Your mom has constantly been calling you for dinner for the last five minutes. But considering the lots of pending things on your to-do list, sitting down for food is the last thing on your mind. Soon enough, you make a habit of missing the family dinner, missing that one time in the entire day when the whole family gets to sit together and talk. You might think that you aren’t missing out on much, but actually you are! Meals taken with family affect you physically as well as psychologically. They help you catch up on the day’s activities, reconnect and recharge and strengthen family connections. In his book “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg writes, “Families habitually eating dinner together seem to raise children with higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.”
Likewise, many of you, couch potatoes like me, might think that making your bed every morning is merely a waste of time since you’re going to mess it up again at night, isn’t it? Well, research suggests that making your bed is correlated with increased productivity and a greater sense of well-being. This little act gives you a sense of accomplishment at the start of the day, giving you the little boost that you need to carry out the day. Psychology Today reports that “Bed makers are more likely to like their jobs and feel well rested”.
Similarly, take exercising. It not only energizes the body and improves health, but also triggers many other good habits, being correlated with better mood, less stress, more confidence and better sleep. According to research, people who exercise tend to eat better, have increased patience, less stress, and are more productive at work.
Now what’s common in these habits is that they are keystone habits, they spark “chain reactions that promote other good habits”. Completing a keystone habit gives us a small sense of victory, acting as a foundation for a successful day. It provides us with energy, confidence, and the momentum to achieve more. Being the weak humans that we are, we have limited willpower and self-control. This was demonstrated in an interesting experiment at Carleton University in Ottawa. Participants were grouped into two. They were shown a funny movie but one group was asked not to laugh. Next they were to complete a given task that required effort. The results showed that the group that had to resist temptation did not perform as well on the second task than the group that was allowed to give in to temptation, said Timothy A. Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology. They had to exert more willpower in the first task and therefore were unable to muster the willpower needed for the second task.”
So if we adopt the keystone habits, not only will they lead to other positive actions, but if we start doing them regularly, becoming so habitual and getting used to doing them, then we will no more need willpower to do them. It’s like they come naturally now. And we can spend this saved will power in doing other productive tasks, thereby getting engaged in other good habits too. A study says that any behavior when repeated for 66 days becomes a habit. So choose wisely what you regularly do because your habits define you. They can either make you or break you. Every time when I wish to form a new habit, this quote by John Dryden motivates me, “First we make our habits, then our habits make us”.