“When I’ve lost weight I will start taking better care of myself.” “When I have reached goal x I will be happy.” “When I find that perfect lover I will be complete.” “When I graduate, I will be confident enough to speak up.” “When I get more followers/friends/money, I will be my true authentic self.”
If any of this sounds familiar to you and you are stuck in this way of thinking, I urge you to read on. Because this mentality is so extremely toxic, that I wish to delete it from everyone’s brain. I call this phenomena “When-Then thinking” and it can show itself in many different forms. From conditions you set for yourself to be your true self, to when to be happy or when to finally speak up and say that you actually don’t like sugar in your tea, damnit!
Real or just a thought?
These conditions can feel very real and can seem like actual blockages in your life, but notice how it’s only a thought. And no, I am not talking about needing money to buy a home, that is very real. But needing money to buy a home is not the same thing as needing money to buy a home to be happy. This is when-then thinking. Thinking you need to lose weight to love yourself is surely just thought. It is not real, it is not written down somewhere and it’s definitely not law! (thank goodness!) Sure you might still want to get fit and healthy, but in actuality that has nothing to do with loving yourself. Oh wait, I can hear you thinking “Well in fact it does, because once I loose weight I’ll be happier with what I see in the mirror and then I can accept myself!”. Well, can you? How do you know? How do you know you won’t just find something else to fix? You get fit and healthy and before you know it you’re onto the next issue; Your skin, your job, your lover. Things will never be perfect and it is definitely not guaranteed that the thing you think you need right now will help you achieve the state you’re after at all.
The same goes for not feeling confident enough to be yourself, to speak up about things you ought to be important. When you were 14, didn’t you think that once you’d be 20 you’d feel much more capable and much more ready to speak your truth? A lot of people always think the goodie they’re after is in the future. “Well, once I graduate college I’ll be ready to speak my truth.” But once they do they already managed to convince themselves otherwise; “You know, once I’m manager of my company I’ll be able to speak my truth around here.” And it goes on and on. The future is always just that. The future. A fairyland place that doesn’t actually exists where all the feelings we strive for live.
Let’s skip it
So let’s just skip that ladder of “When-Then thinking” and go straight to the root of the problem. You will never get a lasting feeling or mindset as a by-product of something else. You will never feel happy, just because you got money to buy a home. You will never love yourself, just because you lost some weight. You will never be your most authentic self if you rely on outside approval. You’ll never reach the feeling you’re after. You will never reach the “safe zone”. Because there is no “safe zone” where good feelings are guaranteed, where you get to be who you want without consequences or criticism, where you will love yourself fully. The “safe zone” is, just like the future, an illusion. Spend your life trying to get hold of an illusion if you please to do so, but I’d rather get what I truly want.
So what do we truly want? A good-looking body is of course a very nice thing to have, but what we really want is health and self-acceptance. Reaching your goals in life is an amazing achievement and can bring a lot of joy, but letting your happiness depend on it?
We need to realise that the timing is never right and that the future and the safe zone are illusions. This is a great first step. Another reason why when-then thinking is so toxic is because it usually get things the wrong way. Notice the difference between “When I lose some weight, then I will love my body” versus “When I love my body, then I will get to a healthy weight”. Which one seems more reasonable? Surely that is the second statement. The same goes for “When I am confident, then I will be my authentic self” versus “When I am my authentic self, then I will become more confident”. You see where I’m getting at?
So what’s next?
So how can we change our when-then thinking? Well, the “how’s” depend on the specific thought you’re having, but in general the awareness of your specific when-then thought is a great starting point. It will usually point you towards something to work on. Want to be more confident so you can be your authentic self? How about practising being more authentic even when you don’t feel confident & diving deep within yourself to discover why insecurity comes up when it does. Want to lose weight so that you can finally love your body? How about trying to love your body right now & learning to take more loving actions towards it when it comes to your diet and movement without coming from a place of disgust or insecurity.
Sounds more difficult than following the when-then thought? Oh well yes, but I never said it was easy. For some of us it is a daily practice. I surely don’t love my body each and every day. I still get insecure to be my authentic self sometimes. But practice makes perfect and not practicing means falling back into the illusion again and there we are doomed to fail. So practice. Fall down, get frustrated, get back on track and practice some more.