Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #5: Apparently Irrelevant Decisions

train tracks splitting

For two weeks, I’m doing a special series related to Better Than Before. In that book, I identify the twenty-one strategies that we can use to change our habits.

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 #4, the Lack of Control loophole. Today…

Loophole Category #5: Apparently Irrelevant Decisions

It’s odd. When it comes to keeping our good habits, instead of fleeing temptation, we often arrange to succumb. In what Dr. Alan Marlatt  dubbed “apparently irrelevant decisions,” we make a chain of seemingly insignificant decisions that allow us covertly to engineer the very circumstances that we’ll find irresistible.

I’ve long been obsessed by the strange, brilliant skeleton of a book created by J. M. Barrie, The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, and I’m particularly haunted by the line, “We set out to be wrecked.” In the story, three boys set sail to seek the adventure of a wreck; to fail was the very purpose of the undertaking.

I drove across town to that gourmet grocery store to buy broccoli, and I ended up buying their special cheesecake. Who could resist?

I’ll just check my email quickly before I go to the gym…oops, I don’t have time to go to the gym, after all.

I’m not going to eat anything more tonight, but I’ll go into kitchen and look in the freezer. Just curious.

No reason why I shouldn’t sit in the smoking section.

I’ll buy some scotch to have in the house in case someone stops by.

It’s such a nice day, it would be nice to take walk—would you look at that! I’m in front of my favorite bakery. I’m just going to step inside to enjoy the lovely smell.

My husband and I love to go on “all inclusive” cruise vacations, and I can’t resist the all-you-can-eat food.

I’m going to lie on the sofa so I can brainstorm ideas in comfort.

A friend told me, “I know a guy in L.A. who has some trouble with gambling. The last time I saw him, he said, ‘I just lost a lot of money in Vegas.’ I said, ‘I thought you weren’t supposed to go there anymore.’ He said, ‘I’m not, but I didn’t go there to gamble.’ I said, ‘So why were you there?’ He said, ‘I bought a new car, and I wanted to take it for a test drive.’ He was absolutely serious.”

Another friend made an apparently irrelevant decision. “A guy I know was about to take a trip, and I told him, ‘Oh, you really should get some candy to take with you. Let me take you to Sockerbit, this amazing Swedish candy store. They have these gummy Ferraris that I love.’”

“Did you eat any candy?”

“No, but it was really hard.”

He managed not to eat any candy, but he went pretty far out of his way to get himself into a candy store.

We set out to be wrecked.

Do you ever make apparently irrelevant decisions that end up wrecking your good intentions?



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