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Because of my interest in habits, I read a lot of memoirs of addiction. I don’t tackle addiction in Better Than Before, but still, I find that I get a lot of insights from these accounts.

I recently finished an excellent new memoir, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.

I was particularly interested to see how she used loopholes to justify her drinking.

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.
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We’re so good at thinking of loopholes! I’ve identified ten categories, in fact, and Hepola uses several of them as she justifies her drinking to herself.

I don’t want to sound unduly critical of Hepola, by identifying her loopholes. We all use them — we’re very ingenious when it comes to finding loopholes. Hepola’s memoir is thought-provoking and insightful, precisely because she’s so honest about her thoughts and actions.

Here are some examples of the loopholes she invokes:

— “Drinking on a plane is a line-item veto in the ‘never drink alone’ rulebook.” This doesn’t count loophole.

— “Everyone drinks alone on a plane.” Questionable assumption loophole. For instance, I’ve never had a drink on a plane in my life.

— “You’re allowed to drink alone while traveling. Who else could possibly join you? I loved drinking alone in distant bars.” Planning to fail loophole. Part of the fun of traveling, for Hepola, is feeling free to drink alone.

— “It would not be an overstatement to say this felt like the very point of existence. To savor each moment.” Fake self-actualization loophole.

— “It was my last night in Paris. I had to say yes.” This sounds like a combo of fake-self-actualization loophole and the tomorrow loophole.

— “I knew some speed bump of circumstance would come along and force me to change. I would get married, and then I would quit. I would have a baby, and then I would quit.” Tomorrow loophole.

— “It wasn’t fair that my once-alcoholic friend could reboot his life to include the occasional Miller Lite…and I had broken blood vessels around my eyes from vomiting in the morning…It isn’t fair!” Questionable assumption loophole.

 “Writers drink. It’s what we do.” Questionable assumption loophole.

 “Paris was the problem, not me.” Lack of control loophole.

Most of us have a favorite few loopholes. Mine? False choice loophole.

In the end, Hepola is able to reject the loopholes, change her habits, and quit drinking.

How about you? Do you have a favorite loophole, that you find yourself turning to most often?


Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than BeforeOn her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Rodion Kutsaev.