I’m doing a series related to my forthcoming book on habit-formation, Before and After. There, I identify the twenty-one strategies that we can use to change our habits. (If you want to be notified when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)
In this series, I focus 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. I’ve written here about the Planning to Fail loophole.
The Tomorrow Loophole
This loophole depends on “tomorrow logic.” Now doesn’t matter much, because we’re going to follow good habits tomorrow.
It doesn’t matter what I eat now, because I’m starting a diet tomorrow. (Research shows that people who plan to start dieting tomorrow tend to over-eat today.)
I’m definitely on track to finish my paper on time, because starting tomorrow, I’m really going to buckle down.
I’ll be really frugal in January so it doesn’t matter if I spend too much in December.
Today I’m eating whatever I want, but tomorrow I’ll be “good.” (People tend to self-regulate day-by-day, but everything counts.)
Tomorrow logic undermines good habits by making it easy to deny that our actions clash with our intentions.
It’s quite pleasant to think about how virtuous we’ll be, tomorrow.
In an argument worthy of the White Queen — who told Alice “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today” — we tell ourselves, absolutely, I’m committed to exercise, and I will exercise tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Just not today.
Postponing a start may also lead to the unhelpful phenomenon of the “last hurrah.” “I’m starting my diet on Monday, so I deserve to eat anything I want until then.” “After the holidays, I’m going to cut way back on spending, so I should take advantage of the sales now.”
In the coverage of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, I read an article that said that one of the most dangerous times for heroin addicts is right before they go into rehab. That’s the last hurrah too, I guessed.
Some people even fool themselves into thinking that extreme indulgence now will give them more self-control when the magic future day arrives. But eating a giant bowl of ice cream today doesn’t make it any easier to resist tomorrow, and spending an entire day watching TV doesn’t make a person feel more like working the next morning.
I have a fantasy of myself in the future: Future-Gretchen will have more time and more energy for tasks that don’t interest Now-Gretchen. Chores that I keep putting off — like turning notes into actual writing or getting regular doctors’ check-ups — will be easy for Future-Gretchen. (If you have trouble with procrastination, here are 7 tips to help conquer it.)
Alas, there is no Future-Gretchen, only Now-Gretchen.
How about you? Do you find yourself promising that you’ll follow that habit — tomorrow?
Of the 21 strategies that I discuss in my forthcoming habits book, the funniest is definitely the chapter on Loophole-Spotting. I love loopholes! If you want to be notified when the book goes on sale, sign up here.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. She writes about happiness and habit-formation (the subject of her next book, Before and After) at gretchenrubin.com. Follow her here by clicking the yellow FOLLOW button, on Twitter, @gretchenrubin, on Facebook, facebook.com/GretchenRubin.
(Photo: Mona Hura, Flickr)