I’m working on Better Than Before, a book about how we can change our habits—the most fascinating subject ever. One thorny question that I tackle is: How can we make an exception to a good habit, without disrupting that good habit altogether? After all, sometimes we do want to break a habit—to take advantage of a rare opportunity, say, or to celebrate.
An effective safeguard for that situation is the planned exception, which protects us against impulsive decisions. 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.
When we plan an exception we still feel in control—we’re not breaking a habit willy-nilly, or invoking one of the 10 categories of loopholes at the last minute to give ourselves excuses. And we feel happier when we feel in control of ourselves and our actions.
Exceptions work best when they’re limited, or have a built-in cutoff point. Recently, a friend told me how he’d used a planned exception mindfully to depart from his usual habit of eating only low-carb foods. Many people tell themselves, “I’m on vacation, I should treat myself, I deserve it, I can’t resist these pies, you only live once," etc. And then they completely abandon their good eating habits. My friend wanted to indulge, but in a limited way.
“When I was staying in a cabin in Montana, I ate almost all my meals at a restaurant that was famous for its pies,” he told me. “People came for miles to get these pies. Before I left New York City, I decided what my pie policy would be.”
That policy? One slice at every meal. When he explained his thinking, I was struck by how many good ideas he combined.
Note: my friend is an Abstainer, and this approach worked for him. I’ve found that many Abstainers are mostly Abstainers; yes, they do better when they abstain than when they try to indulge in moderation, but every once in a while, they indulge.
By contrast, I’m a total Abstainer. You wouldn’t believe what I’m abstaining from these days. (For a hint, read here and here.) But to my surprise, I’ve come to realize that I’m a very unusual type, a real extreme personality. (This, by the way, was a surprise to no one but me.)
It’s a Secret of Adulthood for Habits: If we want ourselves to keep going, sometimes we need to allow ourselves to stop. Have you found ways to keep your good habits, mostly, and yet take breaks occasionally?
Also ... I'm thrilled to be one of fewer than 500 people invited to post as an "Influencer" on LinkedIn, where I'm one of the Top 10 Influencers. Crazy! Me, Bill Gates, and Jack Welch. You can follow me there, here. I just posted a piece that got a huge numbers of readers—more than 900,000, last time I checked—which is very exciting. See if you can guess what I wrote about...look here. Or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, @gretchenrubin. Exciting: I found out that The Happiness Project is in the category of "Most Popular" on the subscription book service, Oyster, for this year. Terrific!
Other posts you might be interested in...