Recently, I’ve been trying to find out how powerful habits are in transforming your life. This all started when I picked up the book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. I found out about this book from my sister, who had seen it at a book store in London, England. Just like many of us, she skimmed through it, and the points illustrated resonated with her. One day, on a call with her, she described the book, which I found very interesting.
I had just joined up with Audible, and had bonus credits available, one of which I used to purchase the audio version of this book. In all honestly, if you haven’t read this book, I encourage all of you to read it because it will change your view on habits, and why we do what we do. If I was going to go through the entire book, and what I learned, it would take me several months to write out, however, I want to talk about something known as a Keystone Habit.
If you have read my other content, I’ve mentioned its importance before, however, I want to connect how a single keystone habit can be used to help us (those living with bipolar).
Here’s a quick definition of Keystone Habit:
“Keystone habits lead to the development of multiple good habits. They start a chain effect in your life that produces a number of positive outcomes.”
The Power of Habit is based around your keystone habit, and how a single change in your life can produce enormous change. As humans, we sometimes don’t want to change because of the hard work involved, and all the small things we have to focus on to conquer one aspect of our lives to another. If you can understand and pull out your keystone habit that causes almost every other negative element, then changing that one single habit can transform everything else. Here’s a great example,
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about people who are overweight, eating poorly, smoking, and depressed. He had a chance to sit down with these people in an experiment to understand their mind frame. Many of them wanted to make a change in their lives, but didn’t know how and where to start. If you think about it…
This is EXACTLY the problem we all face in our lives. We want huge changes, but don’t know where to begin, which destroys our momentum and motivation. Anyway, going back to the example above, Charles Duhigg stripped down the entire problem, and found everything can be solved by tapping into the keystone habit. For example,
Losing weight, a poor diet, depression, and smoking can all be fixed if you start to incorporate exercise into your life. I thought about it for a second, looking back at when I was overweight and ended up in the hospital. I realized when I started a solid exercise routine, I automatically started eating well, quit smoking, and it helped elevate my mood.
Just so you guys know, in the example above, Exercise is the Keystone Habit.
By now, all of you know I’ve been living with bipolar since early 2000. I wanted to know how this concept can change my life, and if it can give me the tools to help control my mood swings. As I started to dig deeper, I realized that with bipolar, it’s all about understanding your triggers. If you know what “triggers” a manic episode, then you’ll be able to start breaking down the problem, finding the keystone habit you can change.
I’m going to admit, this is the hardest part about implementing this strategy. It’s also pretty cool how close this idea is relevant to the psychosocial therapy concept. With psychosocial therapy, you’re trying to make changes in your life to remove yourself from situations that trigger episodes. By removing yourself from the situation, you are understanding what aspects of your life are bad for triggering mood swings. In essence, if you understand your triggers, you can avoid manic episodes…right?
With the keystone habit, you are understanding what single “HABIT” you change in your life to start a chain effect that produces a number of positive outcomes. Through that single habit, you can control your triggers, leading to a more stable life. Anyway,
Once I went through my life experiences, which actually stood out, I started to put something together. First, it’s really hard to remember what experience impacted your life to a point that you were completely thrown into a manic episode. This is why I tried to understand the MOST important that had such an impact that they’re NOT easily forgotten.
Here’s what stood out:
- Social anxiety, and how difficult it was to be myself around others.
- My inability to pay attention because I would always be worried about what the other person thought.
- Butting heads with my family about my bipolar disorder. They never understood how much this impacted my life.
- Broken relationships with friends because I felt they were always attacking me, taking shots at my character.
- Intimate relationships because we would NOT understand the reason behind why we did what we did.
These are just some that I’ve listed, but I’m sure if I take a few days to think back, I would have more examples. However, these are good enough to illustrate the point I’m going to make.
When you look at the examples above, can you think of a single change I could have made to avoid the chain of effect that started the vicious triggers?
The keystone habit = better communication.
I know many of you are asking, “Is poor communication a habit?” Here’s the definition of the word habit:
“A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
If you look at poor communication as a regular practice, and something you find hard to change, then, yes, it’s a habit.
For many years, I had a habit of closing up my thoughts, and what I was feeling. In 2000, we didn’t know too much about bipolar except that it was a mental disorder. When people hear “mental disorder”, they automatically think you’re insane. Today, we have more people working towards increasing awareness, and through research, have learned that with “bipolar”, you can still live a normal life.
However, back in 2000, this wasn’t the case, and I would close my thoughts. Instead of outwardly expressing my emotions, I internalized them, and this caused me to second guess every aspect of my life.
What happens when you don’t communicate your feelings? You start to create your own definition, which, in MOST cases, is the extreme negative. This was a vicious cycle responsible for triggering my manic episodes.
If I go through every single example, you’ll connect the dots on how communication is the true medicine for bipolar.
a) I couldn’t be myself around others because I wasn’t ever able to be myself, period. I wasn’t used to communicating my thoughts with people so I turned inward around people. If I had a habit of speaking my mind, then I would have done the same in social gatherings.
b) I blame my inability to pay attention on paranoia because I would always worry what the other person thought of me, and what I was saying. Deep down, I was worried about how I would be judged for my thoughts, emotions, etc. This can be connected to NOT opening up and lacking self-confidence, which is NOT being proud of yourself.
c) Butting heads with my family about bipolar is connected to me NOT communicating my feelings. This changed when I told my dad how I felt, and brought him to one of my appointments. After, my family had a different outlook on bipolar, and accepted my condition.
d) Broken relationships with friends is, again, lack of communication when something was said that I didn’t quite understand. They might have had good intentions, but I took their words the wrong way and made my own definition up in my mind. If I could have communicated how I felt, they would have been able to clear things up right away instead of me feeling hopeless for days.
Here’s something else,
I remember my very first appointment with my psychiatrist, and how she stressed the importance of communication when dealing with bipolar. Think about it…
It’s through communicating my feelings that I was able to get help in the first place. Next, it was through communication that I was able to get help from my family, and able to have my dad come to one of my appointments. It was through communication that he was able to understand how bipolar disorder affects people’s lives.
Here is a quick search in Google that outlines how important communication is for treating bipolar.
I’ve been part of a lot of bipolar support groups, and one common thing I hear over and over again is a relationship being IMPACTED one way or another. However, a majority of time, the response is always to communicate your feelings to start moving in a positive direction.
I know it’s easier said than done, but do you have any other choice other than to implement this keystone habit (better communication) into your life. I often complain about NOT being happy in certain areas, and how I want things to be different, but when it comes time to try something new, I would never follow through.
There comes a time when I’ve ran out of options, and still complain about NOT getting better. In the end, you learn bipolar is something that can turn your life upside down, but it’s something that can be managed through effective strategies. Trust me, I’m a walking example and you’ll learn this as we continue to build this blog together.
I’m telling you that effective communication changed my life, and it’ll do the same for you. As you effectively communicate with others, you’ll learn EXACTLY what your triggers are and can manage them going forward. However, if you stay closed about your thoughts, you won’t genuinely give yourself a chance to understand the true “YOU” and what causes you to fall into a manic episode.
Use the following to help you get started: