In my forthcoming book on habit-formation, Before and After, I identify the strategies we can use to change our habits.
One focus is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting. Loopholes matter because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes. 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.
I love writing about loopholes, they’re so funny.
For instance, the Tomorrow Loophole and the Questionable Assumption Loophole.
The Concern for Others Loophole.
We use this loophole to tell ourselves that we’re acting out of consideration for others and making generous, unselfish decisions. Or, more strategically, we decide we must do something in order to fit in to a social situation. Maybe we do — and maybe we don’t.
It will hurt my girlfriend’s feelings if I get up early to write.
I’m not buying this junk food for me, I have to keep it around for others.
So many people need me, there’s no time to focus on my own health.
It would be rude to go to a friend’s birthday party and not eat a piece of birthday cake.
I don’t want to seem holier-than-thou.
Other people’s feelings will be hurt if I don’t partake.
I can’t ask my partner to stay with the kids while I go to class.
At a business dinner, if everyone is drinking, it would seem weird if I didn’t drink. (Somewhat to my surprise, this loophole comes up a lot with drinking. Teenagers aren’t the only ones to feel peer pressure to drink, it seems.)
Changing my schedule would inconvenience other people.
This particular loophole doesn’t appeal to me, because I — for better and sometimes certainly for worse — am not much bothered by what other people think of my (some very peculiar) habits. As I discovered when I took the Newcastle Personality Assessor that measures personality according to the Big Five model (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, or OCEAN), for a woman I score “low” on agreeableness, which measures a person’s tendency to be compassionate and cooperative and to value getting along harmoniously with others.
I suspect that my low agreeableness accounts for my willingness to appear fussy or to be out of step in social situations. Also, in all modesty, my lack of concern stems from modesty: I just can’t imagine that others are paying much attention to me.
For instance, I more or less gave up drinking, and that decision never makes me feel uncomfortable.
But for some people, I’ve discovered, this loophole is a major challenge. Relationships are a key to happiness, and if a particular habit makes you feel very awkward about being out of sync in a social situation, or you worry that you’re hurting other people’s feelings or making them feel uncomfortable, this is a real factor in the formation of a habit.
By identifying the loophole, you can identify possible solutions. “Everyone else is ordering a drink, so I’ll order a glass of wine, but I won’t drink it.” “My grandmother gets upset if I don’t take seconds, so I’ll take a very small portion the first time, so she sees me go back for more.”
Sidenote: when you’re forming a new habit that feels awkward to others, give them time to adjust. Any change feels awkward at first. But if you keep starting and stopping, no gets used to a new pattern. For instance, a friend wanted to go for a run on weekend mornings, but her family complained that she wasn’t around to get the day started — so she immediately stopped. She started again, and stuck to it, and after the first few weekends went by, everyone got used to starting the day on their own.
Do you find yourself invoking a heed for others — to the detriment of your own habits? In what situations?
Habits — the most fascinating subject ever. (I think that about every book I write.) To be notified when my book on habit-formation goes on sale, sign up here.
linkedin.com | March 28
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home.