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ImageGretchen Rubin ( always bats a thousand in capturing my interest, but for me, this was a particularly interesting week. She was talking about the LOOPHOLES we create to get out of doing things to better ourselves. Like “I’ll start meditating tomorrow because I’m on deadline today.” Loophole.

The loophole that most fascinated me was the one that she described simply as this: “we set out to be wrecked.” No, not by drinking too many martinis. Although I guess that could be one way to wreck ourselves. But what I think she meant is how we manage –without even realizing it– to destroy any shred of possibility for  lasting change.

What a revelation it was to me that my constant nervous habit of turning on Spider Solitaire is not actually because I need to de-compress and self-soothe, as I had been telling myself, but rather as loophole maneuver to get me out of doing something better, because I “wreck” myself.  Because seriously, it’s just not that soothing to play spider solitaire for an hour. As soon as I realized that I was actually wrecking myself, I stopped.

As the week progressed after my revelation, I really got into identifying all my LOOPHOLES.  Rubin cites 10. I felt like an Olympic track star hurtling over all the obstacles I could now clearly identify and jump over cleanly – myriad loopholes I was using to keep myself from doing all the good things I want to be doing. Reading a book instead of cooking a healthy meal. Writing more instead of exercising. Enjoying my solitude instead of engaging with my family.

In fact, by the time the week was drawing to a close, I realized that I was effectively using a very extensive and creative array of loopholes to get out of a large number of explicit goals on a well-developed, but consistent, list.

And that’s when I started to kind of wilt. I was having trouble overcoming all the loopholes. And now, feeling even more guilty and inadequate for knowing the breadth and depth of loophole maneuvers I was employing. I was even worse than I thought.

I mean, my pattern was becoming starkly clear: don’t feel good about doing practically anything and feel guilty all the time for doing the wrong thing.

Somewhere between the extreme pleasure I derive from setting goals, replete with a wonderful vision for my life and tremendous hope about having the most meaningful and fulfilling life possible, and, on the other side of it, being able to enjoy that moment, is some kind of balance.

But how do you decide when to forego the pleasure of having wonderful goals and striving to meet them, in order to enjoy the time you’re spending not reaching your explicit goals? Do you set different goals? How do you know when to stop doing something that is not going to make you happy in the long run? How can you predict what you need or don’t need to feel balanced?

The answer to these questions, for me, is very clear: I have absolutely no idea.

But I can tell you this: I won two writing awards procrastinating from doing things I should have been doing instead, which means that maybe, “loopholes” are not always bad. And my guilt, which seems intuitively pointless, always calls me to my aspirations. Not to mention the fact that finding balance so that I can enjoy the “now” more might just be another goal that is going to drive me crazy. After all, is there anything harder than finding balance?

I am grateful to Gretchen Rubin though because at the very least, I really understand what I do now: drive myself to the breaking point and then, don’t meet my goals and feel guilty about it.

And maybe, now that I know what it is that I do, that’s fine too. I mean, after all, who cares? I basically get things done. I’d say I’m happy enough, if pressed to answer. I’m not actually wrecking myself too much. My family is cool with it.  In fact, maybe I can laugh at myself now, when that old familiar refrain comes in: “you’re wasting more time playing solitaire?” How’s that for enjoying the moment more!

So thank you, Gretchen Rubin, for helping me find my story. Perhaps, in the end, that is truly the best way not to drive ourselves into the ground, whether from overwork or guilt.

Here is the link to Gretchen Rubin’s loopholes: which ones move you?

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