Years ago, I went through a long period in which I floundered. I woke up, did my work for the day, came home, ate my dinner, watched some TV, went to bed, and pushed repeat the next day. Nothing was wrong in my life, but nothing was right either. I was stagnant. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what to do to get things moving again in a positive direction. Finally, through a series of events, I began reading. At the time reading was incredibly boring and difficult, but I was desperate and knew I needed positive input, and so I picked up a book. This started a domino effect of positive changes in me that have continued to this day. Reading changed my marriage, my relationship with God, my personal growth, my productivity, and so much more. I made a keystone change.

This is the genius of keystone. In architecture, a keystone is the stone at the top of an arch that holds all the other stones in place. Effectively, the keystone is the glue without which everything crumbles. This concept is used now to talk about habits that become the first domino that causes all of the other dominoes to fall. For me, reading was the keystone habit that gave me the momentum to change in other areas of my life.

Keystone habits are often not obvious. They lurk beneath the surface waiting to be discovered. Keystone habits may be personal, financial, relational, or spiritual. Identifying the right keystone habit is like that “aha” moment when all of the sudden everything makes sense.

The concept of keystone is a powerful weapon for change. The opportunity though is to expand the concept of keystone beyond habits to other areas of our lives. With the image of a domino effect in your mind, consider how applying the concept of keystone might be broadened.

  • Keystone Systems– Is there a foundational system that is missing in your life that is sabotaging your effectiveness and happiness? For me, having a robust task management system makes all of the difference. What is your keystone system?
  • Keystone Routine– Is there a routine that would make everything else run smoother in your life? A morning routine. A dinner routine. An exercise routine. A bedtime routine.
  • Keystone Resource– Are there foundational resources whose absence continually stumps you up? A mechanic. A doctor. A lawyer. A church. A babysitter. A handyman. A keystone resource that continually stumps me up is the right mechanic. Each time my car needs work, whether minor or major, I freeze because I have not found my critical keystone mechanic that I trust and know will always do the best job. Hence, my car is currently three weeks overdue for basic maintenance.
  • Keystone Obstacle– This turns keystone on its head. Is there an obstacle in your life that is keeping all of the other dominoes from falling? A bad habit. An addiction. A toxic relationship. A negative emotion. For a long time, sleeping late was a keystone obstacle for me. Keystone obstacles must be removed before progress can be made.

Working on keystone in all its variety involves operating on the preliminary level. Painters prepare surfaces and use primer even though the color of the primer does not necessarily match the final color. The primer is the preliminary work that makes the final paint true and lasting. So it is with keystone. The trouble is that most people don’t do the preliminary work that saves tremendous time and effort in the long run. In essence, they keep on reinventing the wheel every time they have a problem to solve.

Take a look at the keystone categories listed above. Can you identify one that trips you up? If so, stop where you are and do the core preliminary work to identify the keystone change you need to make. If you are like me many years ago, one simple keystone change may alter the direction of your life for a long time to come. 

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