Journal books and electronics on a table

3 Tried & Tested Keystone Habits That You Can Easily Practice To Your Advantage

My grandmother often gave me earfuls about having good habits. Growing up, she used to scold me whenever I refused to wake up early or leave my homework to do at the last minute.


She believed good habits lay the foundation for eventual success. What she really means is that one habit can have a domino effect-sized impact on multiple areas of my life. In that case, my grandmother was referring to keystone habits.


What are keystone habits?

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg defines keystone habits as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives”. 


Women sitting outdoor and working together as a good habit


In architecture, the keystone is the stone at the apex of the arches. It plays a role in distributing all weight down the side support blocks in the columns. Without the keystone, the arch will collapse. From this perspective, there is most likely one major habit that keeps others up and running. 


Why do they matter?  

Duhigg explains that keystone habits don’t create a direct cause-and-effect relationship, but they can spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold”.


That is because we created a loop comprising a cue, a routine, and a reward. Seeing the results after engaging in a routine is the reward we will begin to crave time after time. As such, we would be encouraged to start working on making additional changes.


Happy woman smiling at her phone


Eventually, our brain will get used to repeated behaviour and action. Cruising on auto-pilot mode, we may even finish things up faster than usual with even less effort. 



3 keystone habits you can try

1. Exercising

People who regularly exercise (at least three times a week) have reported significant decreases in perceived stress and emotional distress. They also experienced improved attendance to commitments and study habits. These findings I can confirm are true after deciding to work out again last year during the lockdown. After working out in the evenings, I often felt more focused and confident when doing my assignments later at night. 


woman stretching in the park as a good exercise habit


Thanks to YouTube, this keystone habit allows anyone to quickly jump into exercising anytime and anywhere. Fitness instructors like Lilly Sabri, Maddie Lymburner (MadFit) and Cassey Ho (Blogilates) offer a wide range of guided videos to choose from — whether it is a beginner’s 20-minute pilates workout or hour-long cardio kickboxing for advanced level exercisers. 


You can also find various playlists containing videos targeting the full body or just specific areas: 


Though the best part is, plenty of the workout routines optimise minimal space and use little to no gym equipment. So it doesn’t matter if your living room feels like a closet or you don’t have any dumbbells and weights at home. You just need yourself and be open-minded towards the possibilities with what can be done to get fit and healthy. 


2. Reading

Picking up a book after a fast-paced or sluggish day has been proven effective for me. This is because reading requires you to pay complete attention to the words on the page so that you truly absorb and comprehend its contents.


Doing so then stimulates your brain since you are actively engaging with what is being read. In other words, reading improves concentration and develops stronger analytical skills. So be sure to select the right book like those financial self-help ones. Then you may even come out with smarter budgeting or better economic thinking. 


Person reading a kindle outdoor as a keystone habit


Unfortunately, hard copy books these days are quite expensive in Malaysia. A great alternative is to purchase electronic versions from Google Play Books, Apple Books,, or Otherwise, you can check out the free eBooks in our very own National Library via its official website or the Libby app. 


3. Bullet journalling

Bullet journaling is another keystone habit I quickly took up back in high school. All anyone needed was an empty notebook and a pen. Developed by designer Ryder Carroll, it involves scheduling, organising reminders, to-do lists, and brainstorming in a single notebook. 


Journal books and electronics on a table


This organisational method allows one to think deeply and shut down what scientists call — the Zeigarnik Effect. It states that we tend to remember uncompleted tasks more easily than completed ones. Planning out when pending tasks would be done keeps the mind from getting distracted. Having a clear head then helps you focus better, leading to more effort deliberately being put into each task. Moreover, tracking and checking them off can boost feelings of accomplishment and productivity. 


Here are some of the most used spreads (mostly trackers) in the bullet journaling world: 

    • Habit Trackers – Lists the usual activities you need to track for a month like drinking water, exercising, chores, and more.
    • Weekly Spreads – Gives an overview of an entire week’s worth of tasks
    • Goal Trackers – Serves as an indicator of whether you’re on the right track and tracks your progress
    • Budgeting Spreads – Illustrates and tracks your spendings so that you are on top of your finances and financial health 



While these keystone habits might not seem that impactful because of their mediocrity, remember that a little goes a long way. So you must be patient and resilient enough to weather through the hard work required by every step of the process if you want to see the results. After all, success doesn’t always happen on the first try.


For further reading on the topic of habits, check out these articles on I Stuck to 5 Habits for 30 Days. Here’s How it Changed Me and 7 Small Health Habits That Will Make A Difference In Your Life.

A motivated Mass Communication student with a passion for Journalism, Lynelle loves to write just almost about anything. When not writing, you can find her reading a book or losing her mind over a video game.

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