Keystone Habits – How small wins can change your life

People look at changing themselves as something difficult. They think of all the things they have to change to get where they want to be. An easier way to make this change is to create a few habits that will create this change for you. To create a few positive keystone habits.

Below we’ll get into what keystone habits are and how they, together with the small-win strategy, can make drastic improvement simple and achievable. Finally, we’ll look into how you can easily use this to change your life.

An infographic showing how you can use small wins and keystone habits to change your life
Keystone habits and small wins

What are keystone habits?

You have probably known someone who, with seemingly no effort, managed to change their life. In no time, they gained confidence, looked better, seemed smarter, and performed better in most aspects of life. While it seems, they have done the impossible, they’re more likely to have exploited a keystone habit. You can do the same.

Keystone habits are powerful habits that cause a ripple effect across a person’s life and create other behaviors in their wake. Sometimes the new habits will be similar to the keystone habit. Other times, they will be completely unrelated. All of us have these powerful habits in our lives. Some of them are favorable and are the foundation of something good. Others are unfavorable and have a negative impact. Learning how to identify negative keystone habits, and especially how to establish good ones, is the simplest way of improving yourself.

Related: Create a habit scorecard

Examples of keystone habits

We’re all different, and what could be the most effective habit for one person might not have the same effect on someone else. There are, however, a few of these habits that will benefit everybody. Here are some examples of the keystone habits I used to improve.

Working out


Making my bed in the morning

Daily walks



Try to think about a good habit that you could implement in your life. What comes to mind? Use the list above if you aren’t sure. Once you begin to create the habit, give yourself time and start slow. Real change takes time.

Related: 9 life-changing Habits – how to make self-improvement easy

The small-win strategy

The small win strategy is an extension of using keystone habits for positive change. Keystone habits create small wins. It’s what makes them as powerful as they are. However, instead of focusing on creating the habit or the end goals, the small-win strategy is about celebrating every time you do the behavior you wish to make a habit.

Celebrate the small wins and tell yourself that you did well every time you show up. Celebrating small wins as real victories will give you confidence and motivation to reach your long-term goals and make keystone habits more effective and easier to create.

Remember, every success has been built on many small wins and never just one lucky break.

How to use keystone habits to change your life

Using the small win strategy together with powerful keystone habits is the simplest way of changing your life. While it might be simple, it isn’t easy. Let’s have a look at the necessary steps for you, to implement this strategy in your life.

The 4 steps for changing your life with keystone habits. set a goal, find the right habit, create the habit, and focus on small wins
How to change your life with keystone habits

1 Set a goal

Before you can begin to work on something, you have to know what you want to achieve. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want more mental clarity or maybe something else?

If you want to work with something only for a period, a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goal (SMART goals) is great.

 If you’re looking for a change in the way you live your life using the small-win strategy, having a broad goal such as, losing weight, getting more mental clarity, or feeling better about yourself is enough. It’s about learning to enjoy the process, not just the results. You should still track your progress, but not view it as the only measure of success.

2 What behaviors will help me achieve the goal?

While keystone habits can have a positive impact on completely unrelated habits, finding a behavior that works directly towards your primary goal is important. Do you know what you want to achieve? 

It’s time to think about behaviors that can help you get closer to your goal. Below is a list of keystone habits and some of the benefits they provide.

Working out – discipline, productivity, weight loss, self-esteem

Food dairy – Weight loss, discipline

Making your bed – Discipline, productivity

Journaling – Self-esteem, mental clarity, productivity

Meditating – self-esteem, mental clarity

The most powerful keystone habit is working out. It provides numerous health benefits. It works on both the mind and body and offers the possibility of many small wins every day.

Related: How to use identity-based goals to build the right habits

3 Create the habit

Now that you know what you want to achieve and how to do it, it’s time to create the habit. Here are 4 tips to help you form the habits.

Create reminders

There are different ways to remind yourself to perform the behavior you want to make a habit. The one I find to be the most effective is to leave small reminders for yourself. If you want to go to the gym, you can leave your water bottle on the kitchen counter or use a reminder as a background on your phone. Make sure to place the reminders somewhere where you’re sure you’ll see them when or just before the time you intend to do the behavior.

Combine it with something you like

An easy way to make a behavior seem interesting and manageable is to do a behavior you like just before or while doing the new behavior. This allows you to trick your brain into thinking that it likes the desired behavior until you begin to enjoy it. If you find it difficult to exercise, you could combine it with an episode of your favorite podcast or listen to some good music.

Starting is the hardest part

The more effort the intended behavior requires, the less likely you are to complete it. Prepare what you need to complete the behavior beforehand so that when it’s time to do it, you just have to grab your stuff and go.

Instead of focusing on doing the whole behavior, you can set smaller goals to make the task seem easier. Instead of doing a workout, you can just go to the gym and do one exercise. Instead of reading a chapter, you can focus on reading just one page. This will create the desired habit, and often, you’ll want to continue the behavior once you’ve begun.

Reward yourself by tracking your progress

Once you have completed the behavior, you need to reward yourself. A simple yet effective approach to this is tracking the habit. This can be done using the calendar app on your phone or in google sheets. Every time you perform the behavior, you make a small note about the behavior. Once you start the streak, you don’t want it to end. However, if you do end up missing one day, then don’t worry. Focus on getting back the following day and if you can avoid it, never miss two days in a row.

Related: Habit stacking

4 Focus on the small wins

The small-win strategy effectively creates changes that will change your life for good. It’s about focusing on the small wins that can be gained every day. To successfully use this strategy, a shift from focusing on goals as a sort of end destination and source of happiness to goals simply setting the direction for your behaviors is necessary. Let’s have a look at how you can do this.

Redefining your definition of success.

Instead of thinking, “I want to lose 5 pounds.” You can think, “I will track one meal daily.” Or “I will go to the gym every day after work. and do one exercise”

Instead of thinking, “I want to collect my racing thoughts.” You think, “I will write one line in my journal every night” or “I will meditate for 2 min before bed.”

By changing your mind to see these small achievements as successes, two things will happen. First, you almost eliminate the potential failure that could stop you and your progress. Second, you give yourself the possibility of creating small wins every day. Small wins, that when accumulated, will give you motivation and the belief that you can do great things.

Once the belief in yourself is established, you can raise the bar for success. Remember, the small-win strategy is useful for anyone, no matter where you are now.

Related: Habits to get rid of

Sum up

Keystone habits are powerful habits that have a ripple effect throughout your life. These can be either good or bad.

The small win strategy urges you to focus on and celebrate the small wins instead of just the end destination. You have already improved when you’re doing something difficult.

Combining these techniques is a simple way to create positive change throughout all areas of your life.

What to read about next:

Habits- A simple guide to self-improvement with better habits

Good habits – How to effectively build healthier habits

Habit tracking – How to make good habits stick easily