My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #4: the Lack of Control Loophole.

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

Yesterday was #3, the Tomorrow Loophole. Today….

Loophole Categyory #4: Lack of Control Loophole

This is a very loophole. We argue that we don’t have control over the situation, and circumstances have forced us to break a habit. However, usually we have more control than we admit.

“My problem is that every time I work in my favorite coffee shop,” a friend told me, “I absolutely have to get a muffin. Their muffins are so good, I can’t resist, but I really don’t want to eat them.”

“Why don’t you work in a different coffee shop?” I asked.

“Oh, but that’s my favorite coffee shop,” she said earnestly.

“Right,” I said. “Because you always have one of those delicious muffins when you go there.”

“That’s not why I go.”

Really?

Weirdly, people often have an illusion of control over things they can’t control—“If I spend a lot of time worrying, the plane is less likely to crash” “If I play my lucky numbers, I’ll win the lottery eventually” — but deny control over things they can control — “If there are free donuts in the break room, I can’t resist eating them.”

The dog ate my homework.

Someone brought bagels to the meeting.

I’m too stressed to deal with this now.

I travel all the time.

It’s too hot/cold/rainy.

I have an injury.

My boss is so demanding that I don’t have time to do that.

I’d had a few beers.

I know I’m going to break this habit sooner or later, so I might as well do it now.

A considerate host wouldn’t serve a wicked dessert like this.

It’s impossible to give up sugar.

The subway always makes me late.

These chips have been specially engineered by the food industry to be irresistible.

With everything going on right now, I can’t be expected to stick to a good habit. (There’s a great running gag in the movie Airplane, in which the air-traffic control supervisor remarks, as he lights up a cigarette, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking,” later, as he takes a drink, he adds, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking,” then later, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines,” “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”)

At this rate, I can never accomplish anything.

My favorite trainer quit.

My kids take up all my time.

The church’s annual Fathers’ Day Breakfast has always been all-you-can-eat.

We opened a bottle of wine, so we have to finish it.

Alcoholics can quit drinking, and smokers can quit smoking, but I can’t quit eating. (I can’t quit eating, but I can quit eating sugar, or grains, or processed food.)

Someone else chose this restaurant.

I’ve never been able to resist this.

I started without realizing what I was doing.

The Lack of Control Loophole is closely tied to another popular loophole…the Apparently Irrelevant Decision loophole. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Do you ever find yourself invoking the Lack of Control loophole? It’s super-sneaky, in my experience. Very easy to invoke without even realizing it.

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