Goal Achieving Is The Harvest of Properly Set Keystone Habits

Mar 29, 2022

Developing a productive, healthy, or encouraging yet isolated habit won't make much difference in our lives. Habits need a support system around them to have transformative properties. However, once we set a structure capable of hosting habits in alignment with our dreams and goals, being consistent in practicing that foundational habit is vital. 

A functional structure around that foundational or keystone habit will create a ripple effect; it will encourage creating other habits in alignment with our goals and produce a deep routine and mindset change. 

In this episode, we talk about keystone habits and their ripple effect. We delve into the importance of creating a structure or system in alignment with them and how to identify habits that clash with each other, becoming an obstacle in our long-term goals. 

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • One of the first keystone habits I developed (1:17)
  • Keystone habits generate and encourage the creation of habits in alignment with our goals (3:01)
  • Our actions speak for us (6:43)
  • The domino effect of keystone habits in my leadership style (11:52)
  • About the importance of creating an intentional structure around our keystone habits (13:23)


  • Quote: Charles Duhigg - "The Difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do."
  • Quote: John Maxwell - "If your habits don't line up with your dream, then you need to either change your habits or change your dream."
  • Quote: Clayton M. Christensen - "It's easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98% of the time."
  • Book: Charles Duhigg - The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
  • Coaching with Clint Consultation Call - Book Here
  • Download my free One-on-One Transformation tool

 Let's Connect!



Clint Hoopes: Keystone habits are the habit that holds everything else together. An actual keystone is at the peak of an arch – so the very top of the arch. And it's the thing that locks and holds everything all together in the arch, holds the other stones together. 

Welcome to the Flavor of Leadership podcast. We are always looking to improve and become just a little bit better each day and each episode. And so as part of this quest, we are actually making a few changes to the podcast here over the coming weeks. So, stay tuned, nothing more to announce quite yet, but some fun changes will be coming over the next few weeks. So, today, I've been thinking a little bit about when I was younger. And so when I was young, I'm trying to remember when I first started doing this, but I'm thinking I was probably somewhere 6, 7, 8 years old, I started putting my clothes out every night. I didn't want to forget to do things or have to make a decision on the spur of the moment in the morning I guess. But for some reason, I started putting my clothes out every night. I'd pick out what I was going to wear the next day, and I would actually roll them up, fold them up, and I would stick them under my pillow at night before I went to bed. So, yes, it did end up probably having some wrinkly clothes. But hey, I really didn't care at the time. And I’d put my shoes next to my bed and I was ready to go. So, I'd wake up in the morning, my clothes were right there under my pillow, my shoes were right there ready to go, and I could just go. 

And so I did that when I was younger. And then obviously, didn’t do that when I got older. I stopped wrinkling my clothes up underneath my pillow. But it's funny, years later, when I got older and I was trying to set some good habits of exercising early in the morning, and getting up and getting a good morning routine, I actually reflected back I used to do. And so I did, I started actually getting my shoes, getting my socks, getting my workout clothes, everything, all ready to go, and I would set them out the night before. Now, I didn't step them under my pillow like I used to when I was little, but I would put them out and be ready to go. And I found that it helped me so much to make sure I'd get up. My alarm would go off, I would get up, and there were my exercise clothes, and I would be ready to go. 

So, there are all these little things that we do. You may have heard that very trick before. Other people will say, “Hey, put your alarm in the other room.” Or do something like that to make it so that you have to get up and already get yourself going. So, both of those could be great things. But putting my clothes out for me, that is what has worked for me. Because I get up, I don't have to think about it. I just know that that's what I do: I get up, I get dressed, I go. And it's just automatic. And the interesting thing is that once I did that, once I got up and went to exercise and I exercised, then some other things started to happen as well. When I would exercise, that would lead to me wanting to eat better. When you exercise and you just feel good and you feel more active, all of a sudden, you just want to eat just a little bit better – there's just something to it. It just helps with that habit as well. And then after you start feeling a little bit better – gosh! – what do you know, you start feeling like doing more during the day. I find I was more productive during the day. So, the exercise and the eating better would compound and I'd be more productive at work, which would lead to me wanting to get more done or do new projects – there were so many different things that could happen. But it was funny, feeling better after working out would make me want to work out more. So, it actually helped me keep that good habit going. And when I worked out, man – and I was excited about it – I'd start to go to bed on time as well. So, another good habit that would happen because then I could get up early in the morning like I wanted. But the funny thing was if I didn't put out my clothes the night before, sometimes my alarm would go off and I wouldn't get up. I mean, it seems so stupid, right? It's the same thing, what's different? Grab a shirt, grab some shorts, go. But there was something about it, it would stop me. There would be a little barrier that would stop me from going. And then what else would happen? I wouldn’t exercise, and then I wouldn't eat as well, I'd be less productive at work, I wouldn't want to work out, and then it spirals down. And I imagine you in your life, you probably had a similar thing or similar struggles. Maybe it's not with this exact thing, but maybe something different where the same kind of thing happened. 

There's this habit or this thing that you do that can ripple throughout the rest of your life. And so there are lots of different names for this, but what I like to call it is a keystone habit, this ripple effect that happens, or domino effect, whatever you want to call it. I like to call it a keystone habit. And so keystone habits are the habit that holds everything else together. An actual keystone is at the peak of an arch – so the very top of the arch. And it's the thing that locks and holds everything all together in the arch, holds the other stones together. So, in terms of habits, it's the thing, the main habit that holds the whole arch, so to speak, all together. It's the first domino, it's the ripple effect. It is that thing that gets you going. It's that first action, that movement, that commitment to doing what you said you were going to do. And so I love the thought of keystone habits and looking for these habits in our lives. So, Charles Duhigg, who's the author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” – highly recommended book. He said this: “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.” So, your actions, all of your little actions that add up, all come together to form who you actually are. So, me, I found that I wanted something different in my life; I wanted to exercise, I wanted to feel better. So, what did I do? I came up with, once again, a keystone habit. I didn't call it that at the time when I first did that, but I realized that after the fact that that's what I was doing, and that it actually worked. So, I continued to do that to this day because now I recognize that it is a keystone habit, it is the thing that makes the difference for me. 

In my past, early on in my career, what did I want? I wanted to be a successful leader. I wanted to be a leader that people wanted to work for. They wanted to follow. And so, for me, I found, early on, that communication was the key to my success, or the lack of communication being the key to my failure, because I did that before as well. So, I found that, for me, a keystone habit was my one-on-one meetings. And you guys have heard me say this a million times here on the podcast. And the reason is because it had such a pivotal effect on me and my effectiveness on a leader. But really, it was just my effectiveness in communication. It was the way that I was able to set expectations and be incredibly clear with my people. And so the one-on-one meetings, for me, was a keystone habit. If I did my one-on-one meetings, I would then set better expectations with people; I would communicate better; I would help make sure they all knew what a good job looked like for them in their role; I'd be better on measurement; I'd be better on communicating all of these different things. 

In the past, we talked about our role as a leader as the Chief Reminding Officer – Patrick Lencioni talks about the Chief Reminding Officer. And so the best way to be that is by being someone that communicates clearly and well, and continues to remind in a positive way. Not that people are incapable of understanding, but some of these principles and some of these things we need to do, need to be reminded over and over again. And I was able to do that through my one-on-one meetings. And it's amazing. The one-on-one meetings would lead to better communication, which led to better performance because they were clear on their measurements, and better accountability because they were clear and when they were coming back to me they knew they'd be accountable, they knew I wasn't gonna tolerate the poor behaviors or poor performance. And in the end, it actually ended with employee happiness at all levels of the organization. And because there were employees that were happy at all levels of the organization, they wanted to stay because we were winning. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team. We all want to be a part of a winning team. So, when the communication happens, the performance follows. And for me, I consider my one-on-one meetings to be the keystone habit that helped with success all the way through. 

How do we make sure that we do this? Let's use the example of one-on-ones. For me, I had to put it on the calendar, scheduled on my calendar. And I would send invite to the employee. So, it was scheduled on the calendar, I didn't leave things to chance. I made sure it was scheduled and it was automatic, and then it would happen. What’s scheduled, happens. And there you go, it all comes on through. 

What keystone habits do you already have in place for yourself? Now, this could be in your personal life, this could be at work. But what Keystone Habits do you have in place right now? Now, you're probably thinking of some, you've probably had some that come to your mind as we've been talking. And really, you have to think, do you have positive or negative keystone habits that are already in your life? Me? I have both. I have had both at different times. And I'm always seeking to try and figure out, “Okay, which ones can I eliminate? Which ones can I get rid of of the negative keystone habits?”

We had a habit back in the day – and this has happened over time, life gets crazy, and so I get back into this habit sometimes – of watching TV on normal weeknights, nights I have to get up early in the next morning.I like to get up at 5 am, do my morning routine. I have things that really get me going for the day and help me be effective and impactful. But sometimes when life gets crazy, I would start watching TV. Kids go to bed, “Oh, I'm just tired,” watch TV. And didn't have the discipline, at times, to turn it off. And you're now streaming, no commercials, there's nothing to stop you. And then it automatically advances to the next show. I'm sure some of you out there are thinking, “Okay, been there, or I'm there right now.” Now, my wife and I, we had to make a decision. We had to change our habits. We had to eliminate this habit that was starting. Because what would happen, it was the same domino effect that happened positively by doing my one-on-one meetings or by putting my clothes out to work out in the morning – the same thing happened negatively here. I found that this negative habit of starting to watch TV, which wasn't bad enough itself, but the fact that we didn't turn it off, it would keep it going, and we'd watch another show or another one, and then it got late. And at that point, it no longer mattered that I had my clothes set out to work out the next morning because I didn't get enough sleep and I would not go. So, something had to change. I had a negative habit that was also, dominantly, all the way through, so we had to make a change. 

So, John Maxwell, he talks about this. He says, “If your habits don't line up with your dream, then you need to either change your habits or change your dream.” Now, for me, I found that I didn't want to change my dream. I had a dream that I wanted to accomplish in either my health and also at work. I've had different dreams that I wanted to accomplish. And I decided, “You know what? I will give up something else. I will do something different. I will change my habits in order to keep my dream that I have.” 

So, what are you going to do? The best thing that you can do, if you want to accomplish your dream, is to decide what you want most, and then set up a system to succeed. Now, the keystone habit is just one part of an effective system. It's the first part. It's the first domino, so to speak. It's the thing that holds it all together. But it is not the complete system in and of itself. There is no one habit that you can just do and have everything else all work out in your life. That'd be amazing, wouldn't it? But we have to set up a system. And this is the trigger for the system. 


So, what do you have in place in your own life to do this? Now, policies and procedures at work make all the difference. That's part of the system of work to make sure people know what they need to do, they do it effectively, they know how to report – all of those different pieces. So, what type of system, what policies and procedures, standard operating procedures, what can you put in place in your life? So that when one of these keystone habits gets enacted by you, you don't have to use extreme willpower to be able to get things done. You don't have to have extreme willpower to get things done. But the system has been placed and it must be intentional. In Episode 72, just a couple of weeks ago, we talked about this. Clayton Christensen – he said this quote: “It's easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.” And so we went on to talk about how your commitments can be the same way. Holding to a commitment 98% of the time is more difficult, you're more likely to fail than if, in your mind, you have determined to hit it 100% of the time. 


So, what are we going to do? Setting up our system and then an effective keystone habit is what will help us be committed to hitting our goals. So, what does it look like for us? This is where reverse engineering can be incredibly powerful. Now, you've probably used reverse engineering in different parts of your life in different things, but think about what you want to do. So, we gave the example earlier of wanting to be a successful leader, wanting to hit my goals as a leader, wanting to hit the organization goals, financial targets, those type of things. That was my goal, that's what I wanted to be, that's what I determined what success looked like. I determined what that looked like. And when that became clear, I tracked it all the way back and said, “Well, what would cause people to accomplish the goals? What would cause people to do what they need to do to do their part? What would cause them to work and be effective?” And in the end, that's where communication came clear. I said, “Well, how can I communicate more clearly?” Well, more emails isn't going to do it. It needs to be more clear one-on-one communication with the managers and leaders or the employees that make the most impact. So, that's how I got to one-on-ones being the keystone habit that was going to get me to my ultimate goal. So, what is it in your life? What is it in your business? What is the one thing that you want more than the others? And reverse engineer back and figure out what is the first domino that you can push over, your keystone habit, that will trigger all the way down to you hitting your goal and enacting the system into place? 

You got this. Do it today. Figure out what your biggest goal is and do it today. Use the power of habits in your favor. You got this. Until next week.