I think the first time I really *got* what it meant to build cornerstone habits was in reading One Year to an Organized Work Life by Regina Leeds (who I have mentioned before here and here). It’s been a while since I last read that book, but she discusses the importance of making your bed as a cornerstone habit.
What is a cornerstone habit?
The idea behind cornerstone habits (or keystone habits) is that you make one small fundamental change which goes on to have a domino effect of creating more and more healthy habits in your life.
It’s not so much about creating big changes in your life as it is about making small shifts that have a big impact. And part of it is identifying which habits derail us from being, for example, productive, and figuring out the best way to make a subtle change so that we replace a bad habit with a healthier one.
One of the things that I like about the concept of cornerstone habits is that it’s really about doing what works for you, right now and it’s about taking baby steps. It’s not about making a drastic lifestyle change which, let’s face it, can be intimidating, and might even contribute to failure if we haven’t set ourselves up for success.
How can you build cornerstone habits?
I feel that there are always ways that we can improve, in all areas of life. That’s one of the exciting things about living! There’s always so much more than we can do; so many more places we can go.
There are a few questions we can ask ourselves if we want to build cornerstone habits:
- What are three things you would like to change about the way you do things?
Maybe you don’t want to procrastinate on work so much. Maybe you want to go to the gym more. Maybe you wish you would stop reaching for that bag of chips, but have a hard time stopping yourself. Really think about what you could realistically change, and what you want to do differently.
- What’s stopping you from making a change?
Maybe you procrastinate because you feel overwhelmed when you look at all the work you have to do. Maybe you don’t go to the gym because you’re too tired at the end of the day. Maybe it’s easier to get chips from a vending machine than going to a cafeteria to buy something healthier.
There could be a whole host of reasons for why you haven’t made the change yet, but even identifying one or two reasons can be beneficial here.
- What could you do to get over these barriers?
Maybe you could break up your to-do list into more manageable pieces so that it doesn’t seem so scary. Maybe you could go to the gym in the morning instead of the end of the workday. Maybe you could bring an apple from home so that you won’t be tempted to buy a bag of chips.
More things to consider when building cornerstone habits
The above are all very simple answers to what could potentially be complex issues, and they might not necessarily solve the problem immediately (for example, you might think you’re procrastinating because you’re overwhelmed, but in actuality it’s because you don’t like the work, or you might think you are choosing chips because it’s an easy option, but in reality it’s because you have an emotional attachment to the chips—in which case, the above solutions might not be helpful in making a change).
The purpose of this exercise with the above three questions, however, is twofold:
First, it can help you identify if there is a bigger issue at hand that you need to face and work through (which is a whole other blog post on its own!).
Second, it can help you create healthy habits—cornerstone habits—which can trickle down to other areas in your life.
Let’s look at our three examples: if you made one change, such as breaking your to-do list into more manageable steps, you might discover that you are getting more work done. From there, you might be feeling better about yourself, and consciously decide that an apple would be a better choice than the bag of chips. And choosing a healthier food might just give you more energy to go to the gym at the end of the day.
One small habit can make a big lifestyle difference!