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Keystone Habits

“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It is what we do consistently.” — Tony Robbins

Keystone habits are the active expression of our principles. If your principles are not showing up in your life, look at your habits. A keystone habit is J. R. R. Tolkien’s One Ring, one habit to rule them all, one habit to find them. It dictates a cascade of follow-on habits or serves as the trigger for many others.

Let’s meet Jean Luc, who runs a family bakery called Sucree in North Lake Tahoe. For the past 14 years, Jean Luc has focused on only one thing: making the very best pastries and croissants in the world. His business started small with just him and his wife Yvette waking up at 3:30am six days a week and heading into their tiny bakery in a small space next to a ski rental store. They now have a standalone bakery just off Tahoe Boulevard and over 30 employees. They have a little cafe where patrons can enjoy a cup of adequate coffee or tea with their pastry, but most of their business is selling through other coffee shops, restaurants and hotels in the resort town. Jean Luc has won every award there is to win in the town, and the pastel pink and cream-colored boxes and wax paper signal to everyone that they bought the best – Sucree pastries. Jean Luc finishes his day by 2:00pm and is either on the slopes or the water, depending on the season, but his true passion is to continue refining his craft as a master pastry chef.

Throughout the last 14 years, Jean Luc and his family have moved houses several times. He has bought and sold two commercial buildings. The family has taken vacations all around the world, and their twin daughters are now off to college. He and Yvette have taken on new hobbies, made new friends and let go of old ones. They have each buried a parent. Combined with all of that, over the last 14 years, Jean Luc has done one thing more consistently than all the rest; he has gotten up at 3:30am six days a week and made the world’s best pastries. He is committed to the continued mastery of a craft. He has a keystone habit that drives the rest of his life. Wake up at the same time, go to the bakery and create greatness.

As a result, Jean Luc considers his life to be a success. He has an order and a cadence to how he lives his days. This order brings comfort because he knows that he is focused on the best work that he can do. He spends time with his family and friends every day. He knows that his work matters because of the joy his pastries bring to every customer.

So what do we take away from this example? Why do keystone habits matter so much? Jean Luc did not necessarily intend on creating a keystone habit, but he had an idea about how he wanted to direct his time and energy. He knew that he wanted to become the best pastry chef in the world, and he also knew that the only way to make it there would be to work on it every single day. By setting up his own bakery, he created the vehicle that allowed him to work on what he wanted to and reap the rewards of his success as he progressed. What can we build into our days to enable continued progression in something that matters to us?

As an entrepreneur, you have achieved some level of success in your business life. You have likely figured out many things that work well for you and a number that do not. What are the keystone habits that you have built in your business today? What are they in your personal life? In your fitness or health habits? What about in your relationships? Keystone habits are all around us, and we can tweak existing ones or create brand new ones to change our trajectory. Waking up at a specific time, starting your day with a certain activity, practicing meditation and purchasing your groceries in a particular way are all areas that may have a keystone habit or rule.

So, where do you feel like your personal principles are not showing up? Is there a way to create a powerful habit around a piece of whom you are when you are your best self? Here are a few ideas:

1. If you want to be more present and available to your family, plug your phone into its charger every time you get home and don’t pick it up again until a set time or event like after putting your kids to bed. The trigger is getting home and taking your shoes off, the behavior is plugging the phone in and the reward is mentally unburdening yourself of distraction.

2. If you want to get better at making new investments so that you are less anxious about how concentrated your wealth is in your business, put a recurring calendar reminder in for each Tuesday from 3:00 – 4:00pm. This time is exclusively for researching new investments and making them. You remove the feeling of guilt that you are not making progress and have the clear space to make more investment decisions. The trigger is the calendar reminder, the behavior is taking time for research and action and the reward is a sense of accomplishment that you are making progress.

3. If you want to take a step toward feeling physically better by eating healthier, consider creating a single simple rule around eating. I will eat one salad per day, meaning lots of plants in a bowl with some other stuff that is generally healthy. It does not matter which meal or the specific salad ingredients, but that each day one meal is a salad. The trigger is that you are hungry, and the action is asking yourself if this will be your salad meal. Your reward is that you are thinking about a healthy option (and hopefully choosing it for one meal a day) and feel better about yourself making progress on your health.

Each of these examples can be an example of a keystone habit. If you are already putting your phone away, you are more likely to keep the television turned off, ask your kids about their day or pull out a board game to play together. Suppose you are taking focused time to do investment research every day. In that case, you will be more attuned to seeing investment opportunities as they come up elsewhere in your life, which likely leads to more research and action overall. If you are at least thinking about salads, where to get one and which one is your favorite, you focus on healthier food choices multiple times throughout the day. You are more likely to pass on the garlic bread and order a side salad at the restaurant simply because your focus is on healthy food more often.

Understanding who you are or want to be when you are at your very best is the foundation for a life of fulfillment and happiness, but you remain aware yet incomplete without action. Keystone habits enable us to execute many of the things that we genuinely want or want to be.

Jarrod Musick

CFP®

Posted: 05/17/2021

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