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Trying to Keep a Resolution? Look Out for This Common Trap

fruit_loops2Many of us make resolutions — at the New Year, and throughout the year. For the most part, these resolutions involve habits; we want to make or break some important habit (read the Essential Seven here).

To my surprise, as I was writing Better Than Before, I learned that while it’s hard to change habits, it’s also surprisingly easy to change habits.  The secret is to know how to set yourself up for success.

For instance, one important way to set yourself up for success is to imagine how you might fail. What are the temptations, the stumbling blocks? When have you struggled in the past?

Also, it’s important to be very wary of loopholes. When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, 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 reject them.

Now, we’re all adults, and we can always mindfully decide to make an exception to our good habits. (Read here about my friend’s hilarious pie policy.) But that’s not what a loophole is. A loophole is a way to avoid making an exception, to get a free pass or an excuse. But in the end, the loophole just ends up weakening, or perhaps ending, the habit we’re trying to create.

I’ve posted about each of the ten categories. If you want easily to scroll through them all, start at #10, because each post includes a link to the previous day.

  1. False choice loophole. “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” — this is one I often use, myself. I can’t go to the dentist; too busy writing.
  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.” “I can bust the budget in December, because I’ll be so frugal in January.”
  4. Lack of control loophole. “I can’t help myself”; “They served donuts at the meeting.”
  5. Planning to fail loophole. “I’m going to buy some scotch in case anyone stops by.”
  6. “This doesn’t count” loophole. “I’m on vacation”: “I’m sick”; or “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?”

Which one is most popular, do you think? 1, 2, and 3 are very popular. Also 4. And 5 is more common that I first thought. Also 6, 7 of course, 8 comes up a lot, 9, and also 10. Look at that. They’re all popular!

As Benjamin Franklin wryly commented 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.” We can almost always find a reason, a loophole, that excuses us from following a habit. But when we spot the loophole, we can perhaps reject the desire to let ourselves off the hook.

What loophole do you invoke most often, to get yourself out of a habit that you’re trying to keep?

P.S. Do you get the pun in this post’s illustration? I had fun with that.

Trying to Keep a Resolution? Look Out for This Common Trap


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). Trying to Keep a Resolution? Look Out for This Common Trap. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/trying-to-keep-a-resolution-look-out-for-this-common-trap/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.