Build Habits Like A Building: Cornerstone First

Aristotle famously said, “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Archilochus, a Greek soldier in 500BC: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we sink to the level of our training.”

“You don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.”

To paraphrase both – we’ll only go so far in life as our habits take us.

To use James Allen’s metaphor of the mind as a garden, we have to continually weed out bad habits whilst nourishing and encouraging the good ones.

I love this idea. Bad habits are exactly like weeds. Not only are they useless in themselves, but they’re often the most aggressive and dominating plants in the garden. Without proper attention,  weeds take over everything else – even good habits.

Good habits on the other hand, like fruit trees in an orchard, load you up with a continuous supply of delicious fruit as long as you look after them.

This is what Dreambigstartsmall is all about. Making small, lasting and empowering change that has huge long-term impact.

To go all metaphorical, being the best gardeners of our lives.

Thing is, where do we even start?

If our mind’s garden is all gnarly and wild, where do we begin?

Great question. In short – cornerstone habits.

Let’s go.

What is a cornerstone?

A cornerstone is typically a massive lump of rock that is set first in the foundation of a building. It’s the reference point, and anchor so to speak, for all other stones, and determines the location of the building itself.

Cornerstones are thus integral to the entire structure. Without them, you ain’t got no building. You build the structured around the cornerstone, not the other way around.

(This is casting our minds way back to when cornerstones were actually big ass blocks of stone. Not wimpy ceremonial bricks of today.)

And get this. Cornerstones were seen as so important that animal or human sacrifices were made. The blood of the sacrifice would flow over the cornerstone as an offering to ask for strength and stability for the building.

Cornerstones are important both physically and spiritually – not only making but symbolising the building’s strength.

So. You start with the cornerstones, then build up around them. And so it is with cornerstone habits.

Cornerstone Habits

These habits form the foundation for all others. Cornerstone habits have the biggest impact on our lives and are often the most basic. To use a Tim Duncan analogy – cornerstone habits are your Big Fundamentals.

Cornerstone habits are ones that you go back to in dire times. Hopefully, they’ll weather all of life’s storms. But if the entire structure is destroyed, you start rebuilding with cornerstone habits.

Having given the metaphorical horse a good flogging, what are the cornerstone habits?

For a start, they’re subjective. Debatable. Open to interpretation.

That said, there are some habits that are unquestionably sound. If you tried to find the common habits of all successful people, it would be a safe bet that you’d end up with a decent list of cornerstone habits.

For now, here’s my own list.


#1 Reading

Of all the lives of the “great minds”, reading is the one common denominator.

Che Guevara. Winston Churchill. Theodore Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. Nelson Mandela… All were voracious readers.

A coincidence? I think not.

Books are concentrated nuggets of knowledge. That’s years of people’s pain-staking work and research, compressed into a few hundred pages.

Personally, life just feels so much more meaningful when I’m learning things every day. Reading is a habit that just keeps on giving.

But hey, that’s subjective. Go put this in your pipe and smoke it:

#2 Some Form of Meditation

“Some Form”. Basically any activity that clears your mind. I.e. is meditative.

It could be actual meditation. It could be hard-core strenuous physical activity. It could be yoga. It could be keeping a thought diary. Whatever floats your meditative boat. As long as you feel clear-headed afterwards.

But anyways, why does meditation even deserve a place on such an esteemed list?

The modern world gets hectic. Never before has there been so many things grabbing for our precious attention.

Facebook and all the trimmings, cleaning, advertising, news, academic grades, relationships, meaning of life, awkward social encounters, exercising, eating enough Goji berries, pondering why DFS always has a sale….

And unless you live under a decent-sized rock, then lots of the aforementioned stuff is floating about upstairs. All these thoughts, swimming about in your head…. It’s an attention-grabbing feeding frenzy.

It’s dog eat dog up there.

We need to take a step back. Do something meditative, calm down, and see the big picture.

#3 Sleeping

It keeps us alive. 3 mins without oxygen, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food, and in rats, 11-32 days without sleep.

Sleep keeps us healthy by beasting up the ol’ immune system, helps us learn and keeps us from getting too cranky.

Let’s face it. We need sleep. We need as much brain-cleaning action as possible. If we’re always sleeping in? It’s probably because we need more sleep. Nature knows best.

#4 Eating healthy.

Fruit and veg. Can’t really argue with it. Minimum of 5 a day.

“We are what we eat.”

But seriously. Our body replaces itself all the time. So what do you think the body is replacing itself with?

Oh yeah. Food. We can’t conquer mountains on red bull and starbursts alone.

#5 Exercise

Makes you think clearer. Keeps you in shape (see #4 for details). De-stresses. Enjoyable. Builds discipline. Hard to argue that it’s not essential…

From the research folks at Columbia university,

“In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that increased time for physical education and other school-based physical activity programs is associated with either a neutral or positive impact on academic outcomes.”

Personally, I agree completely.

During exam time, exercise is my one untouchable. It’s always my top priority, because I know I can’t function optimally without it. No matter how much revision needs doing, exercise takes 1st place. I think more clearly. I’m more focused. I have more energy. It makes me enjoy and appreciate what I’m doing.

#6 Having conversations with people.

Human contact should be a given. In fact, it seems kinda strange that this should be a cornerstone habit at all. But in this modern world of instant messaging, phones, TV, self-checkout tills and online shopping, it’s quite possible to go weeks on end without a single conversation.

Why does that suck?

You miss out on learning new things. You don’t hear different opinions. You don’t get any of those proper, belly-deep laughs that leaves you grinning for the rest of the day. No bouncing ideas of people.

People are awesome. People make the planet awesome.

People put people on the moon. People write books. People do funny things. [1] People are just epic.

Vote people.


So that’s my list of cornerstone habits. Have I got all of them nailed? No. It’s a work in progress. More than anything, they give me a birds-eye view of my own daily progress towards my ideal-self.


What do you think? What are/would be your cornerstone habits? Tell us on facebook!

As always, Dream Big Start Small!

Mucho love,


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