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:
“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.”
“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...
“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.”
“I can’t help myself.” “A considerate host wouldn’t have served something so tempting.”
“I’ll just stand here right next to the dessert table, because the other room is so crowded.”
“It’s Thanksgiving!” “We’re out of town!”
“These cookies are healthy. Look, they’re gluten-free.”
“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.”
“You only live once!” “I have to do this now, or miss out forever.”
“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?
- Read a sample chapter
- Request the one-page discussion guide for book groups,work groups, or spirituality groups
- Listen to sample chapter— yes, that’s me reading
- Use the Better app to learn more about the Four Tendencies (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel)
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The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.