The 10 Categories of Loopholes

Photo of coin-operated binoculars in front of foggy ocean scape.

In Better Than Before, my book about how to make and break habits, I identify twenty-one strategies of habit-formation.

All 21 strategies are important. All 21 strategies are fascinating. But one strategy is the funniest strategy, and that’s the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I love studying loopholes—and collecting examples. They’re often so imaginative!

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.

There are 10 categories of loopholes, and while most of us have a few personal favorites, they’re all very popular.

  1. False choice loophole—”I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that”
  2. Moral licensing loophole—”I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”
  3. Tomorrow loophole—”It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”
  4. Lack of control loophole—”I can’t help myself”
  5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole”—”I decided to explore one of my old neighborhoods and…well, look at that! I’m right in front of my favorite bakery. And of course, I couldn’t possibly pass up their cookies.”
  6. “This doesn’t count” loophole—”I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”
  7. Questionable assumption loophole—”It’s not possible to quit eating sugar”
  8. Concern for others loophole—”I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”
  9. Fake self-actualization loophole—”You only live once! Embrace the moment!”
  10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

Loophole #5 has sparked the most comments. Which one is most popular, do you think? 1, 2, and 3 are very popular. Also 4 is more common that I first thought. Also 6, 7 of course, 8 comes up often, also 9. The last one, 10, works in every situation, so it gets a lot of use. Turns out that they’re all popular!

My own personal favorite is probably #1, the “False Choice loophole.” “I’m so busy writing, I don’t have time to go to the dentist.” “Everything is so wild right now, I don’t have time to make plans with friends.”

As Benjamin Franklin wryly commented in his Autobiography, “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

We can almost always find a reason, a loophole, that excuses us from following a habit. But when we spot the loophole, we can perhaps reject the desire to let ourselves off the hook.

I love collecting examples of loopholes, because they’re often so creative and surprising. So if you know of any great loopholes—used by you or someone you know—send them my way!

What loophole do you invoke most often, to get yourself out of a habit that you’re trying to keep?



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

From renowned happiness expert and New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, the “Five Things Making Me Happy” newsletter is one of today’s most popular newsletters. You’ll get a weekly round-up of what’s making Gretchen happy, as well as practical tips, research, and resources about how we can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.