Tag Archives: loopholes

Want to Eat Healthier at the Thanksgiving Feast? Watch Out for These 10 Types of Loopholes.

As I was working on Better Than Before, I enjoyed writing every single chapter. In the book, I identify the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits, and each strategy is powerful and fascinating to study.

But I have to admit, I particularly enjoyed writing the chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting, because the loopholes are so ingenious and so funny. I loved spotting and collecting loopholes.

Now, why should we worry about loophole-spotting? Because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, to justify breaking a good habit.

However, if we spot these  loopholes, we can  reject them.

Holidays are a time when many of us face challenges to the good habits we want to maintain — and because holidays tend to involve lots of food and drink, those habits need special attention at that time.

To help you recognize loopholes you might be invoking, here’s a list of some popular ones that are often heard around Thanksgiving:

1. False choice loophole

“I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that.” “I can’t go for my usual 20 minute walk, because I have to get ready for guests.”

2. Moral licensing loophole 

“I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this.” “I’ve been eating so healthfully, it’s okay for me to eat anything I want today.” Or conversely…

3. Tomorrow loophole

“It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow.” “It’s okay for me to drink as much as I want today, because starting tomorrow, I’m not going to drink for six months.”

4. Lack of control loophole

“I can’t help myself.” “A considerate host wouldn’t have served something so tempting.”

5. Planning to fail loophole

“I’ll just stand here right next to the dessert table, because the other room is so crowded.”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole

“It’s Thanksgiving!” “We’re out of town!”

7. Questionable assumption loophole

“These cookies are healthy. Look, they’re gluten-free.”

8. Concern for others loophole

“If I don’t drink wine with dinner, other people will feel uncomfortable.” “I have to eat seconds and thirds of everything, or my host will feel insulted.”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole

“You only live once!” “I have to do this now, or miss out forever.”

10. One-coin loophole

“What difference will one meal make, over the course of a lifetime?”

Of course, sometimes we do want to break a habit—say, as part of a celebration. A very effective safeguard for that situation is the planned exception, which protects us against impulsive decisions. We decide in advance how we want to behave.

We’re adults, we make the rules for ourselves, and we can mindfully choose to make an exception to a usual habit by planning that exception in advance. That’s different from saying, “Yay, this loophole means that I can break my habit, I’m off the hook.” We’re never off the hook. Everything counts.

One good question is to ask yourself, “How will I feel about this later? Will I think, ‘I’m really glad I had a piece of my grandmother’s famous pie. I only get that once a year, and I’d hate to miss it.’ Or will I think, ‘Shoot, I’d been on such a roll at cutting out sugar, and I blew it to eat a piece of my grandmother’s pie, which I don’t even like.’”

What are some of your favorite loopholes?

#1 is my personal favorite. Have you found any good ways to avoid invoking them?

Better Than Before includes many more examples of loopholes, and how to avoid using them. Gosh they’re funny. To learn more about Better Than Before, you can…

Podcast 85: Have Something to Look Forward To, Keep a “Bowl of Requirement,” and Request a Collection of Great Wedding Readings.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

To take the survey that Laura Mayer mentions, go here.

Update: If you live near Seattle, please come to our live event! We’ll be recording an episode of the podcast live on stage at Seattle’s Town Hall on October 13, 7:30. Tickets are $25. More info and buy tickets here. Please come, bring your friends. We hope to sell t-shirts — cash only, if we do manage to pull it together.

Try This at Home: Have something to look forward to.

Happiness Hack: I love my travel “Bowl of Requirement,” the bowl where we keep everything important when we’re not at home.

Know Yourself Better: Have you ever been made angry or upset by a well-intentioned gift? The line I quote from Andy Warhol comes from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again): “You can never predict what little things in the way somebody looks or talks or acts will set off peculiar emotional reactions in other people.”

Listener Question: Elizabeth asks, “How can I stick to my writing goal of writing a novel in November, with NaNoWriMo?” You can also read about this technique in Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. I write about my own experience of writing a novel in a month in The Happiness Project.  Want to take the quiz, to see which of the Four Tendencies describes you? It’s here.

 Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth hasn’t adjusted her sleep schedule for the school year.

If you want to watch that clip from the movie School of Rock, about demerits, it’s here at about 1:35.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: If you want to request the collection of people’s favorite wedding readings, click the button below.

Click here to get the Wedding Readings PDF now

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #85

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Video: “The Label Says This Snack is Healthy,” and Other Questionable Assumptions.

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.

Fifth of ten loopholes: The Questionable Assumption Loophole. A very popular loophole! Consciously or unconsciously, we make assumptions that influence our habits—and often, not for the better. They often become less convincing under close scrutiny.

 

Dramatically changing my eating habits has allowed me to hit my goal weight, so now I can return to eating normally.

If I wait until I’m more in the mood to do it, I’ll do a better job.

It’s ridiculous to pay for a gym/a trainer/a home treadmill/a personal organizer/a financial advisor to help me with this behavior, when I could do it perfectly well for free on my own. (Especially if you’re an Obliger, forming those external systems of accountability are key.)

People who follow strict rules will inevitably fall off the wagon.

This will help me sleep.

If I indulge massively now, I’ll feel so disgusted with myself that it will be easy to be good.

Unless I can sweat for an hour, it’s not worth exercising.

 I’ll just have a few bites. (A reasonable assumption for Moderators but not Abstainers.)

 

How about you? What are some questionable assumptions you’ve made?

Note: Do you get the joke of the image?

A Memoir and a List of Loopholes Used to Justify Drinking.

Because of my interest in habits, I read a lot of memoirs of addiction. I don’t tackle addiction in Better Than Before, but still, I find that I get a lot of insights from these accounts.

I recently finished an excellent new memoir, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.

I was particularly  interested to see how she used loopholes to justify her drinking.

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.

We’re so good at thinking of loopholes! I’ve identified ten categories, in fact, and Hepola uses several of them as she justifies her drinking to herself.

I don’t want to sound unduly critical of Hepola, by identifying her loopholes. We all use them — we’re very ingenious when it comes to finding loopholes. Hepola’s memoir is thought-provoking and insightful, precisely because she’s so honest about her thoughts and actions.

Here are some examples of the loopholes she invokes:

“Drinking on a plane is a line-item veto in the ‘never drink alone’ rulebook.” This doesn’t count loophole.

“Everyone drinks alone on a plane.Questionable assumption loophole. For instance, I’ve never had a drink on a plane in my life.

“You’re allowed to drink alone while traveling. Who else could possibly join you? I loved drinking alone in distant bars.” Planning to fail loophole. Part of the fun of traveling, for Hepola, is feeling free to drink alone.

“It would not be an overstatement to say this felt like the very point of existence. To savor each moment.” Fake self-actualization loophole.

“It was my last night in Paris. I had to say yes.” This sounds like a combo of fake-self-actualization loophole and the tomorrow loophole.

“I knew some speed bump of circumstance would come along and force me to change. I would get married, and then I would quit. I would have a baby, and then I would quit.” Tomorrow loophole.

“It wasn’t fair that my once-alcoholic friend could reboot his life to include the occasional Miller Lite…and I had broken blood vessels around my eyes from vomiting in the morning…It isn’t fair!” Questionable assumption loophole.

Writers drink. It’s what we do.” Questionable assumption loophole.

“Paris was the problem, not me.” Lack of control loophole.

Most of us have a favorite few loopholes. Mine? False choice loophole. If you want to see a list of all ten, look here.

In the end, Hepola is able to reject the loopholes, change her habits, and quit drinking.

How about you? Do you have a favorite loophole, that you find yourself turning to most often?

Trying to Change a Habit? Beware These 5 Traps.

Today is Tip Day: Avoid five habit traps that can destroy your good habits.

In my book Better Than Before, I describe the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. Habits — the most fascinating subject ever.

One thing I observed is that when we’re trying to master our habits, it’s important to be aware of the justifications or arguments that we sometimes invoke that interfere with keeping a good habit.

They slip in so easily and quickly, it can be hard to spot them. Be on the look-out for these five popular lines of thoughts:

1. “Well, now that I’ve slipped up and broken my good habit, I might as well go all the way.”

I remind myself, “A stumble may prevent a fall.” Because of the colorfully named “what the hell” phenomenon, a minor stumble often becomes a major fall; once a good behavior is broken, we act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot. “I didn’t do any work this morning, so what the hell, I’ll take the rest of the week off and start on Monday.” “I missed my yoga class over spring break, so what the hell, I’ll start again in the fall.” It’s important to try to fail small, not big.

2. “If I really beat myself up when I break a good habit, I’ll do a better job of sticking to it.”

Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more. Often, when we feel bad about breaking a good habit, we try to make ourselves feel better by — indulging in the bad habit! A woman told me, “I felt so bad about breaking my diet that I ate three orders of french fries.” This is the cruel poetic justice of bad habits.

3.  “Sure, I’m not sticking to the habit that’s meant to keep me productive, but look how busy I am.”

Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

4. “Of course I usually stick to my good habits, but in this situation, I can’t be expected to keep it up.”

We’re all adults, and we can mindfully make exceptions to our good habits, but alas, everything counts.  Justifications like “It’s my birthday,” “I’m sick,” “It’s the weekend,” “I deserve it,” “I’ve been so good,” “You only live once,” are loopholes, meant to excuse us from responsibility. But nothing’s off the grid. Nothing stays in Vegas.

I love all the strategies in Better Than Before, they’re all powerful and fascinating, but I especially loved writing the chapter on the hilarious Strategy of Loophole-Spotting. We’re so ingenious of thinking of loopholes for ourselves!

5.  “I love my good habit so much, and I get so much satisfaction from it, that now it’s okay for me to break that habit.”

One danger point in habit-formation is the conviction that a habit has become so ingrained that we can safely violate it: “I love my morning writing sessions so much, I’d never give them up,” “I stopped eating cereal two years ago, so now it’s okay for me to eat it.” Unfortunately, even long-standing habits can be more fragile than they appear, so it pays not to get complacent.

What have I missed? What traps catch you, when you’re trying to keep a good habit?