Keystone habits and your spiritual life.

It's been many years since I read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, but it's clear I may need to take another pass through its pages.

While visiting Capital Christian Center in Olympia, Washington, the pastor (Pastor Dave Minton, see sermon 4) brought up the topic of keystone habits and I began resurrecting somethings I remembered from Duhigg's book.

A keystone habit is a particular pattern that triggers other habits in our lives. We might be trying to change bad habits but because we don't recognize the keystone habits, we remain unsuccessful. We're basically trying to fix a structurally unsound house by focusing solely on the roof instead of putting our attention to the foundation and supports. Get to the keystone habit, and the other habits will change quite naturally.

Keystone habits vary for each person.

One keystone habit, for example, is simply making your bed every morning.

Family dinners are another.

Creating daily routines that take you through your day is another.

Getting regular and good amounts of sleep could be another.

Whether it's an act of creativity, routine, or connection, a keystone habit has a way of affecting all else that you do.

You can see some variety there, but consider what they do. Making your bed each day means you've completed an orderly task at the start of every day. You started and finished something. Having family dinners together means you're setting a time, structuring your time, planning the food, and having time to connect. All of that is packed into simply sitting down and eating together.

Daily routines might be your morning prayer and devotions, coffee, listen to sermons on the way to work, going to the gym after -- it is simply a structure you create that you adhere to. Weekly structure might be the days of the week you go to the gym, the days you go to evening Bible study, and going to church every Sunday.

Routines are the thing we mistakenly think are the rat race, something we think we should resent because it's a sign our life isn't exciting. More often, a routine is probably what is saving you from careening off the rails into a whole realm of destructive behavior. A solid routine can help a depressed person get out of bed and through the day/week/month until things are better.

Ever gone on a wonderful vacation, but found yourself longing for the stability of your regular routine? You're not pathetic. You have some keystone habits. Hopefully, they are good keystone habits, and good routines.

Keystone habits probably vary in each person, but you can recognize them to some degree when it comes to trying to change habits. Keystone habits:
  • They seem to make it easier to start new habits.
  • They are small enough that they don't overwhelm you, so you can build confidence.
  • They make positive behavior addictive.
Pastor Minton, however, didn't just leave it as some mild behavior modification self-help sermon, but brought it into the proper realm of what this means for each Christian.

First, he pointed out, is that we aren't very patient. We want change now. But lasting change comes with patience, because it forces us to trust God.

"You don't change in a day, but daily you change," he said, pointing to Exodus 23:29-30 where God gives the people of Israel--freshly freed from Egypt--a promise with some problems in it. He's going to give them the land, but there will be other people in it. God will help them drive them out, but it will be little by little.

God gives us promises and He keeps them, but He often helps us grow into them. Little by little we grow into our inheritance. Minton pointed out that we love the stories of the instant miracles, which happen, but mostly God changes lives and works miracles little by little. We have to maintain what we've obtained before we get an increase.

It's about trust.

It's the manna, the daily bread. Take a little. Trust in God for the next bit. Don't try to take more than you need.

Next, Minton told us how we start on this path of little-by-little change: we have to change the way we think. Our natural thoughts are of worry, fear, anger, selfishness--nothing good. In Romans 12:2, we're told we aren't to copy the bhavior and customs of the world (the patterns, in other words, which we'll talk about next), but are to change the way we think as God would have us think.

Our thinking determines our behavior. Our behavior determines our habits. Our habits determine our character. And our character determines our destiny. Minton noted that the reason New Year's Resolutions (and other big attempts to change bad habits) fail is because we are trying to change our character. We decide we are now going to live life out of character for what we've already established, and we fail.


You can't simply jump to fixing your character; you have to start with changing your thinking. And the Bible is clear that our thinking is to be after God, and on good and godly things (Philippians 4:8). Trying to change character without changing thinking is a recipe for failure.

"If I don't set my mind, I let my mind," Minton said, noting we have to set godly boundaries for our minds and thinking. He joked that the cliche is we should think out of the box, but the reality is we should get back in the box and think within the boundaries God has directed us to stay in.

Finally, Minton discussed the importance of patterns. Our lives have a pattern and if we want to change our life, we have to change our patterns.

Patterns are simply routines, our usual way of doing things. They are guides on how to do something, on how to make something out of something else (e.g. think sewing pattern). Minton gave the excellent example of how his wife could take a messy bunch of yarn and make many wonderful things from it. "God can make all kinds of wonderful things from the same mess."

Hebrews 8:5 talks of how God told Moses to make everything for the Tabernacle according to the pattern he was shown on Mt. Sinai. The most important pattern we can have, Minton said, is a pattern of worship towards God. We see it in Matthew 6:33 where we are promised that if we seek God first, all our needs will be met. That's the main pattern, the most important pattern.

Why does God give us commands and patterns to follow all across His Word?

Just like with the Israelites, He is trying to take people who were enslaved and without the right patterns, and teach them His ways. He has to tell us what patterns to follow to get the right result. Minton mentioned how in the Israelite encampment, God taught them how to arrange the tribe encampments literally around His presence (the pillar of fire/cloud). This is our pattern as well.

This is where it all comes together, for the believer. We understand God is working change in us little by little, and must trust Him. We start each day by changing the way we think. And we must follow the right pattern.

So here it is: our true one and only most important keystone habit, as a believer, is centering our life around God. Our thoughts are on God, our attitude is one of worship towards God -- that is the foundation of it all.

Without keystone habits, daily life seems to fall apart and everything feels like a mad and exhausting scramble. Without The Keystone Habit--one centered around God--life will ultimately fall apart.

This was a very good message from Minton, of which I've barely summarized here. I mainly write this to give you something to consider and study, and for me to have a reference article to link back to for something I may be writing about true leadership in a later post(s).


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