Tag Archives: Strategy of Loophole-Spotting

What Are Your Treats? Do You Have Any That Don’t Look Like Treats?

I’ve asked this question before, but I’m asking again, because I find it so fascinating: Do you have any “treats” that don’t look like treats? What are your treats?

In my forthcoming book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits — really — I identify a bunch of strategies we can use to change our habits. Perhaps the most delightful one is the Strategy of Treats. (To be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

What exactly counts as a “treat?” A treat is different from a reward, which must be justified or earned. A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it.

Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which in turn boosts self-command. When we don’t get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and we feel justified in self-indulgence. We start to crave comfort—and  grab that comfort wherever we can, even if it means breaking good habits. “I deserve this, I’ve earned this, I need this”…Loophole-Seeking!

I embrace treats but I’m also very wary of treats. Treats help us feel energized, appreciated, and enthusiastic–but very often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. An extra glass of wine, an extra brownie, an impulse purchase…

As I’ve thought more about treats, and tried to lengthen my list of healthy treats, I’ve been surprised to realize that many treats don’t look like treats.

Someone was telling me the other day that she loves to do laundry. Go figure. Someone else told me that he loves to make travel arrangements.

It dawned on me yesterday that one of my unconventional treats is clearing clutter. Some kind of clutter is difficult–letting go of things with sentimental value, sifting through papers–but some clutter I find very refreshing to clear. I drive my daughters nuts because I’m always wandering into their rooms to clear clutter.  (It’s a lot easier to clear other people’s clutter than my own clutter.)

Again, I realize the importance of the Fifth Splendid Truth about happiness: I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. Which means that I must recognize the truth about myself. Be Gretchen. And go clear some closets.

How about you? Do you have any treats that most people wouldn’t consider a treat? What are your treats?

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Which of These 10 Categories of Loopholes Do You Invoke?

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Quiz Day, or Tip Day.

This Wednesday: the 10 categories of popular loopholes.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been posting about loopholes. I’ve made a study of loopholes as part of my research for my next book, Before and After, about habit-formation. (If you want to be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

I identify twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Rejecting (I just changed the name from “Loophole-Spotting,” because I realized that the point of using this strategy is to identify and reject loopholes. Or do you like the original name better?)

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.

I’ve posted about each of the ten categories, but I thought it would be useful to have a wrap-up post, which include all ten and provides links to each. 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

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?”

Loophole #5 has sparked the most comments. Which one is most popular, do you think? 1, 2, and 3 are very popular. Also 4. 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?

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Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #10: the One-Coin Loophole.

For two weeks, I’ve done 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. (If you want to be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

In this series, I’m focusing on 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 #9, the Fake Self-Actualization Loophole.  Today is the final day with a loophole I’ve written about before

Loophole Category #10: the One-Coin Loophole

One of the most insidious of loopholes is the “one-coin loophole”—insidious because it’s absolutely true. This loophole gets its name from “the argument of the growing heap,” which I learned about in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly.  (I love teaching stories, koans, paradoxes, fables, etc.) According to a footnote, 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.

Pointing to the one coin is a way to deny a conflict between our values: we’re not choosing between our desire for French fries and for healthy eating habits, because eating one bag of fries is an insignificant act. But when we consider the accumulated cost of the French fries, the conflict looks different.

I haven’t worked on that project for such a long time, there’s no point in working on it this morning.

 

One beer won’t make a difference.

 

What difference does it make if I spend this afternoon at the library or at a video arcade?

 

Why work on my report today, when the deadline is so far away?

 

A year from now, what I did today won’t matter.

A friend told me, “I’ve really changed my eating habits, I’ve lost seventy pounds. A woman in my office uses that against me! She’s always saying, ‘Come on, you eat so well now, one cupcake won’t kill you.’ So I say, ‘You’re right, having one cupcake is no big deal—but I’m not going to have one today.’”

It’s so easy to point out the low value of the one coin. By reminding ourselves that the heap grows one coin at a time, we can help keep ourselves on track.

The Strategy of Monitoring is helpful with the one-coin problem, because monitoring reminds me that my heap is growing—or not. Without monitoring, it’s easy to lose track of what I’ve actually accomplished.

Do you invoke the one-coin loophole? As I said, the challenge of this loophole is that it’s true.

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Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #9: the Fake Self-Actualization 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. (If you want to be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

In this series, I’m focusing on 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 #8, the Concern for Others loophole.  Today…

Loophole Category #9: the Fake Self-Actualization Loophole.

This loophole  comes in the disguise as an embrace of life or an acceptance of self, so that the failure to pursue a habit seems life-affirming—almost spiritual. But for most of us, the real aim isn’t to enjoy a few pleasures right now, but to build habits that will make us happy over the long term. Sometimes, that means giving up something in the present, or demanding more from ourselves.

You only live once.

 

I love life too much to deprive myself of this.

 

It’s too nice a day to spend doing this.

 

I’ll be sorry if I don’t at least try it.

 

I should celebrate this special occasion. (How special is it? National Cheesecake Day? A colleague’s birthday?)

 

I should enjoy myself.

 

This is special, I have to act now or miss out forever. (Fast food joints exploit this loophole; customers buy more when a limited-time offer is tied to a season, an event, or a specific holiday, such as pumpkin spice lattes or heart-shaped donuts.)

 

I live in the moment.

 

I want to embrace myself, just as I am. (I try to remember to Accept myself, and expect more from myself.)

 

I have to die of something.

 

I should do something nice for myself.

 

I don’t want to be rigid and obsessive about denying myself this.

 

If I don’t make any demands on myself, I’ll feel better.

When I was explaining my Abstainer approach to an acquaintance, she scolded me, “You only live once! Eat a brownie, enjoy life!”

“We only live once, but we live a long time—we hope,” I answered, with some irritation. “I’m happier when I skip the brownie.”

It’s true, however, that sometimes we do want to live in the moment, we do want to take advantage of an opportunity. As with many loopholes, a great way to handle this conundrum is with planning. You’re an adult, you make the rules for yourself, you can mindfully choose to give yourself an exception to a usual habit.

So you might think, “My habit is that I don’t drink at home on weeknights, but next week is our anniversary, so we’re going to have champagne.” Or “I’ve promised myself to work on my thesis every single day, but on the first sunny day about 70 degrees, I’m playing hooky to go for a day-long bike ride.”

By planning for an exception, you stay in control, you ensure that your habits are working for you. Usually, loopholes are invoked in the heat of the moment, in the eagerness to find an excuse to junk a habit.

Here’s a test that can sometimes be useful: how do you feel about your exceptions later? Do you think, “I’m so happy I embraced the moment” or do you think, “Hmm…looking back on it, I wish I’d made a different decision”?

How about you? Do you sometimes invoke self-actualization to justify an action — and then regret it later?

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Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #8: the Concern for Others 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. (If you want to be notified when the book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

In this series, I’m focusing on 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 #7, the Questionable Assumption loophole. Today…

Loophole Category #8: the Concern for Others Loophole.

We often use the loophole of telling 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. Maybe we do — and maybe we don’t.

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.

 

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.)

This particular loophole doesn’t appeal to me, because I — for better and sometimes certainly for worse — am not much bothered by what other people think of my (some very peculiar) habits. As I discovered when I took the Newcastle Personality Assessor that measures personality according to the Big Five model (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, or OCEAN), for a woman I score “low” on agreeableness, which measures a person’s tendency to be compassionate and cooperative and to value getting along harmoniously with others.

I suspect that my low agreeableness accounts for my willingness to appear fussy or to be out of step in social situations. Also, in all modesty, my lack of concern stems from modesty: I just can’t imagine that others are paying much attention to me.

For instance, I more or less gave up drinking, and that decision never makes me feel uncomfortable.

But for some people, I’ve discovered, 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 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.

Do you find yourself invoking a heed for others — to the detriment of your own habits? In what situations?

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