone Habit #3: Only pick ONE.
That list of common Keystone Habits? Sounds like a mere HALF of my daily agenda. No wonder I’m running in circles. It’s not that I shouldn’t aspire to accomplish all this and more — on the contrary, better people than I can get all that shit done by 10am and still manage to volunteer at their kid’s school and bake ten cakes for the PTO sale. I am not that person. Truthfully, I don’t even want to *BE* that person. And… I kind of don’t really want to be friends with that person. That person is a little intimidating and would make me feel like the piece of shit I suspect I may just be.
So just pick one.
Not the whole list. Not *Do ALL the things!* Not every item on your wish list. If you are an anxiety-riddled person who freezes up when shit gets real, you need to sit down, take a deep breath, count to ten, and throw away your whole skadoolie. Don’t freak out on me. I know — you put a lot of work into that plan — more work than you actually put into anything else that actually MATTERS. I feel you, babe. I really do. More than you know. But a list that doesn’t help you get shit done… is merely scrap paper begging to be recycled. Or, on its worst day, an excuse to beat yourself up. And, okay, FUCK THAT.
My Keystone Habit — Win!
I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting in anticipation to find out which task I chose as my Keystone Habit. Well, without further ado (cuz this shit just got long enough, AmIRight?) , allow me to announce my success in this project thus far. I have been walking about two miles almost every day for the last few weeks, and — listen to me, people — THIS. SHIT. WORKS. On the days I don’t walk, I get way less accomplished, and moreover, I feel terribly guilty. Sometimes I even talk myself into going in the late afternoon if I skipped out that morning, because I really want to do JUST THIS *ONE* thing.
Like John Sowers says,
“the small decision makes me feel like I’m gaining ground.”
Indeed it does, Sir. Furthermore,
“the small decision is a baby step, but it’s a step. It creates movement. Velocity. We can’t magically order ourselves to change. But if we find our keystone habit – we can find momentum, setting off a slow avalanche of change.”
Change is here, bitches.
And now I gotta go take a shower, because I stink. Which means I will get dressed and brush my hair and teeth. And since I’m dressed I’ll probably put on some makeup and earrings. And since I’m in the bathroom anyway I might as well clean the toilet. Which means I also might as well grab the dirty laundry and throw it in the washer. And THEN I can sit down to write some more, knowing that, even if I get nothing else accomplished, I feel great about myself and the house isn’t too bad, either. #Win