Transforming Habits

While conventional wisdom says it takes three months to adopt changes in your life and convert them to habit, an awful lot of us never make it that far (witness the fast death of New Year’s resolutions).

And yet there are profound opportunities for transformation buried in our habits.

Charles Duhigg thoroughly explores this territory in “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business”.

My favorite is “Lisa”, one of the subjects of a scientific study of habits and brain chemistry. She started smoking and drinking at 16 and by her twenties was obese, had never held a job more than a year, was being hounded by collection agencies and had just been left by her husband for another woman.

And yet by her early thirties, she was a non-smoking, non-drinking, home-owning marathon runner, working steadily as a graphic designer.

Her secret? Changing just one “keystone” habit, in her case smoking cigarettes.

Replacing cigarettes with jogging led to waterfall changes in how she “ate, worked, slept, saved money, scheduled her workdays, planned her future and so on”. Her brain scans demonstrated progressive rewiring in the part of the brain governing self-discipline.

The trick to improving your performance—for yourself or your company—is to identify your keystone habits. Duhigg’s research suggests that you look for patterns that give you plenty of small wins to build momentum.

One of my clients desperately needed a quiet oasis to recharge from a thriving business, so he committed to a daily yoga practice. After a few short weeks, he not only felt calmer, but started making changes in how he prioritized his day and delegated tasks. His profit is up and his happiness factor is off the charts.

In my own case, deciding to work out in the morning (before letting the day carry me away), brought on a series of cascading good fortune.

I suspect—particularly for those of us wired as entrepreneurs—that simply doing one small thing for ourselves is the small win that starts building momentum.

What new habit could transform your life?

Like what you see here? Head on up to that orange bar to sign up pronto and I’ll deliver my weekly insights directly to your in-box.


  • For me probably Weekend morning basketball at a school gym fall into Spring later expanded to Tuesdays and summer hoops and volleyball at our pool/community center Memorial Day through Labor Day Weekends, with a scheduled series of mostly free concerts offer me a balance and contrast from work/ professional endeavors.

  • Super Brisk walk of about 7km in the morning daily… How i handle my tasks changed after i started this daily regime. It may take a while to adjust but amazingly it becomes a norm you rarely want to miss daily.

  • I guess my first question is why did I have to sign in again? Did you change something?
    I used to be a runner averaging around 50 miles a week as my release. Then my knees said this isn’t happening anymore so I started walking. I wish I was as committed to the walking as I was to the running.

  • Rochelle

    I’m loving all these great habits! Ed, I promise I didn’t change anything (at least not intentionally)–your comments aren’t moderated. p.s. I felt the same way about walking after I had to give up biking, but now I do love it too…

  • This is so smart, and yet I’ve had a really hard time figuring out what my keystone habit is – what I can STICK with long term.

  • After reading a number of books about the brain (and especially Incognito : The Secret Life of the Brain) I decided to change one thing to evaluate how difficult it was to do. I determined to throw with my non-dominant hand (left) every time I took my dog outside to throw the ball. Almost two years later I still throw the ball with my left hand — not nearly as well as with my right — but it has been empowering knowing that if I can change that one thing I can change anything. Still my brain asks, “why don’t you just throw it with your right hand, it’s a lot easier you know?” Brains are rebellious like that, which is why you have to learn to apply and enjoy discipline. 🙂 There is no other way to grow.

    • Newton, I too was told to start using my left hand more to even out my body balance. I must admit it works for a while then I forget about it, because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I must try it again. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Loved your post, Rochelle. I’m constantly amazed when I think about the power of the brain! When I put my mind to something, it usually happens…like you, I’ve started dedicating one hour three/four times a week for jogging. I have to do it first thing in the morning, and that is a refreshing habit that will keep paying off.

  • Rochelle,

    I love your post on Transforming Habits! I have shared it with friends on FB and Twitter, and have included a Link to the post on my own webpage at . Thank you for the inspiration! I’ll be looking forward to reading more from you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.