The loopholes that help bad habits block happiness

Habits can make or break happiness, says Gretchen Rubin, the author of "The Happiness Project." Habits, she says, are "the invisible architecture of everyday life and a significant element of happiness."

The No. 1 habit change that people say makes them happier is to make their bed, says Rubin, whose book on habits, "Better Than Before," comes out next year. "It sounds silly, but people keep telling me this all the time."

Rubin says often the reasons why people fail — even at major efforts such as diet or exercise — is not a matter of willpower but a product of almost magical thinking, searching for and finding loopholes, those justifications that will excuse us from maintaining this particular habit in this particular situation.

But Rubin says that when we spot the loophole, we can try to reject the desire to let ourselves off the hook. "I know it's not easy. I use loopholes myself!"

Here are Rubin's top loopholes; perhaps they're familiar to you.

1. False choice loophole: "I can't do this because I'm so busy doing that."

2. Moral licensing loophole: "I've been so good, it's OK for me to do this."

3. Tomorrow loophole: "It's OK 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: "I'll just check my email quickly before I go to the gym … oops, I don't have time to go to the gym, after all." Or, "I'm not going to eat anything more tonight, but I'll go into the kitchen and look in the freezer. Just curious."

6. This-doesn't-count loophole: "I'm on vacation." "I'm sick." "It's the weekend."

7. Questionable-assumption loophole: "It's not a proper dinner without wine." Or, "It's more fun to play tennis than go to the gym. I can wait."

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-time loophole: "What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?"

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