A Cornell professor once said, “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”
A couple years ago, my best friend and I flew out to Washington to climb Mount St. Helens. We’re avid outdoors(wo)men and while not likely to win any triathlons any time soon, we’re pretty in shape. At least, we thought we were until we started the 4.5 mile climb with 4,500 feet in elevation. That might not sound like much to all you mountain trekkers out there, but it was a bit daunting for us.
After blazing through the first .5 mile and feeling like our lungs were about to collapse, we paused and decided we needed to go at this mountain a bit differently. The climb to the top of Mount St. Helens is split into three phases: The first mile was your typical mountain hike – a windy path through the trees with a slight incline. However, the 2.5 miles following that lovely section was through the volcanic boulder fields. To finish it off, the final mile and 1,000 foot elevation was nothing but scree – volcanic dust that created something similar to a deep loose gravel.
If we had paused .5 miles in and looked up at that mountain knowing what was ahead, we probably would have given up right then and there. Instead, we made a decision – one section at a time.
We made it through the woods without any major incidents and emerged into the open air – it was time to conquer the never ending boulder fields. It was as if there was no end to the skin- slicing rocky climb. We literally could not see beyond boulder after boulder as if there was no top to this mountain. So once again we broke it down. One section at a time, one boulder at a time. When the boulder fields finally came to an end about 4 hours later, we paused to celebrate our small victory, down buckets of water, and take on the last section with the end in sight. This was unexpectedly the most excruciating of them all.
With every step forward, knees swollen and breath shallow, we felt ourselves slide backward through the scree. We stopped a lot in that last mile, yet every tiny step forward was a victory and we pushed through until the end. There we stood, inches from the edge of the volcanic crater, taking in the most awe inspiring view with the taste of accomplishment still lingering over our tongues in the form of cold left over pizza that we packed the night before. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.
We often view life through a scale of “One Day.” We hope that one day we’ll be able to afford our dream house with our dream car and our dream family. One day, we’ll find that perfect person and work with the perfect company. We hope for our one day, as we should, but one day cannot overshadow our here and now.
This is why your keystone habit is so central to who you become. This is the single habit controls and influences all other habits in your life. It holds up your values and determines what you pour yourself into. More importantly, your keystone habit is your driving force for your own small victories. To put it simply, your keystone habit is what holds the rest of you in place. Your goals in life can be enormous mountains that seem impossible to conquer. You stand at the bottom and look up, your breath becomes shallow, your knees begin to shake, and all you want to do is turn around and go back to bed.
But that mountain is nothing but a collection of boulders and scree.
Take your dreams little by little and build a keystone habit that will always keep you moving forward. And when in doubt, just think about the jaw-dropping view and cold pizza waiting for you at the top.