In my book Better Than Before, I write about the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits. I loved writing about every strategy, but I have to say, my favorite chapter was the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting, because loopholes are so funny.
I identified ten categories of loopholes, including such favorites as Lack of Control , Fake Self-Actualization Loophole, Tomorrow Loophole, Questionable Assumption Loophole, and my own favorite, False Choice Loophole.
But I think the most interesting loophole is the One-Coin Loophole. It’s absolutely insidious, because it’s true. It always works as a loophole.
I gave the loophole this name from an old teaching story called “the argument of the growing heap,” which I learned about in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly.
The argument of the growing heap is:
If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.
This teaching story highlights a paradox that’s very significant to happiness: Often, when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time, a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior. True, any one visit to the gym is inconsequential, but the habit of going to the gym is invaluable.
Because the one-coin argument is true, it can be difficult to spot it in action.
For some reason, I was thinking about the One-Coin Loophole, and I remembered this famous scene from the HBO TV show Sex and the City, about four friends living in New York City.
In this 2002 episode, called “Ring a Ding Ding,” two friends Miranda and Carrie have been talking about how Carrie needs to move to a new apartment. They’re in a shoe store, and Carrie is holding a pair of very expensive shoes and is getting ready to try them on. She really loves expensive shoes and buys them often.
And here’s the conversation:
There it is. The one-coin loophole!
Is it a big deal to buy a pair of shoes, even an expensive pair of shoes? Is that purchase going to make or break your budget for the year? No, probably not. What about two pairs? What about three pairs?
At some point, the shoes becomes a down payment on an apartment.
I have to say, I’ve often thought it would be fun to write a little book of loopholes. Let me know if you think that would be a good idea.