“Keystone” Habits – How Change (Conversion) Happens

In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg talks about how we form habits and how we can change them. He specifically describes habits that he refers to as “keystone habits,” explaining that “success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.”

Keystone habits are those that, when changed, “dislodge and remake other patterns.” For example, when people add exercise to their daily schedule, it triggers widespread change in their lives. In essence, one good habit somehow makes other good habits easier. Duhigg says that developing keystone habits helps “other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.”

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. The Church, we are told, exists in order to evangelize: to bring about conversion of hearts and minds. We do this by introducing keystone habits of the Catholic faith into every environment in which we live and, in doing so, help other habits to flourish thus “creating a culture where change becomes contagious” and “new values become ingrained.”

I firmly believe this is why the General Directory for Catechesis tells us that the most effective catechesis takes place when that catechesis is “permeated by a climate of prayer.” (#85) Prayer is a keystone habit in the life of a Catholic. When we establish a climate of prayer in our catechetical settings, we establish a habit that helps other habits to flourish: reverence, respect, compassion, selflessness, and so on. This is precisely the point I’m making in my book Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: when we establish a habit of prayer in our catechetical setting, a domino effect takes place and other good habits are capable of flourishing. As a result, we are “creating a culture where change becomes contagious” and that, my friends, is the goal of the New Evangelization!

P.S. One thing I’m contemplating trying next year to establish a climate of prayer at the very beginning of my classes is to invite the young people to take a few minutes of solitude to quietly”walk” (using their finger) a labyrinth that I’ll print out on heavy card stock (I’ll probably paste a picture of Jesus in the center of the labyrinth and will also play some instrumental music in the background). By developing this “keystone habit,” I hope to establish a climate of prayer from the get-go that can be built upon as the session progresses.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. Joe,

    A little tip for making your labyrinths — print them on stiff cardstock, as you say. Then, if the image is sufficiently large, take the end of a ball of string Preferably slightly heavier weight, almost like cord) and begin at the entrance to the labyrinth. Use Elmer’s/white glue from a squeeze bottle, and carefully squeeze out a line of glue, following the path. After 2 or 3 turns, set aside the glue and begin again at the entrance to carefully press the string/cord into the line of glue.

    Then apply glue again, for another 2 or 3 turns; continue pressing the string into the glue line. When you reach the center, stop the glue and snip the string. Set aside to continue drying. When finished, you will have a raised line as the path to follow with one’s fingertips — easy to follow and not get lost.

    This also allows one to follow the labyrinth with eyes closed and to help with focussing attention . . .

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