10 Loopholes to Avoid at Thanksgiving

Give thanks writing on kraft paper with some fall leaves on a table

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.’”

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