The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Strategy of Loophole-Spotting No. 1: False Choice Loophole

When we’re trying to form and keep habits, we often search...

falsechoiceI have a split life right now. Part of the time I’m focused on my new paperback Happier at Home (about how to be happier at home), and part of the time I’m focused on writing the forthcoming Before and After (about habit-formation).

Now I’m on book tour for Happier at Home, and I’m also starting a special series here on my site related to Before and After.

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In the book, I identify the twenty-two strategies that we can use to change our habits, such as the Strategy of Accountability, the Strategy of Convenience, the Strategy of Treats, etc.

Of all of them, perhaps my favorite strategy to study is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting — because the loopholes are so funny.

When we’re trying to form and keep habits, we often search — even unconsciously — for loopholes. We look for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we recognize this behavior, if we can catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps avoid employing the loophole, and improve our chances of keeping the habit.

This is tough, because there are so many kinds of loopholes. Ten kinds, in fact. So each day for the next two weeks, I’ll post about a category of loophole, to help with the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

Loophole Category #1: The False Choice Loophole

I must confess, this is the loophole-seeking strategy that’s most alluring to me. I pose two activities in opposition, as though I have to make an either/or decision, when in fact, the two aren’t necessarily in conflict. Here are some of the false choices I often argue to myself:

If I join that group, I won’t have any time with my daughters.

I haven’t been exercising. Too busy writing.

I don’t have time to work on my draft, I’ve got too many emails to answer.

If I go to sleep earlier, I won’t have any time to myself.

I’m so busy, I’ll make those appointments once things calm down.

Someone once said to me, “I can either enjoy life to the fullest, or eat lettuce and carrots for the rest of my life.” Are these really the only two alternatives?

Even outside the context of a habits, false choices often appear as a challenge to a happiness project.

I remind myself that whenever I’m inclined to think “Can I have this or that?” I should stop and ask, “Can I have this and that?” It’s surprising how often that’s possible. Is the habit that I want to foster really in conflict with my other values? Usually, if I’m honest with myself, it’s not.

How about you? Do you find yourself invoking the false choice loophole?

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Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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