Tag Archives: Strategy of Loophole-Spotting

Are You Good at Making Excuses?

I was laughing as I read this piece from the satire magazine, The Onion: “Personal Trainer Impressed by Man’s Improved Excuses.

It purports to be an interview with a personal trainer who’s impressed by one of his clients — a guy who has made amazing improvements in the sophistication of the excuses he’s giving for not working out.

“Acknowledging that the progress made in such a short time was remarkable…[the personal trainer said] he is very impressed by the improvement in both the strength and consistency of his client’s excuses…’A few months ago he had really weak pretenses for not sticking to a workout plan, but he’s put in a lot of effort and now he’s sporting much more robust and powerful justifications…After seeing how he struggled early on with a simple excuse about traffic, it’s gratifying to see him push himself and dig deep for rationalizations that more believably exonerate him…[like] tackling a long, grueling story about how construction in his neighborhood aggravated his dust mite allergies.'”

I love this piece, because I love loopholes. Loopholes are so funny.  So imaginative, and so ingenious. We’re like cell phones searching for a signal — as we cast about for an appropriate loophole to let us off the hook.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Autobiography, “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do. ” When we want to find a loophole, we can always find a reason.

Note: with a loophole, we’re not mindfully making an exception, but looking for a justification that excuses us from sticking to a particular habit.

If we can spot loopholes, we can perhaps resist invoking them, and do a better job of keeping a good habit.

The ten — yes, ten — categories of loopholes are:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole — “the label says it’s healthy”

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

I love that the Onion article highlights the point that even if a person’s workouts aren’t improving, he might be improving his loophole-seeking.

What loophole do you invoke most often? I listed my own favorite as #1, the false choice loophole. But I think that others, such as #4 and #6, are more popular.

 

Do You Ever Yield to a Temptation Out of Concern for Someone Else?

I love all fables, paradoxes, koans, teaching stories,  and aphorisms. That’s one reason I love to keep my Secrets of Adulthood – my own contribution.

For this reason, when I was last wandering through the library, I couldn’t resist pulling out William March’s book, 99 Fables.

And I was particularly struck by Fable #4, “The Persimmon Tree,” about a loophole-invoking possum.

In the fable, a possum looks longingly at the delicious persimmons hanging from the fox’s tree, and thinks about how badly he wants one. “’No,’ he said. ‘The fox is my friend and benefactor, and he trusts me. Oh, no!’”

Several days later, he stares again at the persimmon tree, where the fruits had reached their finest flavor. His mouth waters, but he turns away and goes home.

There, he sees his wife, who says, “’What a morning this would be for eating persimmons! When I think how sweet they are…I could break down and cry my eyes out.’”

The possum says, “’That settles it. I’ll take those persimmons if it’s the last thing I ever do…Why, what sort of a creature would I be if I deprived my sweet, faithful wife of persimmons—endangering her health and making her cry her dear eyes out.’”

The fable concludes: “We often do for the sake of others what we would like to do for ourselves.”

In Better Than Before, my book about habits, my favorite chapter (I admit it, I have a favorite) is the chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I identify the ten — yes, ten — categories of loopholes. (Here’s a list of all ten.) Now, what’s a loophole?    A loophole is  a justification that we invoke to excuse us from keeping this particular action or habit in this particular situation. We’re not mindfully making exceptions, we’re invoking a loophole as an excuse.

The possum is invoking the “concern for others” loophole. We tell ourselves that we’re acting out of consideration for others and making generous, unselfish decisions. Or, more strategically, we decide we must do something in order to fit in to a social situation.

It will hurt my girlfriend’s feelings if I get up early to write.

 

I’m not buying this junk food for me, I have to keep it around for others.

 

So many people need me, there’s no time to focus on my own health.

 

It would be so rude to go to a friend’s birthday party and not eat a piece of birthday cake.

 

I don’t want to seem holier-than-thou.

 

Changing my schedule would inconvenience other people.

 

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. (This loophole comes up a lot with drinking. Teenagers aren’t the only ones to feel peer pressure to drink, it seems.)

We all have the few loopholes that we invoke most readily. My own personal favorite is the false choice loophole.

Do you agree with the moral of the fable, that “We often do for the sake of others what we would like to do for ourselves”?

Have you ever done something that you thought you shouldn’t, for the benefit of someone else? This loophole is tricky, because sometimes to do that is a form of virtue, and other times, a form of self-deception.

 

Trying to Keep a Resolution? Don’t Fall into This Common Trap.

Many of us make resolutions — at the New Year, and throughout the year.  For the most part, these resolutions involve habits; we want to make or break some important habit (read the Essential Seven here).

To my surprise, as I was writing Better Than Before, I learned that while it’s hard to change habits, it’s also surprisingly easy to change habits.  The secret is to know how to set yourself up for success.

For instance, one important way to set yourself up for success is to imagine how you might fail. What are the temptations, the stumbling blocks? When have you struggled in the past?

Also, it’s important to be very wary of loopholes.

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.

Now, we’re all adults, and we can always mindfully decide to make an exception to our good habits. (Read here about my friend’s hilarious pie policy.) But that’s not what a loophole is. A loophole is a way to avoid making an exception, to get a free pass or an excuse.  But in the end, the loophole just ends up weakening, or perhaps ending, the habit we’re trying to create.

I’ve posted about each of the ten categories. If you want easily to scroll through them all, start at #10, because each post includes a link to the previous day.
1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself. I can’t go to the dentist; too busy writing.

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow” – “I can bust the budget in December, because I’ll be so frugal in January”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself” – “They served donuts at the meeting”

5. Planning to fail loophole — “I’m going to buy some scotch in case anyone stops by”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole — “The label says it’s healthy”

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

Which one is most popular, do you think? 1, 2, and 3 are very popular. Also 4. And 5 is more common that I first thought. Also 6, 7 of course, 8 comes up a lot, 9, and also 10. Look at that. They’re all popular!

As Benjamin Franklin wryly commented in his Autobiography, “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” We can almost always find a reason, a loophole, that excuses us from following a habit. But when we spot the loophole, we can perhaps reject the desire to let ourselves off the hook.

What loophole do you invoke most often, to get yourself out of a habit that you’re trying to keep?

P.S. Do you get the pun in this post’s illustration? I had fun with that.

Beware of These 10 Habit Loopholes as You Head to the Thanksgiving Feast.

When I was writing Better Than Before, I loved writing every chapter, because every strategy is so interesting.

But I have to admit, I particularly loved writing the chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting, because the loopholes are so ingenious and funny. One of the toughest parts of the editing process was cutting down on the number the loophole examples I list. I had hundreds.

Loopholes matter, because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, to justify breaking a good habit.

However, if we spot these  loopholes, we can perhaps reject them.

Holidays are a time when many of us face challenges to the good habits we want to maintain — and because holidays tend to involve lots of food and drink, those habits need special attention at that time.

To help you recognize loopholes you might be invoking, here’s a list of some popular ones that are often heard around Thanksgiving:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that.” “I can’t go for my usual 20 minute walk, because I have to get ready for guests.”

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this.” “I’ve been eating so healthfully, it’s okay for me to eat anything I want today.”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow.” “It’s okay for me to drink as much as I want today, because starting tomorrow, I’m not going to drink for six months.”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself.” “A considerate host wouldn’t have served something so tempting.”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole.” “I’ll just stand here by the dessert table, because the other room is so crowded.”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “It’s Thanksgiving!” “We’re out of town!”

7. Questionable assumption loophole — “These cookies are healthy. Look, they’re gluten-free.”

8. Concern for others loophole — “If I don’t drink wine with dinner, other people will think it’s weird.” “I have to eat seconds and thirds of everything, or my host will feel insulted.”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once!” “I have to do this now, or miss out forever.”

10. One-coin loophole “What difference will one meal make, over the course of a lifetime?”

Of course, sometimes we do want to break a habit—say, as part of a celebration. A very effective safeguard for that situation is the planned exception, which protects us against impulsive decisions. We decide in advance how we want to behave.

We’re adults, we make the rules for ourselves, and we can mindfully choose to make an exception to a usual habit by planning that exception in advance. That’s different from saying, “Yay, this loophole means that I can break my habit, I’m off the hook.” We’re never off the hook. Everything counts.

One good question is to ask yourself, “How will I feel about this later? Will I think, ‘I’m really glad I had a piece of my grandmother’s famous pie. I only get that once a year, and I’d hate to miss it.’ Or will I think, ‘Shoot, I’d been on such a roll at cutting out sugar, and I blew it to eat a piece of my grandmother’s pie, which I don’t even like.'”

What are some of your favorite loopholes? #1 is my favorite. Have you found any good ways to avoid invoking them?

Better Than Before includes many more examples of loopholes, and how to avoid using them. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.) I’m thinking about doing some kind of little book, with all the loophole examples that I had to leave out. I hate to leave them on the cutting-room floor.

Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I have to say, this was my favorite chapter. The loopholes are so funny.

 

If you want to read more about a particular category of loophole, look here:

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”

5. Planning to fail loophole, formerly known as the “Apparently irrelevant decision loophole”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

If you’re curious about the book I mention, The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, I write about it here.

What’s your favorite loophole?