Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #3: the Tomorrow Loophole.

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

Here, I’m talking about 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 the two weeks, I’m posting about a category of loophole, to help with the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

Yesterday was #2, the Moral Licening Loophole. Today….

Loophole Category #3: the Tomorrow Loophole

This loophole depends on “tomorrow logic.” Now doesn’t matter much, because we’re going to follow good habits tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter what I eat now, because I’m starting a diet tomorrow. (Research shows that people who plan to start dieting tomorrow tend to over-eat today.)

 

I’m definitely on track to finish my paper on time, because starting tomorrow, I’m really going to buckle down.

 

I’ll be really frugal in January so it doesn’t matter if I spend too much in December.

 

Today I’m eating whatever I want, but tomorrow I’ll be “good.” (People tend to self-regulate day-by-day, but everything counts.)

Tomorrow logic undermines good habits by making it easy to deny that our actions clash with our intentions.

It’s quite pleasant to think about how virtuous we’ll be, tomorrow. In one study, when subjects made a shopping list for what they’d eat in a week, 70 percent chose fruit instead of chocolate; when asked what they’d choose now, 74 percent picked chocolate instead of fruit.

In an argument worthy of the White Queen — who told Alice “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today” — we tell ourselves, absolutely, I’m committed to exercise, and I will exercise tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Just not today.

Postponing a start may also lead to the unhelpful phenomenon of the “last hurrah.” “I’m starting my diet on Monday, so I deserve to eat anything I want until then.” “After the holidays, I’m going to cut way back on spending, so I should take advantage of the sales now.”

Some people even fool themselves into thinking that extreme indulgence now will give them more self-control when the magic future day arrives. But eating a giant bowl of ice cream today doesn’t make it any easier to resist tomorrow, and spending an entire day watching TV doesn’t make a person feel more like working the next morning.

I have a fantasy of myself in the future: Future-Gretchen will have more time and more energy for tasks that don’t interest Now-Gretchen. Chores that I keep putting off — like turning notes into actual writing or getting regular doctors’ check-ups — will be easy for Future-Gretchen.

Alas, there is no Future-Gretchen, only Now-Gretchen.

Do you find yourself promising that you’ll follow that habit — tomorrow?

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  • peninith1

    I’m happy to say this isn’t my most challenging loophole. I have at times been a terrible procrastinator, and I can’t say that I have licked the habit entirely, but this one I have ‘on the run.’
    How do I know? I listen to my Mom constantly delaying and putting off things for ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow’ and am surprised to find that I consider this shocking behavior. She is 89, and deserves to procrastinate about many things other than medical appointments–and sometimes even those! I thought that she raised me to NOT be a procrastinator, but I realize in living with her that actually she encouraged me to go ahead and get things done, but always procrastinated herself. I have worked very hard to overcome the tendency to do things at the last minute and to put off until tomorrow (although I sure put off paying attention to diet and exercise for quite a while). Now I am doing that, for years I have been keeping up with my finances, and I even finish projects pretty regularly.
    And you know, the satisfaction that comes from a feeling of integrity is wonderful to enjoy day after day.

  • Freda

    I had a friend (no, truly, I’m not talking about me here!) who shopped too much. But she shopped mostly in the sales and told me not how much she had spent (way too much) but how much she had saved, as in ‘I saved £70 on this, it was reduced from £200!’ It’s so easy to kid yourself, isn’t it!

    • peninith1

      This sounds like the ‘savings’ loophole to me!

  • statmam

    OK, OK, you’ve convinced me: I’ll sign up for the clutter-busting project TODAY!

  • cruella

    I’m quite convinced that I’ll find I’m using ALL your loopholes:-)

  • Theresa Welch

    This reminds me of a quote: “today is yesterday’s tomorrow.” Its so easy to use this “logic” when we are not truly motivated or lack the willpower to follow through with our goals. I know that sounds harsh, but its a matter of getting in the right frame of mind and realizing that the perfect Monday, first of the month, etc isn’t always going to happen. I think I’m writing this to get myself to finally go “cold turkey” with my goal of waking up early. I’ve been tracking my goals with an app (I wonder if a 2014 Ben Franklin would use it?) and the one I can’t seem to get is waking up early. I know that I’ve used the “next week” excuse many times and just need to do it! Here’s to truly making “tomorrow” the day!

    • Theresa Welch

      Update — didn’t get up any earlier — wondering if I need to accept “Be Theresa” or just do it on this one… Thoughts?

      • gretchenrubin

        One of the tensions within happiness is to accept yourself, and expect more from yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

        On the subject of getting up early, there’s a fascinating book called “Internal Time.” You might check that out.

      • Laura

        It’s been my experience that I can only get up early if I have real motivation. If my reason was to just get up early to have more time to the day, I wouldn’t do it. I just signed up for a writing program in which I have to produce a certain number of pages. I can, and do write, at other times of the day, but I am most productive in the quiet of the morning. That’s my motivation. I feel like I have to wake up early (because otherwise I would not get as much completed as I’d like). Maybe you need to figure out some reason why you have to wake up early too. Maybe your current reason isn’t “have to” enough? Good luck.

  • maxwell ivey

    Hi gretchen; You stated this issue beautifully. about two years ago i made the decision to have gastric surgery to address my serious weight problem. I was required to go to classes on diet and nutrition. since i am blind my mother went with me. and at the time as a family we realized that my younger brother and nephew were also at unhealthy weights. so we followed the information in the hand outs and made small changes each month. by the time of my surgery we were making shopping lists buying much more healthy foods and even reading the labels. now we rarely bring anything into the house that we shouldn’t have. And when there is something special for my younger nephew it will be a single serving of a sweet or something that has to be made. we have changed our habits but it wasn’t easy and we certainly didn’t do it by saying we will start tomorrow. I may have had it easy since its not like I’m going to run down to the convenience store. smile i am all for I will do better the rest of today but tomorrow doesn’t work. thanks for the post, max

    • gretchenrubin

      Congratulations on making many challenging changes to your habits. Not easy.

  • FuriouslyWriting.blogspot.com

    Last year I took a good, hard look at my behavior in this category and did not like it. Then I found this quote which was very helpful: Present behavior trumps future perfection. I love it! I use HiFutureSelf to text it to myself a couple of times a week.

  • Simon

    This is so on the money Gretchen!! I am guilty of the “last hurrah” so often… and Future-Simon, well I spend a lot of time imaging what he will be and do. You’re right, he doesn’t exist. Thanks for this – and the rest of your blog, it’s the most helpful collection of writing I’ve read in a long time. Yours, Now-Simon

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my writing strikes a chord with you.

  • Terry

    Hi Ho Hi Ho, it’s up to the elliptical I go! Tomorrow was sounding soooo good!!!

  • Lorraine Pulvino Poling

    Are you reading my mind with this series? I am working on this!!!

    • AmandaG

      I feel the same way, too! Like she’s following me around.

  • phoenix1920

    I have really been enjoying this series–thank you for compiling these and giving such great food for thought! This one here will likely be my worst offender . . . unless you have a “Clean Start” loophole. If I mess up and break my goal/habit, I generally toss it out and will begin fresh at the beginning of a new week–or the beginning of a new year. I don’t know why this thought appeals to me so much. Perhaps, because if I start fresh later, I don’t think about the slip-up. I thought it would encourage me not to slip-up in the first place–because I can’t begin fresh until the start of a new week and I generally dislike waiting. But I doubt the helpfulness of that approach now. When I do toss out a goal because of a slip-up, I am noticing that I am taking advantage of the fact that I removed that as a goal, but will be beginning it at the beginning of the new week.

    The other day, I read about planning for failure actually HELPS one to succeed–and it was quite an eye-opening thought. So, if my husband and I are supposed to go over our finances each week on Monday to make sure we are on track and we don’t talk about it on Monday, before I even make the goal, I decide what will happen if it doesn’t work–i.e., Wednesday is our back-up night.

    • gretchenrubin

      I write about planning for failure. In the vocabulary of my book, that’s the Strategy of Safeguards.

  • Lynn

    I’m sharing this conversation with everyone I know because I love the reminder that living in the moment and focusing on today will give us more benefits and opportunities than we’ll ever gain by waiting for tomorrow.

  • Molly

    I find this one to be the most insidious goal-killer for me!

  • http://www.positivelydreaming.com/ Sarah

    Oh no … it’s so embarrassing to be called out on exactly the behavior I use every time I start eating sweets again! The “last hurrah” mentality describes me right down to the fact that I use the phrase “last hurrah” every single time. I really like the idea of thinking of myself as “Now-Sarah,” so as to avoid the temptation to imagine a better, more honest “Future-Sarah” who will overcome all the things Now-Sarah is forever messing up. Helpful!

  • vanessamary

    Ha! When I was younger, Future Vanessa was always going to be tall and blond! There is no way to make that happen, it just seemed like I would end up that way. In my fifties now, I don’t really think that way anymore.

  • AmandaG

    With the start of my own happiness project, I’ve started looking at my habits and reading about changing habits. Honestly, these last few posts of yours articulate exactly what I do. It’s like you’re following me around or something. Thank you for everything you do. It’s important.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy that they strike a chord with you–

  • Valerie303

    Funny–a lot of these loopholes are making sense to me, but not this one. I actually do find that doing exactly what I want one day can make it much easier to do what I know is better on the next day. Indeed, after watching TV for a few hours I am usually itching to get back to something more productive. Likewise too much ice cream creates a craving for salad, and going more than two days or so without exercise makes me yearn to get back to it. I think there’s a natural rhythm to my wishes, Yes, the overall majority of my choices are still the “right” ones, but I like the variety, and it helps me avoid feeling deprived (or just bored).

  • Meg

    Hi Gretchen! I am enjoying all of these–but this one really resonated with me! “There is no future-Gretchen, only now-Gretchen.” Sooo true! This is very helpful to me to do better as now-me! :-) Thanks!

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