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Keystone Habits

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

In Atomic Habits James Clear writes about Keystone Habits - small choices that lead to a cascade of other actions.

For example, when he and his wife get home from work, they either (a) immediately change into their gym kit, or (b) sit on the sofa. Their evening changes based on this decision.

If they change into their gym kit, they'll inevitably end up going to the gym that evening then cooking something healthy for dinner. If they sit on the sofa instead, they'll inevitably end up watching Netflix and ordering Indian takeaway. The healthier habit just requires making one small decision (gym kit vs sofa) and the rest takes care of itself.

I’ve noticed a few keystone habits in my own life, and I’m working on identifying more. For one, these days I wake up at 6:15am and make myself a Nespresso. Then I either sit on the dining table with my iPad Pro, or I sit at my proper desk with my laptop + big screen setup in front of me. If I go down the iPad Pro route (as I’ve done this morning), I open up Ulysses and start writing something, or open up Day One and do a quick journal entry while drinking the coffee. If however, I sit at my desk, I inevitably end up opening YouTube, realising there’s a new Peter McKinnon or Becki & Chris or Matt D'Avella video and the rest of the morning is gone.

Another example - I try to think about getting to bed between 10:30-11, and the keystone habit that makes this possible is brushing my teeth. As soon as I brush my teeth, the rest of my night-time routine automatically follows and I end up in bed reading on my Kindle until I feel tired enough to fall asleep. But the longer I delay brushing my teeth, whether I’m sitting chatting to my housemate, or working on a video edit, or just wasting time on YouTube / Instagram, the later I’ll end up going to sleep.

Before reading Atomic Habits I guess I knew about this stuff somewhat intuitively, but as is often the case, giving something a name (Keystone Habits) helps draw our attention to it when we see it happening in our lives.

I’d be interested to hear from you - what are some keystone habits in your life? Are there any small crossroads you’ve identified that make a big difference to the way the rest of your day goes? Do hit the <reply> button and let me know if you feel like it :)

Have a great week!

Ali


Stuff I've enjoyed this week

1 - App - Streaks - I discovered this app earlier this week, and since setting it up on my iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch (#flex) I've actually found myself doing more useful stuff consistently. I've written something in my journal, stretched, and done some music practice every day since installing the app, because (a) it reminds me I need to do these things, and (b) I don't want to break my 'streak'. If you enjoy hacks like this that help you live a healthier / more productive life, and don't get triggered by the thought of paying £5 for an app, you might like to check it out 😁

2 - Article - Compounding Knowledge (Farnam Street) - An interesting look into Warren Buffet’s strategy for gaining compounding knowledge. Reinforced my belief that reading the news is a waste of time, and made me more excited about learning stuff within Medicine and other industries that’ll hopefully compound with time.

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Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.