Gretchen Rubin

Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #6: the “This Doesn’t Count” Loophole.

Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #6: the “This Doesn’t Count” Loophole.

For two weeks, I’m doing a special series related to Before and After. In that forthcoming book, I identify the twenty-one strategies that we can use to change our habits. (If you want to be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

In this series, I focusing on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting. Loopholes matter, because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes. We look 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 avoid employing the loophole, and improve our chances of keeping the habit.

There are many kinds of loopholes. Ten kinds, in fact. So each day for two weeks, I’m posting about a category of loophole, to help with the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

Yesterday was #5, the Apparently Irrelevant Decision loophole, a/k/a the Planning to Fail loophole. Today…

Loophole Category #6: the "This Doesn’t Count” loophole.

We tell ourselves that for some reason, this circumstances doesn’t “count” -- but in fact, while we can always mindfully choose to make an exception to our habits, there are no magical freebies, no going off the grid, no get-out-of-jail-free cards, nothing that stays in Vegas.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Everything counts.

We often have funny rules to exclude certain behavior. After college, my roommate’s boyfriend said to me, in a patronizing tone, “Boy, I wish I had as much free time as you do, to read for pleasure.” He practically lived with us, so I knew a lot about how he spent his time, and I answered, “But you have a lot of free time, you watch a ton of sports on television.” He said, “Oh, that doesn’t count.” No?

I’m on vacation.


What are weekends for?


I’m sick.


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.


I’ve totally given up drinking. Except on special occasions, and on the weekends, and when I’m out with friends.

I don’t even want this.


I’m pregnant.


This period of my life is so stressful that I must focus solely on my deadline/case on trial/relative in the hospital.

This last loophole is an occupational hazard for my sister. For a TV writer, shooting a pilot is thrilling, but it’s also extraordinarily stressful. She’s been through it several times, and she told me, “The temptation in shooting a pilot is to say, ‘Nothing else matters. We’re shooting a pilot, this is completely separate from real life, it doesn't count, because I need to do whatever it takes to get though it.’”

“Everything counts,” I said with a sigh.

Do you find yourself arguing that something doesn't "count"?

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