Video: The False Choice Loophole. One of My Personal Favorites.

In my new (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

Well, what is a “loophole?” When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

Third of ten loopholes: the False Choice Loophole.


I have to admit, this is my personal favorite.

 If I join that group, I won’t have any time with my daughters.

I haven’t been exercising. Too busy writing.

I don’t have time to work on my draft, I’ve got too many emails to answer.

If I go to sleep earlier, I won’t have any time to myself.

I’m so busy, I’ll make those appointments once things calm down.

Even outside the context of a habits, false choices often appear as a challenge to a happiness project.

I remind myself that whenever I’m inclined to think “Can I have this or that?” I should stop and ask, “Can I have this and that?” It’s surprising how often that’s possible. Is the habit that I want to foster really in conflict with my other values? Usually, if I’m honest with myself, it’s not.

How about you? Do you find yourself invoking the false choice loophole?

  • Is there any coincidence to the use of rainbow-colored cereal in your photo on this particular day, Gretchen? 😉

    • She has been using rainbow-colored cereal regardless of the date 😉

  • I also have this loophole thinking all the time.
    “When I finish watching the whole season 4 of Girls, I’ll go back on writing for my blog.”
    It’s pointless. Cause I am wasting so much time while I am not doing either of both things. Obviously I don’t binge watch the whole season in a row. So I spend time at home doing nothing while I could be writing for my blog, but I am not interested on that until I watch the whole season of Girls. For some reason.
    It’s frustrating.

    • Gillian

      I suffer from the same syndrome – wasting loads of time because I can’t think about project B until I’ve finished Project A but Project A is not a full-time occupation so the down-time is wasted. For me, it’s not so much loophole spotting as an inability to focus on more than one thing at a time. I don’t multi-task and I avoid as much as possible scheduling multiple activities for the same day. If I have an appointment in the morning, I won’t make another appointment for the afternoon unless it is completely unavoidable. If I have too many things on the go, even if there is plenty of time for all of them, my brain gets frazzled and fragmented and I can’t concentrate on anything.

  • Wendy Wurlitzer

    You are a Guiding Light and I thank you!

  • christine urpin

    The difference between an excuse and a loophole? Thank you! 🙂

  • mtskier8

    I read your entire book instead of working on revisions for a journal article that are well past due. Once I got halfway through the book, I thought “I might as well finish before I dive into another project…”

    • gretchenrubin

      Hilarious example.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    If I wait until tomorrow, I’ll have more time to do xyz.

  • First, I am such a fan of your books! I actually re-read The Happiness Project about every 3 or 4 months, and I always get something new out of it.

    Second, reading about and now recognizing these loopholes has actually made huge changes for me. I am trying to create good workout habits, and it’s a challenge sometimes. Just this morning I said to myself, “Maybe I won’t work out today because I’m not feeling well.” So I asked myself if would feel better if I didn’t work out. Clearly no. Then I thought, “Maybe I’ll work out AFTER I pick Aubrey up from school?” But the answer was would I feel better then? What if something else came up then? Would I make time later? All the answers pointed to no so I got up and completed the work out. I don’t feel better exactly, but I do feel accomplished that I made the right choice!

    Thank you soooooo much for all your books! They inspire me literally everyday!

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s great to hear! Thank you!