Knowing the “Why” of Your Keystone Habits

building blocks

As a part of ADHD Awareness Month, I am focusing on the theme of developing habits which can be a real challenge for the Global CreativeDeveloping Habits is the title of a video I did with Tara Mcgillicuddy for her popular ADHD Expo. With breakdowns in applying hard fought learning to new actions, ADHD wreaks havoc on habit development and practice.

As a part of my research I interviewed a few of my former clients who have taken habit development to heart. In my last post I shared the habits of client Sarah. In this post I share the essential habits of John, an executive with a large corporation in California. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the concept of a keystone habit in developing additional habits – the basic building blocks of success. Notice how client, John, is super clear on his keystone habits and the benefits of each practice. This level of awareness can be an aspiration for all of us who suffer with the challenges of ADHD. For each habit John identifies the specific practice and then follows with a concise list of compelling arguments to practice this habit. He is super clear why the habit is a good habit to practice. Also notice how John gives himself permission to ‘fall out of the saddle’ with regards to habit practice. The key is to circle back to to the Best Practices you already know.

Finally, in reviewing John’s practices I am struck with how they fit nicely into The Four Elements of Inspiration Practice, especially refueling and connecting with key people.

In John’s words…

Physical activity with a goal – Train for something. I feel the absence when it’s not part of my life.

  • Contributes to beneficial brain chemicals that boost mood and concentration alike.
  • Gives me a sense of accomplishment.
  • Creates an ongoing reminder that I’m actually able to attack and complete goals.
  • Socially acceptable zoning out (in fact – mind wandering away from the task at hand is often PERFECT during endurance training).

Morning coffee with my wife

  • I can’t overestimate the power of focused and centered moments of conversation.
  • Even if I am not aware of any impact once coffee time is over, every day, I get one short respite from my self-inflicted chaos.
  • It helps that she can tell when my mind wanders and she asks “where did you just go?” I tell her where I was. And, usually, we’re back.
  • Allows my lack of routine to take advantage of someone else’s sense of routine.

Call my parents every Tuesday night

  • Long commutes are good for something.
  • Connections are too easily lost if I have to find time to actually log into email or Facebook or write a letter.
  • Recapping my week for them is a helpful form of review for me (even if I do package it for parental consumption).
  • Takes the edge off when I forget a family birthday, or anniversary. Better yet – gives them the chance to remind me when there is a birthday or anniversary coming (like my wife’s!).

Meditate with structure

  • Whether its familiar liturgy or an unfamiliar (yet trusted) guided meditation it takes my mind down intentional roads.
  • Give my mind just enough to occupy the “stray thought center” and the rest of the brain can follow the path to less stress.
  • I stumbled into a daily disconnect podcast that has become the first 8 minutes of my L.A. freeway commute (closing eyes not allowed).


  • Plant enough variety that there’s always something different out there needing attention.
  • Plants don’t judge. Add water and they snap back.
  • The goal of gardening is finding distractions: bugs, weeds, water patterns, stray sprouts to prune.

Don’t get hooked on habits

  • Allow myself to use the “system de jure.” Not every habit needs to be life long.
  • Who cares if my latest system is only used for a few days? If it got a few details tracked and closer to completion on those few days, it did something.

4 thoughts on “Knowing the “Why” of Your Keystone Habits

  1. As I have often have described something that sounds very simple and clear, yet it’s like you are developing vast miles of subterranean support structures to help us get to where we want to be..or live the way we wish to be. The underground analogy grows out of my gratitude and respect for your deep consideration and contribution to helping people succeed with ADHD and helping the helpers do it better. I believe your work is greatly nourishing the roots of transforming how we live and respond with ADHD. These ways can help us travel far.

    Somehow, sometimes.. I can hack through the brush..reach a peak and see my promised land. I draw a map..I stock my supplies. I say my mantra. I kick ass. For awhile.

    Then the adrenals go bye-bye. And memory wanes..and I am trying to locate that map..where did I leave it? Hmm. Sometimes years elapse. And of course one’s quest for spiritual and incarnate meaning intensifies????. The clock doesn’t wander.

    So yes, the “what” is sometimes more easily discovered…the “why” is getting easier to communicate…but still.. these days..the “way” to stay the course and develop the best habits still have eluded me…

    Yet..I sense the travelling root structure..the potential and promise of what you are describing.

    Thank you for sharing..and thanks to your former clients for sharing what has worked for them. It fuels the inspiration and hope.


  2. The root analogy resonates Willow. The ‘Way’ is the hardest part. Keep coming back to what you know and surround yourself with positive supportive individuals. They are a part of the root system for me.

  3. Hi Cameron,
    This article pairs well with your post “Emotions, Decision Making and the 3 Dark Horsemen.” These dudes can really bump one off “the way” until they are recognized and understood more. I enjoyed your personal sharing of how your limbic system compromised good decision making and how goals and well considered priorities could fall to the wayside under the influence of overwhelm.
    Having our world shrink to “stress management” while our true aspirations..our “big selves” are not actualizing..very accurately describes what I go through.

    Its like a loop that keeps the movie Groundhog Day. Nothing changes until we see..and start to change how we relate and act. Its like putting a tournequette slow the loss of time and hope. You are right..its not “depression” but more of the spinning of mental wheels in the muck of overwhelm. I am happy to have found your maps/writings.

    We need coaches and guides like you and your colleagues.

    Glad you’re out there.


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