Video: The This-Doesn’t-Count Loophole.

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.

Fourth of ten loopholes: The “this doesn’t count” loophole. One of the most popular loopholes.


Here are some popular “this doesn’t count” assertions:

I’m on vacation.

 What are weekends for?

 I’m sick.

It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.

 I ate it off a child’s plate.

 My wine glass wasn’t full.

This is a just one-time thing. (Samuel Johnson observed, “Those faults which we cannot conceal from our own notice, are considered, however frequent, not as habitual corruptions, or settled practices, but as casual failures, and single lapses.”)

 I ordered it for both of us, which means you’re eating half, even if I eat the whole thing.

We’re adults, and we can make mindful exceptions to our good habits — but that’s different from insisting that something “doesn’t count.” (If you want to read about how to make exceptions, look here — all about my friend’s brilliant “pie policy.”)

The truth is, everything counts. Nothing stays in Vegas.

Do you find yourself arguing that something doesn’t “count?” When?

  • Mary

    After you watch the This Doesn’t Count, there are lots of other great videos! Treats, Four Tendencies, Live Talks with Lisa Napoli!

  • Jason throop

    Habits. For me moving away is the best way to change. And start over. Not to have access to any bad habits. And also have doctors say what to take.and trust your docters. That’s called a solution for me. Not Loophole. Just sayin

  • Anna in France

    A new – important – habit can feel a bit like a stranglehold. Why not build in some relief from the start? I do a series of stretches when I get up in the morning, but the habit is: ‘stretching on weekdays’. Meaning I don’t have to do it on Saturdays and Sundays. A lot of the time, I will do it anyway on weekends, because it has become such a habit. But as the timetable is often unpredictable as things work differently with weekend activities, I don’t have to feel guilty if it doesn’t happen. Works well for me – but then, I am a Moderator!

    • Gillian

      I do this too – a short 8-minute routine every day Monday to Friday with weekends off. The thought of having to do this, or anything else, every day is just too onerous and off-putting. This is basically the strategy of scheduling.

  • Anne

    I LOVE your friend’s “pie rules.” I create very similar rules for myself. What’s funny is that people frequently tell me that my rules are irrational, silly, or don’t make sense. And in some ways – that’s true – especially for a moderator. (For the pie rules, your friend ate only pie, and there’s no “logical” reason why substituting ice cream for pie one day would send him into a downward spiral – but we know ourselves, and maybe that’s true for a moderator, but it doesn’t matter if it “sounds logical for others” if it’s logical to us.)

    My rules have to do with exercising. I am a runner and this has become such a part of my identity that these rules to me do not even appear something I have a choice in any more, they are binding. Which I guess is the definition of a habit. I actually came up with them when I was 14 years old and showed up to my first field hockey pre-season workouts out of shape. I proceeded to experience two weeks of the worst imaginable physical soreness and discomfort as the coach “got us in shape.” I am generally a fast runner, who enjoys the process, and I decided at that moment that I was never going to be in that condition again. I read somewhere that runners can take two days off, two rest days, without truly harming their cardiovascular fitness, but after that they have to re-build profess they had already made. So I decided I will NEVER take more than two days off in a row from running, whatever the situation. That has been the main principle that I have lived by for, at this point, 14 years!! (I am 28 now.)

    Since establishing that rule, it has been interesting how many “supporting” rules I have needed to create for myself in order to maintain the habit. For instance, due to an injury and wanting to gain some strength and flexibility, I do a lot of yoga now as well. And yoga is great, but it counts as an off day in my mind not a run day. That also goes for hiking, biking, trying a friend’s exercise class for fun. Of course those are good things to do, and logically in my head I know they also burn calories and contribute to my cardiovascular fitness. But for me to maintain the quality of running that I enjoy, it doesn’t matter if I do those things, it matters that I run. Interestingly, many people criticize my rule for this reason. They say, “that doesn’t make any sense, this hike is 10 miles long and a great workout, of course you can count it as a workout.” But just like your friend with the pie… That’s not really the point. Maybe it doesn’t “make sense,” (and maybe I’ve learned since, it isn’t even based on a true premise with the “two day idea…) but it works for me! That’s the point.

    • Anne

      Full disclosure: there have been a handful of times I have been forced to take more than two consecutive days off on a handful of occasions. When I had the swine flu, I was fully bedridden, with a fever and unable to hardly walk let alone run for a week. I had an operation to have my wisdom teeth removed and took three days off. I went on a week-long trip to Morocco, where I was traveling near constantly and staying in hostels, it was about 100 degrees and I was trying to wear long sleeves and pants out of respect for the culture. Although I brought my clothes along, I didn’t get much running done that trip. in the end though, backpacking around Morocco is one of those things you can pretty safely say to yourself, “this is a special, once in a lifetime experience.” Other than that, I have run on vacations, through sicknesses, etc!