May 2, 2019

You’ve started on your weight loss journey. You have the nutrition plan, the exercise intentions, and the support to make it all easy. In addition, you have the willpower to get through the tough times. Or do you?

It’s easy to think of your weight loss journey as one where your ultimate success is dependent upon willpower. While having willpower might be advantageous, it’s not the only – or most reliable – strategy.

Willpower is one of those elusive resources that comes and goes. On Monday you’re full of confidence and well-rested, so willpower is easy. By Friday, you’ve had a tough week and really need a massage, bubble bath and (dare we say it?) a glass of wine. Where’s the willpower now?

Instead of relying on willpower, a different strategy is essential.

Building a keystone habit is a sure-fire winner. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” says that keystone habits are correlated with other good habits. For example, regular exercise often goes hand-in-hand with better eating habits.

Duhigg says that keystone habits don’t create a direct cause-and-effect relationship, but they can spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.”

A navy admiral talks about how making your bed allows you to start the day with one small victory, which sets you up for achieving more wins. Making his bed is a keystone habit.

When a keystone habit is fundamental and important, it builds the confidence to tackle the next challenge, and then the next. How you do anything is often how you do everything.

Making your bed, while important, might not be the keystone habit that makes the difference for your weight loss success, but how you start the day is how you’ll continue. It might be going for a morning walk, having a glass of water with lemon, or making lunch while breakfast is cooking.

Your keystone habit will be something you do automatically, every day, which has a positive influence on the choices you make for the rest of the day.

How often have you noticed people say things like “I’ve already blown my diet. I may as well have a second piece of cake”? One mistake leads to two and so on.

Conversely, one success leads to two.   The keystone habit of getting up early enough to have a quick walk and cook breakfast sets you up for a day of further victories. You start well and you continue that way.

So how do you build a keystone habit?

You’ll need to implement a planned response to a trigger. Getting out of bed when the alarm sounds is an example. No more hitting the alarm and falling back asleep: now, your planned response is to get up, get dressed, and get out for your walk. This planned immediate response stops you from unconsciously reacting. It takes willpower out of the equation.

It doesn’t really matter what your pre-planned response is, so long as you consistently do it. Doing it creates small wins, and small wins create the confidence and self-respect that reinforce the response. Willpower becomes less and less important.

So, start with one simple keystone habit and watch it ripple into long-term success.