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

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Which of These 10 Categories of Loopholes Do You Invoke?

loopholesEvery 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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I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

Story: Why Am I Living in New York City?

This week’s video story: If this is how I spend my time, why am I living in New York City?

 

I ask myself, “Why am I living in New York City?” but the message is the same no matter where a person might live. We should always make the most of our time! Which, of course, includes watching re-reruns on TV if that’s what I really want to do.

Here’s a link to the extraordinarily powerful public-service announcement that I mention, made by Yul Brynner, released after he died, about quitting smoking.

This story reminds me of one of my favorite resolutions from Happier at Home: Be a tourist in my own neighborhood. Also, take tourist photos of my own romance (photos included!).

[time passes]

Speaking of public-service announcements, I just spent too long watching several “Don’t Mess with Texas” PSAs, sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation, that are described in Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick. Brilliant.

How about you? Have you ever seen a public-service announcement that stuck with you for years?

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Find the archives of videos here.  Practically TWO MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

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Rebels, If You Feel Like It, and It Would Be Fun for You, I’d Love to Hear Your Perspective.

rebelFor my book Before and After, about habit-formation, I’ve been developing my framework of the four Rubin Tendencies. I’m obsessed with understanding these tendencies. (If you want to be notified when the habits book is available for pre-order, sign up here.)

In a nutshell: the Rubin Tendencies describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a work deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves (like my friend who said, “In high school, I never missed track practice, but I can’t go running on the weekends now”)

 

I’m fascinated by all the categories, but right now I’m focusing on Rebels.

Rebel is by far the smallest category (to my surprise, Upholder is also a very small category).

Rebels, if you feel like it, and it would be fun for you, you could comment on your experience as a Rebel.  I’d love to hear anything you have to say, but just to get you thinking, here are some questions:

Are you amazed by what people in the other categories do? I have a Rebel friend, and it’s obvious to me that I, as an Upholder, shock her at times. I told her, “I give myself discipline to give myself freedom.” She said with a shudder, “Freedom means not following the rules.”

How do you feel about meeting expectations from yourself? Say, you want to write your Ph.D. thesis.

Is it different when someone who works for you asks you to do something, compared to when meeting an expectation imposed by someone whom you work for?

Here’s a very odd question. Are you attracted to situations where another institution sets many rules? Whenever I speak about the Rubin Tendencies to an audience, I ask people to raise their hands to show what category they’re in. Rebel is always the smallest category, and once I spoke to a group that had no Rebels.

Of all the groups I’ve spoken to, the group that by far had the largest number of Rebels was in a group of Christian ministers. Also, a commenter once posted, “You’d be surprised by how many Rebels are in the military.” I’m trying to understand this. So, so, so fascinating.

How do you feel about waiting in line?

Do you think that Rebel is the best category? Why?

If you’re married or in a serious relationship, is your sweetheart an Obliger? This is a very striking pattern. I’ve never talked to a Rebel in a permanent relationship with someone in the Upholder or Questioner category. (Makes perfect sense to me.)

These questions are only for your consideration. Answer any way you want — or not at all, obviously.

And if people in other categories have comments, please fire away. Do include your Tendency, if you know it, because it’s so interesting to hear how different Tendencies view the world differently.

You may be thinking, “The Rubin Tendencies are interesting, but what the heck do they have to do with habit-formation?” Of the twenty-one habit-formation strategies I’ve identified, the first, and the most important, is the Strategy of Self-Knowledge. To shape our habits most effectively, we must understand ourselves. And knowing your Rubin Tendency is enormously helpful in figuring out how to set up habits for success.

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Revealed! Book Club Choices for February. Happy Reading.

bookopenpagesBecause nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

I’ll post these recommendations here, or to make sure you don’t miss them, sign up for the monthly Book Club newsletter.

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness:

Til Roenneberg, Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired

Buy from WORD; BN.comAmazon.

An outstanding young-adult book:

Irene Hunt, Up a Road Slowly (wow, I really dislike the new cover; ignore that)

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds. So I won’t describe these books, but I love all the books I recommend; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely loved. I do provide slightly more context in the book club newsletter.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? La Rochefoucauld’s Collected Maxims; Julie Andrews’s Mandy; and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.

So, so, so good.

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

heap of coinsFor 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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