In my latest (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.
I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.
Well, what is a “loophole?” 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.
Sixth of ten loopholes: The Concern for Others Loophole. We tell ourselves that we need to break a good habit out of concern for someone else.
Other people’s feelings will be hurt if I don’t partake.
I can’t ask my partner to stay with the kids while I go to class.
At a business dinner, if everyone is drinking, it would seem weird if I didn’t drink. (Somewhat to my surprise, this loophole comes up a lot with drinking. Teenagers aren’t the only ones to feel peer pressure to drink, it seems.)
For some people, this loophole is a major challenge. Relationships are a key to happiness, and if a particular habit makes you feel very awkward about being out of sync in a social situation, or you worry that you’re hurting other people’s feelings or making them feel uncomfortable, this is a real factor in the formation of a habit.
By identifying the loophole, you can identify possible solutions. “Everyone else is drinking, so I’ll order a sparkling water, and no one will know what’s in my glass.” “Everyone else is ordering a drink, so I’ll order a glass of wine, but I won’t drink it, I’ll just leave it on the table.” “My grandmother gets upset if I don’t take seconds, so I’ll take a very small portion the first time, so she sees me go back for more.” “I’ll talk to my partner about whether this new habit is actually inconvenient, and if so, how we can work out a schedule that works for both of us.”
Sidenote: when you’re forming a new habit that feels awkward to others, give them time to adjust. Any change feels awkward at first. But if you keep starting and stopping, no one gets used to a new pattern. For instance, a friend wanted to go for a run on weekend mornings, but her family complained that she wasn’t around to get the day started — so she immediately stopped. She started again and stuck to it, and after the first few weekends went by, everyone got used to starting the day on their own.
Is this a loophole that you invoke? In what situations? I love studying loopholes! They’re so ingenious.