Arno on the first ascent of “Power Cuts” on Whitesides, NC in 1987


It’s 3AM and I can’t sleep. So I get up, make coffee, and start working.

I knew I needed to create this lesson to send out to you today or you wouldn’t receive it. I checked my list of possible topics and came across this short video on the Better Than Yesterday Youtube channel: Habit you must acquire – Keystone Habit. A keystone habit is a foundational habit that, if you change it, then it also changes many other habits.

The video points out 3 keystone habits called the “health trinity”. These habits impact each other, reinforce each other, and create a positive expanding spiral of health and wellbeing in your life:

  1. Exercise
  2. Diet
  3. Sleep

For example, if you exercise, it requires that you rest to recover energy, which requires that you go to sleep, which helps you sleep better, which can motivate you to improve your diet by cooking nutritious food at home instead of eating fast food, which saves you money, which helps pay for your gym membership so you can continue to exercise…

The video suggests that sleep is perhaps the most important keystone habit. Okay, so that got my attention. Here I am awake after only four hours of sleep. Our lives are truly too busy. We’re stretched to find enough time to do all the responsibilities in our lives. Thus, we tend to sacrifice sleep to do more, to be more productive.

But are we really more productive? In the short term, we probably are. But, in the long term, we’re out of balance and lack of sleep catches up with us. Sooner or later, lack of sleep can cause illness, anxiety, or other mental and physical problems.

Lack of sleep can become a negative keystone habit that drives us in an unhealthy direction.

For example, I usually exercise about 20 minutes each morning. My first thought this morning, at 3AM, was “I better not exercise because my body hasn’t been rested enough; I don’t want to over-stress it.”

My first action this morning was to make coffee. That means I’ll have three cups of coffee before dawn. Then, as the rest of my family wakes up, I’ll make another pot of coffee and drink some of it. That’s too much coffee. So, lack of sleep negatively impacted my exercise and diet.

There are three additional habits that can build on the “health trinity”: planning, tracking activities, and meditation. The “health trinity” helps us physically. These next three help us mentally.

  1. Planning: Identifying goals and making plans give the mind direction for the important activities we’ll do during the day.
  2. Tracking activities: We may think we know how we spend out time, but tracking it gives us objective data, clarifies what we’re actually spending our time on, and helps us refocus on the important activities.
  3. Meditation: We may think meditation is a waste of time, but studies show that it gives us more willpower, better attention span, and diminishes anxiety. During the day, the mind is stimulated by thinking about all the work we’re doing. Then, at home, we tend to continue to stimulate the mind by watching screens (TV, computers, phones). Meditation focuses on not thinking, calms the mind, and brings balance to how we use it.
Arno falling on the first ascent of “Power Cuts” on Whitesides, NC in 1987


All the mental stimulation makes it harder to sleep, which makes it harder to think during work, which makes us less likely to set goals, plan our day, or desire to track our activities. By continually stimulating the mind, we create another negative keystone habit that drives us in an unhealthy direction.

Life requires balance. Positive keystone habits bring us back into balance.

  • Physical balance: When we’ve recovered energy while sleeping, we feel able to expend energy by exercising. Both sleep and exercise are two parts of a positive, balanced cycle.
  • Mental balance: When we calm the mind by not thinking in meditation, we’re better able to stimulate the mind to do creative thinking. Both not thinking and thinking are two parts of a positive, balanced cycle.

These 6 keystone habits impact our physical and mental states to help us maintain balance. They create positive expansive spirals of energy and well being that helps us be more productive and gain more enjoyment from our life journeys. I have some serious work to do to get back into balance.

Or, maybe I have some serious sleep to do?

Practice Tip: Reverse Engineering for Productivity

It’s interesting how we can focus on doing—exercise and thinking—for improving productivity. However, if we focus on the opposite—sleep and meditation—then we establish a solid foundation that allows exercise and thinking to occur more naturally, which can lead to more productivity.

Do some thinking right now to incorporate sleep and meditation into your day. Keep it simple so you don’t get overwhelmed:

  • Sleep: Decide when you’ll go to sleep and when you’ll wake up, allowing 8 hours for sleep. For me, bedtime is 9PM and waking up is 5AM.
  • Meditation: Start with 5 minutes for the first week, then add one minute each week until you reach 30 minutes. If you notice you’re skipping the meditation more than one day, then reduce the meditation time. Decide on how many minutes you can commit to today and then do that amount. If you’re not skipping days, then add one minute. I’ve been doing meditation for a few years; I’m up to 15 minutes.

By focusing on establishing a solid foundation of sleep and meditation you’ll be able to be active and think creatively throughout your day. That solid foundation will maintain your balance and help you be more productive.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Adam Floyd

    Great read Arno. We’ve got kiddo number two arriving any day and sleep becomes a commodity. I like the foundation though as a concept to strive for.
    I’ve been mountain biking instead of climbing this year because of the bang for the buck of being able to leave the house and come back physically drained in a much shorter timeframe. The hardest part was the fear of loosing the self worth and community I had with climbing. Luckily between biking and backcountry archery hunting it seems that a good group of climbers were branching out at the same time as me and we found the joy in learning new things.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Arno

      Oh how things change in life. Best to you on the family and mountain biking. You’ll be back climbing before you know it. Arno

  2. Dave Pfurr

    Western culture only values the “active” mode–the doing and thinking side. Thank you, Arno, for bringing up the need for the other side of the yin-yang cycles of life–the passive/recovery side. We are cyclic beings living in a world of cycles.

    1. Arno

      Welcome Dave. How is all with you these days? Been a while since we’ve been in contact. Arno

  3. Raelinn

    Great lesson, as always. As I sit here after waking up at 4am on Sunday for no good reason, I’m reminded of my old adage, “sleep is King.” I’m in a big work cycle and have been chained to my desk, not exercising enough and not sleeping well. The cycle sneaks up on you. Thank you for the timely reminder to prioritize well being in order to maintain productivity.

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