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“Keystone Habits” Can Improve Your Life and Well-Being

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The fourth in a series of leadership book discussions with the Republic Chamber of Commerce was held April 11 at the Greene County MU Extension office inside the Springfield Botanical Center.

The discussion focused on “The Power of Habit” written by Charles Duhigg.

According to this book, humans can operate on automatic pilot, performing complex behaviors without any conscious thought because of habit. Things like playing the guitar or even speaking a second language become a habit with practice.

Unfortunately, we can also acquire bad habits, like smoking or overeating.

“This is not a self-help book but a serious look at the science of habit formation and change,” said David Burton, county engagement specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Duhigg notes that habitual behaviors come in different forms. Squeezing them into one framework misses some of the nuances of how to change behavior effectively. Understanding the habit loop – cue, response reward – is a step toward making changes.

“One of the things in this book that fascinated me the most was the idea of a keystone habit,” said Burton. “Keystone habits lead to the development of multiple good habits. They start a chain effect in your life that produces a number of positive outcomes.”

For example, say that your keystone habit is to sleep 8 hours every night. Your initial habit is to sleep more. However, this habit can also lead to other positive unintended outcomes like becoming more productive at work or having more time to exercise.

“It may require you to set priorities on events, or television viewing time, or even work demands to get your 8 hours,” said Burton.

Here are eight simple keystone habits that can change your life for the better.

Having family dinners together. Families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.

• Making your bed every day. This action is correlated with increased productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and better budgeting skills.

Exercise regularly. Exercise triggers people to start eating better and increases productivity.

Tracking what you eat. A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health says participants with food journals lost twice as much weight as those without.

Develop daily routines. Having consistency in your day produces a cascade of positive effects.

Daily mediation or prayer. Both can help put your mind at ease for the rest of the day and reduce your blood pressure.

Planning your day. Sitting down and developing a detailed plan for the rest of the day can help you highlight and focus on the most important tasks.

Having strong willpower. Duhigg says, “dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.”

To learn more about MU Extension book discussions, leadership training at your place of business or the EXCEL Leadership program, visit Greene County MU Extension online at or contact David Burton at (417) 881-8909.