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Are You Good at Making Excuses?

ExcusesdrawerI was laughing as I read this piece from the satire magazine, The Onion: “Personal Trainer Impressed by Man’s Improved Excuses.” It purports to be an interview with a personal trainer who’s impressed by one of his clients — a guy who has made amazing improvements in the sophistication of the excuses he’s giving for not working out.

I love that the Onion article highlights the point that even if a person’s workouts aren’t improving, he might be improving his loophole-seeking.

“Acknowledging that the progress made in such a short time was remarkable…[the personal trainer said] he is very impressed by the improvement in both the strength and consistency of his client’s excuses … ‘A few months ago he had really weak pretenses for not sticking to a workout plan, but he’s put in a lot of effort and now he’s sporting much more robust and powerful justifications … After seeing how he struggled early on with a simple excuse about traffic, it’s gratifying to see him push himself and dig deep for rationalizations that more believably exonerate him … [like] tackling a long, grueling story about how construction in his neighborhood aggravated his dust mite allergies.'”

I love this piece, because I love loopholes. Loopholes are so funny.  So imaginative, and so ingenious. We’re like cell phones searching for a signal — as we cast about for an appropriate loophole to let us off the hook.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote 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.”

When we want to find a loophole, we can always find a reason. Note: With a loophole, we’re not mindfully making an exception, but looking for a justification that excuses us from sticking to a particular habit.

If we can spot loopholes, we can perhaps resist invoking them, and do a better job of keeping a good habit.

The ten — yes, ten — categories of loopholes are:

1. The false choice loophole. i.e., “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. “The label says it’s healthy…”

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?”

What loophole do you invoke most often? I listed my own favorite as #1, the false choice loophole. But I think that others, such as #4 and #6, are more popular.

Are You Good at Making Excuses?


Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is the award-winning author of The Happiness Project, a #1 New York Times bestseller. You can also watch the one-minute book video. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central.


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APA Reference
Rubin, G. (2018). Are You Good at Making Excuses?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/are-you-good-at-making-excuses/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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