Katie Byrne: The keystone habits that can positively change your life
As we approach mid-January, many of us are coming to terms with the fact that our New Year's resolutions have fallen by the wayside.
This is what happens when we set overly-ambitious, non-specific resolutions. 'Lose weight.' 'Save money.' 'Set up business.' All noble endeavours, but near on impossible to achieve when they haven't been broken up into smaller, more manageable steps.
As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits, "the seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow."
Like it or not, small lifestyle changes are much more likely to stick. In fact, some of them create a ripple effect that naturally leads to other positive lifestyle changes with little to no effort.
These "keystone habits", as Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls them, are catalysts that set other good habits in motion. Need some inspiration? Here are a few examples...
■ Prioritise fitness
If weight loss was your New Year's resolution, you probably started the month with a meal plan that involved lean protein and vegetables only to abandon the plan after the first week.
But what if you had tried a keystone habit that naturally led to healthier eating instead?
Duhigg describes exercise as a keystone habit that "triggers widespread change". "People who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work," he writes. "They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed."
In other words, join a gym before you start a diet, and you'll be more likely to stick with your healthy eating plan. Plus, you'll benefit from a number of other positive lifestyle changes too.
■ Write a to-list before bed
When work pressure mounts and sleep quality dwindles, we often go looking for nutritional supplements and healing modalities that might fix the problem. However, there could be a simpler solution with far-reaching benefits, say researchers at Baylor University, who found that people who took five minutes to write out a to-do list before bed fell asleep more quickly than participants who wrote about tasks they had already completed.
As well as aiding sleep, a pre-bedtime to-do list will help you work more efficiently the following day, which in turn creates more time and space for the things that truly matter.
■ Track your finances
'Save money' is another non-specific resolution that we make at the start of the year. For the most part, we don't specify how much we want to save or when we plan to start saving, so it's no surprise that this particular goal gets abandoned by mid-January.
If you want to achieve your financial goals in 2019, you need a keystone habit that makes saving second nature. And that habit, according to researchers at the University of Southern California, is finance tracking. Behavioural economists Shlomo Benartzi and his colleague Yaron Levi reported that those who used a mobile app that tracked their finances cut back on their spending by 15.7pc.
■ Make your bed
It might seem simple, but for Navy SEAL William H. McRaven, author of the best-selling Make Your Bed, a little bit of housekeeping in the morning can go a long way.
"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day," he says. "It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."
"And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made - that you made - and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better."
■ Start a morning ritual
We all know about waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but what happens when a morning funk leaves you on the wrong side of the desk? That was the question workplace researchers asked when they discovered that a person's morning mood clouds their workday, affecting both quality of work and productivity.
To maximize your morning - and the day ahead - try implementing a wake-up routine that calms the mind and lifts the mood. Whether it's meditation, yoga or just a few minutes of breathing exercises, the keystone habit of a morning ritual will set you up for a happier and more productive day.
Health & Living