A keystone habit is one that you do every day, which naturally makes the rest of your day fall into place.
For a healthier, more content life, there are really only four keystone habits you could ever need: practicing gratitude, drinking more water, getting more sleep and walking.
They sound like very simple things, and that’s because they are! Sometimes the simplest things that make all the difference.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of each one and how they work together.
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Keystone Habit 1: Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is, in my opinion, the number one good habit. Our lot in life is so extensively colored by our perception of what is happening to us. Gratitude influences our perception and makes us more content.
I first started practicing gratitude after I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. In it, she goes on a journey to write down 1000 things she is thankful for. It changed her life. She invites the reader to join her, so I did.
I thought it would take me a whole year to get to 1000 things. It took me three months. And in that short amount of time, I became an entirely new person.
Everything was light and life around me. The wind whispering in the grass. The glint of snow on the mountains. Knowing a friend was smiling when talking on the phone. I was thankful for it all.
But don’t just take my word for it. Plenty of studies have proven the benefits of gratitude.
Benefits of Gratitude
- More content
- More concerned for the wellbeing of others
- Less materialistic
- Happier, more optimistic
- Less stressed, anxious and depressed
- More forgiving
- Sleep better
- More likely to foster good habits
Keep a pocket gratitude journal, and whip it out whenever you feel grateful in any way for anything. Keep track of the date, and you can look back each month and see how you’ve changed and what you were thankful for. It’s a great way to see your personal progress.
If you’re interested, this is the exact journal I have right now. I like it because I can customize the cover.
Keystone Habit 2: Drink More Water
When I first met my husband, he immediately started pestering me about how much water I consumed. I clearly didn’t drink enough. I had a water bottle… in a drawer somewhere.
If I complained about a headache, he’d say, “Did you drink enough water today?”
The answer was always no.
But after a few of his lectures, I pulled my pink Nalgene out and started carrying it everywhere. He helped me stay accountable to drink three of them each day, and soon I started seeing some of these benefits.
Benefits of Drinking Water
- Helps with weight maintenance/loss
- Helps digestion
- Better mood
- Fewer headaches
- Less tired
- Healthier skin
- Bounce back from sickness quicker
Carry a water bottle and keep it within reach. Use a dry erase marker to put a tally mark for each bottle you drink. Here is the exact water bottle I use. My husband has one in black. They are our companions literally wherever we go: church, Walmart, work…
Regardless, make sure your bottle has measurements on it, so you can keep track.
Then there’s the pesky question of how much water to drink. You should consume 2/3 of your body weight in ounces every day. You can use this formula to calculate it: Your weight x .67 = how many ounces you should drink.
Keystone Habit 3: Consistent Bed Times
Sleep is one of the most ignored healthy habits out there. College kids and grad students regularly boast about how little sleep they’re getting. And people who sleep a lot are often seen as lazy. Sleep, however, is one of the most productive things we can do for our bodies.
When we sleep, our bodies fix the issues. Sleep regulates hormones and appetite levels, repairs muscle and tissue damage, and restore’s energy. Getting the right amount of sleep for your body comes with endless benefits.
- Waking up at the same time every day encourages routine
- Improved performance (attention, stamina, memory, creativity, productivity) – pro athletes like Lebron James often sleep up to 12 hours a night just so their bodies can keep up with their performance.
- Helps maintain weight
- Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
- Improves mood
- Makes immune system healthier
How to Go to Sleep
If you have difficulty sleeping, here are a few tips to make it a little easier.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking before sleep.
Develop a pre-sleep routine. My husband turns all the lights down around 9 pm. Then he watches a couple uninvolved shows on Netflix, so he can wind down and turn his brain off. I’ve also heard of people knitting, drinking herbal tea or doing light yoga.
Keep it dark. If all the lights are on, your body will think it is supposed to be awake.
Don’t exercise within a few hours of going to bed.
How to Wake Up
If you are like me and you prefer to sleep a full 20 hours, here are some tips to actually wake up.
Put your alarm out of reach, so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.
Establish an enjoyable morning routine – one you don’t dread. If you already dread getting up, trying to do something extensive or difficult immediately after will make it more difficult. Instead, do a few things in the morning you really enjoy.
My perfect morning routine would be getting up, spending 20 minutes or so in contemplative prayer, drinking hot tea, and just sitting for a while.
Have someone get up with you: your spouse, your sibling, your children (though if you have children you don’t have much of a choice but to get up). You can even have a friend call you when they get up. Whatever accountability you have will make it easier.
Keystone Habit 4: Daily Walking
I find exercise very difficult. I’ve had times in my life where I did it regularly, but eventually I quit. When I really get going, I actually like running… but not enough to keep doing it forever.
It’s kinda like, sure, tomatoes taste pretty good, but not as good as cookies, so why eat tomatoes? Why run, when I can do… literally anything else.
But there are so many health benefits to exercise, that we simply can’t ignore it. So why not walk? It doesn’t hurt too much, it’s not super intense (usually), you can pay attention to nature, you can talk or think or create at the same time. So it’s a pretty good alternative to being a fitness junkie.
Walking 30 minutes or more each day has some serious benefits.
- Raises metabolism
- Improves mood
- Improves balance
- Prevents heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
- Improves circulation
- Improves sleep
- Aids creativity
I’d rather poke my eyes out then get up at 5 in the morning to walk. So what are some other ways to incorporate it when life is crazy busy?
Do you regularly meet with people for work? Get out of the office and go on a walk. A couple years ago, I did an internship with an organization at the University of Tennessee. Regularly meeting with students was basically my job.
Sometimes we would go for coffee or lunch or whatever. But often, we would just walk around the campus and talk. These meetings were the most productive and the least awkward.
Do you have a desk job? Grab a taco or sandwich and walk on your lunch break. Or take a 15-minute break 3 times a day to walk. Don’t sit the whole day. That’s basically killing yourself.
Do you have kids? Go on a walk with them after school. As I was driving home the other day, I saw my neighbor and two of his kids riding scooters down the road about a mile from their house. They were having a great time, and getting good exercise in, as well.
Put it on your schedule and walk at the same time every day. Once it becomes a habit, you’ll be used to setting that time aside, and you won’t want to miss it.
Four Simple Changes
These four keystone habits make an endless loop of goodness and contentment. Gratitude makes it easier to sleep, which makes it easier to wake up early, which make it easier to exercise, which makes you drink more water, which makes you want to eat healthier, which makes you feel better, which makes you more grateful.
All of these actions change your perception. Life becomes suddenly more vibrant and beautiful than you ever imagined, and you don’t have to do anything abnormal to experience it.
You can love where you are and who you are just by making a few simple changes.
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