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The Power of a Keystone Pursuit

This article is all about finding and choosing one goal/habit/pursuit so important to you that it is capable of awakening and firmly establishing other new and beneficial habits in the process. 

A New Day

Life can feel like a real scoundrel, as if it were some anthropomorphized being that takes time out of its day to ruin ours. 

For example, some years back it became apparent to me that my eight-year relationship was coming to a screeching halt. While I did notice some warning signs in the process, the way it ended caught me completely off-guard.

Regardless of the shock value, the fact remained that this was the end, and my future – as I had planned it – was gone. Naturally, I felt sadness, uncertainty, and regret for all the things I could have done to improve my life had I not been so invested in a relationship that was destined to end the way it did. Had I not made the mistakes I did. 

 

How could I have been so naive? So blind and stubborn? So ignorant of this inevitable outcome?

How much had I lost? Time. Energy. Relationships. Money…

 

You know what I’m talking about, right? The endless “What if’s”, “Why did this happen?”, “What could I have done differently?”

Luckily, one of my most useful personality traits in situations like this (for better or worse) is being able to work through pain constructively, and some might say quickly. I don’t delay the pain anymore. Instead, I’ve adopted a policy to embrace it for what it is, learn from it, and prevent the negative qualities I possess from becoming a factor in my new relationships. At the time, I was accused of being emotionless and coldhearted, but that simply was not true. I have since come to learn that was primarily my way of employing my own version of Stoicism – but that’s for another article.

I definitely felt sadness, and it took me a while to work through that…but I also felt something I hadn’t experienced so clearly in years…

 

Hope.

 

A funny thing happens when the house of cards you build comes tumbling down – you have no choice but to either build something new or fall prey to your circumstances. I had to ask myself – “Which will it be?”

In the midst of my most depressing days, the feeling that overwhelmed me was that I had to do something different. While this can be an effective motivation for quick and decisive action, it doesn’t always result in sustained change for the better. 

As time progressed, what began as a circumstance devoid of choice slowly morphed into a desire to change on my terms, to what I wanted. This subtle distinction between obligation and personal choice is what I call the Readiness Threshold

Along the path of procrastination, dread, fear, and nervousness, the body begins to reframe the idea of taking action into a positive one that we can use to our advantage. We no longer feel like helpless onlookers of our own lives, and we start to, as Tony Robbins often puts it, participate in our own rescue. We go from someone being forced into change to someone forging change, bending it to our will. 

The way to begin is to clearly identify your Keystone Pursuit.

What is a Keystone Pursuit?

Charles Duhigg coined the term “Keystone Habit” for the one habit that relentlessly pulls you in, magnetically, so strongly that other habits form to support the pursuit of it. Hence, I am calling it a “Keystone Pursuit” – to pay homage to the brilliant writer while emphasizing the concept of forming habits around something we pursue.

Desire can be confusing. It often feels like our brains are striving for two mutually exclusive goals – simplicity (easy) and improvement (challenging).

In other words, we want life to be relaxing and pleasurable yet interesting and evolving. Meanwhile, we know we can’t just wait for someone to give that to us (though we often behave as though that is exactly what is expected). Being ready to take action is one thing, but knowing how to take the right kind of action to get what you’re looking for is quite another. To further complicate things, you’ve probably learned by now that seeking an outcome with an endpoint is only as fulfilling as the halo effect of that satisfaction once the outcome has been achieved.

 

You bench-pressed 250lbs – Great! Now what will keep you going to the gym?

You finished school – Fantastic! What’s next? 

You started going to church again – Wonderful! What kind of person do you want to be?

You got over your ex – Awesome! What about your life is going to sustain your growth now?

 

It’s an objectively positive thing to set goals and achieve them, but it’s an incomplete solution when it comes to rallying new, sustainable habits around those goals.

Think of the last time you enjoyed something like the fantastic and heartbreaking Netflix docuseries “Making a Murderer”. The story, the production, the emotion, the corruption, the twists, the ups and downs. It was everything one would hope a True Crime Documentary would be. And then it was over…leaving us with post-series depression. It felt like nothing could compare to what we just invested an entire weekend of our lives to, and with every show preview we watched after, we knew that none of them could fill the award-winning shaped hole in our hearts.  

You know that feeling all too well, don’t you?

The obvious difference between watching TV and pursuing goals for improvement is that watching TV is easy and automatic while self-improvement is literally 100% extra work (though we can learn to automate hard work). Also, finding a new show after finishing a great one – painful as it may be – is simpler and more likely to happen because there are literally thousands of options flashing in front of our faces, begging us to click and watch. Meanwhile, improving a skill, achieving a goal, hitting a new and improved mark for one’s self, etc. is something that we are forced to create ourselves, want ourselves, and pursue ourselves. Even if the level of desire is the same, the ease of doing it is not – and our brains don’t like that. Our brains, as wonderful as they are, enjoy automation, simplicity, and offloading critical thought as much as possible. This is why, when it comes to finding long-term drive/motivation/discipline/etc., we need to seek a new lifestyle, a change of mind and heart that we actually want, not one we feel obligated to care more about. 

Good news. There is a way to do this while maintaining authenticity, building up confidence, and establishing long-term habits that are not nearly as vulnerable to the daily swings of motivation normally dictated by emotion and life circumstance…as long as you are ready for it.

Are You Ready?

Let’s go back to the break-up. Being ready to change was one thing, but knowing specifically what I was ready to pursue was another. I did a quick inventory of what my most pressing needs were. 

  • I was out of shape, so I got back in the gym, even downloaded a workout tracker app.
  • I started a new sales job as my primary source of income, so that was happening either way.
  • I was broke. Like BROKE broke. And just like you can’t outwork a bad diet, you can’t outwork poor money management. I could be a great salesperson with a great physique but not secure in my finances, leaving me to make the same mistakes when I was broke, only on a larger scale.
  • I was sick and tired of feeling like I was working just to stay above the red. I abhorred that feeling.

You see it, right? Changing my financial aptitude and future. That was it! Though I had other things that were important, there was one that stood above the rest. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it was – My Keystone Pursuit was to get my personal finances in order. Eureka! I had a clear future to work towards, and I started at it right away, but looking back on it, what came together in the process felt like nothing short of magic. 

In order to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be, I began by clearly label both of those things:

Current State:

  1. Monthly bills were higher than monthly income
  2. Financially ignorant
  3. Stressed and uncertain about future
  4. Dependent on primary income
  5. $100,000 in debt

Desired Future State:

  1. Increased income & reduced or eliminated debt, bills, expenses 
  2. Achieve palpable financial literacy
  3. Be in control of my financial future
  4. Debt Free by 33
  5. Occupational freedom by 50

The gap between these two worlds may have been massive, but at least it was clear. Once you clearly identify what you truly have vs. what you truly want, all that is left to do is to build the plan, execute, and stay the course.

Taking Action

I simply put pen to paper, then fingers to keyboard, and I quickly built a working plan so I could get started and clarify as I built momentum. Below is a list I came up with:

  • Continue to grow sales in 9-5 job
  • Drive Uber 2 hours each weekday and 5-10 hours on weekends
  • Sell all non-essential items
  • Reduce spending
    1. Find cheaper options
    2. Internet only, no cable
    3. Limit going out
    4. Learn to say no to invitations and distractions
  • Establish a good sleep and early morning routine
  • Create and follow a written budget
    1. List out all expenses
    2. Prioritize paying off high interest debts first
    3. Determine how long it would take to eliminate debt
    4. Find a sugar momma
  • Be mindful of burnout while also doing what is necessary to rebuild
  • Listen to Financial Literacy podcasts
  • Read books on financial literacy

So I started, then I tweaked the plan as needed along the way. I was intentionally stubborn and vocal about what I was going to do. I told my closest friends and anyone who asked me to do things or spend money that I wasn’t prepared to do so. I drew a bold line in the sand because I know what mattered most.

As I got going, I found that I was capable of moving with impressive speed, accuracy, and purpose. If I got stuck on something, I researched and asked others until I found the answer. I had more energy to not only tackle my financial goals, but inertia gave me the bandwidth to establish other habits that bolstered my confidence, improved my health, etc. 

In other words, my pursuit of financial wellness enabled me to find willpower to establish other habits around it. It was so powerful that it seemed to wake dormant desires from the dead and showed me that if I could make such big changes in one area, I could do so in others, so long as they didn’t contradict one another. Before I knew it, I was locked in at work, quickly making a name for myself as a Salesman. I was at the gym 5-6 times per week because I had incorporated the gym into my workday, usually during my lunch hour. I created a structured morning routine incorporated from Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning concept that allowed me time to nourish my mind, my body, and my bank account.

Those two seemingly paradoxical drives in the brain to avoid struggle while simultaneously tackling challenges were manifesting right before my eyes. I learned that by knowing what I want, building a plan, and sticking with it, I could achieve joy, fulfillment, and peace. I could somehow harmonize discipline and hard work with freedom, relaxation and stillness.

Like the Mandalorian, I finally learned that “This is the Way”.

Read on to learn how to do the same for yourself…with what you want.

My Weekly Schedule

A favorite phrase of one of my closest friends, Nick, is “to have something you’ve never had before, you must do something you’ve never done before.” For me, to have health, wealth, and more control over the outcome of my life, I knew that I needed to be a better steward of my time. 

So I built a schedule around my Keystone Pursuit – Financial Literacy and Freedom. 

If you would like a general breakdown of my weekly schedule during the most transformative time of my life, please click here to receive access to via email. I still maintain most of these elements today. For your convenience, I’ve added some suggestions and customizations to allow for you to copy and paste your own goals in there. 

The gist is that I built a schedule for my days and weeks to ensure that I was not only finding the time, but I was making the time for the habits and pursuits that would transform me into the person I knew I could be and wanted to be.

 

!Spoiler Alert!

 

Three years later, I am:

  • In the best shape of my life with a clear vision for what I want to look like and feel like every single day
  • An award-winning Salesman who nearly tripled my income
  • In love with an intelligent, beautiful, amazing woman who shares my values, supports me, and most importantly…puts up with me
  • In control of my financial future: Budget, Investments, security, freedom, etc. 
  • From -$100k in debt to $50k Net worth (and growing)
  • I found something I’m passionate about that also helps people (this platform)
  • BONUS: I possess a sustainable and renewable source of intrinsic energy to grow and enjoy life

I have a long way to go, but that is the point. I no longer view the obstacle as something to go around. Through hours, days, weeks, and years of work; through reflecting on the big picture and digging through the minutiae; through day-after-day of trusting those who came before me; I’ve learned to embrace the obstacle as the journey itself. 

As they say, perhaps the purpose of life is to live with purpose.

 

Becoming the Person Who Has the Habits You Want

The key here is not just to setting goals and achieving them, but it’s to become the type of person who sets goals and achieves them – someone with a balance between resting in achievement and continuous forward-thinking. To sustain good habits that bring us the outcomes we want, we must learn to transform into the person who exhibits that behavior. It’s not enough to be a flash in the pan, a sugar rush of motivation and action that lasts for a moment and crashes hard. The investments of time, energy, research, and emotion that is not dependent on motivation alone…that is what builds the pillars of the new you. 

It’s one thing to ride the cycles of motivation or inspiration for a week or a month, but that is like building a house on ground that is likely to crumble below you. We must be prepared to become the person we wish to remain for the rest of our lives

Are you ready for that? Are you prepared to be dependent solely on yourself for the outcomes that lie before you?

 

What If?

Instead of using times of high motivation to act, what if you used those times to act and plan for the times when motivation fades? 

No one knows you better than you, and it may be time for you to get honest with yourself. Choose carefully what you want to do, who you want to become, and how you wish your life to look and feel. Be certain that it is coming from your own essence, not from outside pressures or influences that don’t truly represent your spirit. Remember that you can only be you – everyone else is taken.

Be certain of who you wish to be, then you’ll be certain of what you wish to do.

 

This is how you find your Keystone Pursuit.

Conclusion

A Keystone Pursuit Has Several Benefits:

  • It aligns with what you actually want rather than what you feel you should want.
  • It gives fuel to the vehicles that hold the things you might care less about but know will help you along the way.
  • It provides direction and daily purpose for establishing discipline, habits, etc. 
  • It’s outcome is almost always clarity, achievement, fulfillment, and peace.

 

Potential Consequences of Not Having a Keystone Pursuit:

  • Feeling directionless/lacking purpose
  • Feeling resistance to establishing healthy habits; this leads to strain on the brain and a feeling of incapability based solely on perception, not reality.

Final Tips for Choosing a Keystone Pursuit:

  • Use times of high motivation to Act and Plan. Planning ahead and building habits that sustain you during times of weakness makes all the difference.
  • Try to choose a pursuit that is renewable and/or long-term (I.e. Becoming a marathon runner; Retiring at 55; Earning 6-figure salary within 5 years; Losing and keeping off 50lbs; Traveling to a new country every year). 
    1. Create checkpoints and smaller goals along the way to help renew the feeling behind the pursuit.
  • As you reach an endpoint in a particular keystone pursuit, be prepared to choose a new one that doesn’t undo the good habits you’ve established. Habits die in an environment where they have no reason to exist.
  • Have patience as you seek out your Keystone Pursuit. Here are some questions/exercises to help:
    1. How do you like to spend your time?
    2. What does the perfect week look like?
    3. How do you want to live in 5 years? 10 years?
      • Write it out in detail
      • Write out what is needed to get there
      • Ask yourself “What is the ONE thing I would be most driven to pursue and stick with?” Chances are that you’re already thinking about it.
    4. Identify some activities you do today that do not add value to your life. Can they be removed?
    5. Start saying “no” to people and activities that are holding you back or hurting you.
    6. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Be Well & Be YOU,

 

Teddy

 

What is your Keystone Pursuit? Tell me below:

Need help finding your Keystone Pursuit? Send me an email at Teddy@TeddyWoolsey.com

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