by Kathie England

Better Than Before – Loophole Spotting Continued

Here are the last five loopholes that Rubin proposes. Remember loopholes are excuses we make for avoiding habits that will help us become better than before.
“This Doesn’t Count” Loophole – “We tell ourselves that for some reason, THIS circumstance doesn’t count.” Examples often used include: vacations, holidays, weekends, illness, it’s a one-time thing. This loophole is different from mindfully making a decision NOT to do something like the planned exception safeguard discussed a few days ago. These are sort of like the idea we used as kids that it doesn’t count if we cross our fingers or close our eyes.
Questionable Assumption Loophole – Rubin illustrates this example described by one of her clients who tells herself that if it’s 9 a.m. and she has an appointment at 11 a.m. she doesn’t really have time to do anything important, so she ends up wasting the entire morning. We make assumptions that we kid ourselves into thinking are reasonable. One example Rubin suggests is a common excuse that professional organizers hear about why someone can’t get rid of some item. “I might need this someday.” Here are a few others: I can’t start working until my office is clean; all creative people are messy; I’m so far behind, there’s no point in doing anything to catch up; unless I sweat for an hour, it’s not worth exercising. Rubin suggests that a particularly sneaky assumption loophole is the belief that a habit has become so ingrained that it’s OK to ease off. She says that even long-standing habits are more fragile than they appear to be and people tend to overestimate their dedication.
Concern for Others Loophole – This one is where we tell ourselves we’re acting out of consideration for others. Do any of these examples sound familiar? “It will hurt my girlfriend’s feelings if I leave her to go for a run?” Or, “So many people need me, there’s no time to focus on my own health.” (Love this next one!) “When I try to change this habit, I get irritable, and my family complains.” Enough examples?
Fake Self-Actualization Loophole – “It’s too nice a day to spend doing this” is an example I often hear about why people don’t take the actions they planned about catching up on projects. “You only live one (YOLO)” is the rationalization for some types of behavior. I appreciate Rubin’s perspective: “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 of ourselves.” I think the strategy of asking what your future self would like is the same idea.
“One-Coin Loophole” – Rubin says she learned about this one in Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. “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 story illustrates a paradox. “Often when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless; yet at the same time, the sum of those actions is very meaningful.” This idea is also illustrated by the power of small steps to create profound change. Or, as Marilyn Paul says in It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, “Small steps actually take lead to more progress that great steps that never happen.”
What small step could be the beginning of a habit you’d like to develop?
Rubin closes this chapter by proposing that “The habit of the habit is more important than the habit itself…by catching ourselves in the act of invoking a loophole, we give ourselves an opportunity to reject it, and stick to the habits that we want to foster.”