Are You Good at Making Excuses?

I was laughing as I read this piece from the satire magazine, The Onion: “Personal Trainer Impressed by Man’s Improved Excuses.

It purports to be an interview with a personal trainer who’s impressed by one of his clients — a guy who has made amazing improvements in the sophistication of the excuses he’s giving for not working out.

“Acknowledging that the progress made in such a short time was remarkable…[the personal trainer said] he is very impressed by the improvement in both the strength and consistency of his client’s excuses…’A few months ago he had really weak pretenses for not sticking to a workout plan, but he’s put in a lot of effort and now he’s sporting much more robust and powerful justifications…After seeing how he struggled early on with a simple excuse about traffic, it’s gratifying to see him push himself and dig deep for rationalizations that more believably exonerate him…[like] tackling a long, grueling story about how construction in his neighborhood aggravated his dust mite allergies.'”

I love this piece, because I love loopholes. Loopholes are so funny.  So imaginative, and so ingenious. We’re like cell phones searching for a signal — as we cast about for an appropriate loophole to let us off the hook.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Autobiography, “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do. ” When we want to find a loophole, we can always find a reason.

Note: with a loophole, we’re not mindfully making an exception, but looking for a justification that excuses us from sticking to a particular habit.

If we can spot loopholes, we can perhaps resist invoking them, and do a better job of keeping a good habit.

The ten — yes, ten — categories of loopholes are:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole — “the label says it’s healthy”

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

I love that the Onion article highlights the point that even if a person’s workouts aren’t improving, he might be improving his loophole-seeking.

What loophole do you invoke most often? I listed my own favorite as #1, the false choice loophole. But I think that others, such as #4 and #6, are more popular.


  • Megan

    HA! I love your “cellphone searching for a signal” reference! Funny how sometimes we’re so desperate to get out of doing something, we spend more energy making excuses than it would take to actually do whatever we’re avoiding! What backward creatures we are sometimes. 🙂

    • Molly

      I agree, love that reference. This problem is why weakness of will is such an important and interesting problem in philosophy. Many philosophers think weak will occurs when the stronger desire overtakes reason, but it is really more complicated. Philosophers such as Kant correctly see that reason is important in our practical and moral lives, but the fact that we can take anything to be a reason (there is no “ultimate foundation” at which reason giving stops) makes us imperfect rational creatures. We aren’t merely dragged by desire to do what we do not want most to do. Rather, the dissonance we experience (sometimes barely perceptible) when we do not act on the good reasons we have occurs in the face of the fact that we can cobble up a reason for doing or not doing something pretty much in the way you said…like a cell phone searching frantically for a signal…and we can rationalize our baser desires, giving them the air of rationality without their really being rational.

    • I’ll go with 1, 4 and 8. I am not even sure if No. 9 is a loophole because it IS true! Embracing the moment is important, right?

      But…hmm… if living in the moment is bringing you more harm than happiness, then maybe it’s time to up your motivation! I guess that’s the essence of this loophole 😀

      Thanks Gretchen – your posts are always a pleasure #HUGS


  • Chelly

    #3, #4 and #6 are my favourite loopholes – especially with deserts and work outs.

  • I feel the ones I see the most readily in others are also my own weaknesses. #5 – “Oh I’ll just walk down the chips aile to see the prices.” Love the Onion article – great way to frame the idea.

  • I’m the queen of excuses and number one is my most-used loophole. I’m very clever at dressing up an excuse as a reason!

  • Stacey

    This is great! It has really made me think about the excuses I’ve made to NOT do…whatever. My personal “favorites” are #2, #5, and #8. But, I know that I’ve used them ALL at some point! I am really going to start making an effort to recognize these loop holes and stop them in their tracks. 2015 has started out great – I want to end it AWESOME! Thanks for this post, Gretchen! : )

  • I used to be the king of excuses, and would consistently improve upon them.

    Until I realized that it really wasn’t doing me any good!

    Thanks for sharing,


  • At least I read Gretchen everyday to try and face my loopholes. She’s like a benevolent mother saying face facts. If you’re feeling dissatisfied it’s your own doing. True. Beyond all loopholes is that I create them. I – in order to stick to my work habits – have to step out of my own way. A loophole is like a discussion with myself in which I waste precious time. I just have to eliminate the conversation! That being said I think number 1 is my favorite too. Too busy might be ” too busy getting myself together ” or some other intangible. One thing that really helps me is talking about my evasion. With a friend or here. Admitting what I’m up to. Discipline helps me but most of all remembering how much better I feel when I follow through on the habit helps outwit the loophole.

  • Randee

    My two biggies were the Tomorrow Loophole and the One Coin Loophole. Once I became aware of the tomorrow loophole, I just stopped using it. Once I said it out loud, it just seemed ridiculous. Then, as a questioner, it was a struggle between the “I don’t want to and can’t find a reason to do it that means anything to me at this moment of decision” and the One Coin Loophole. For a while I had to really, really push myself to do something because I liked the One Coin Loophole philosophy of the small things eventually adding up into a big thing. So I saved more when I didn’t want to. I spent a bit more time brushing the kitties when I wanted to get on the computer. I went running when it was raining or I was tired. I ate another scoop of vegetables instead of a cube of cheese or serving of meat, and replaced sour cream with yogurt. Each “coin” decision left me feeling a bit “meh”and I didn’t think any of it would make a real difference in the long run. However, after working on these coins over the past months, I can say my pile of coins is rather large and have added up. We’ve adapted to a smaller cash flow and our retirement account “suddenly” looks like it could mean something. The cat “kids” are so happy they follow me around like puppies and look healthier than ever (even the 19 1/2 year old). I enjoy running in the woods for 90 minutes at a time with ease and spend my “effort” listening to the sounds and trying to spot wildlife. And I feel and look better (and my grocery bill is smaller) by making those small dietary switches. I still eat the same foods, just in different amounts. And now I enjoy collecting the small coins knowing they add up to a much more enjoyable life.

  • What interesting about these loopholes is how they allow you to avoid blame or fault for what happens. If I say I’ve done well on my diet and deserve a cookie, then I didn’t really make the choice. The circumstances did. In the case of the personal trainer, the client always attributed his reasons for not working out to things beyond his control. We are always looking for ways to get off the hook for bad choices, and that’s why we exploit the loopholes.

  • Kay

    #4 is my favorite loophole, but favorite is not really a good adjective to use. It represents my main point of failure in controlling my late night eating. I think that the main reason we are not able to accomplish our goals is that we trade what we want most for what we want now. Gretchen, thanks again for some fresh encouragement to persevere!

  • keely

    I stumbled across your website today via a recommendation for your latest book. This blog post cracks me up because I am extremely guilty of loopholes! I think my personal “favorites” are 3, 6, and 10 (tomorrow, this doesn’t count, and one coin). I’ve been bad this week about getting to the gym, and finally got to the point where I decided to take a break for the rest of the week, since I’m away this weekend and won’t have a chance to workout at all.

    I’ll be bookmarking this post and rereading constantly. Can’t wait to read more from Gretchen. 🙂

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