Updated: Nov 3
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I want to talk about a kind of thinking that causes us to miss out on feeling good. It’s called “when-then” thinking or “future fulfillment fallacy”. It can manifest in many ways but here are some examples:
“I’ll be less stressed…
… when I’m done painting the bathroom.
… when my kids are out of diapers.
… when I get a new car.
… when I get a new job.
… when I’ve reorganized the cupboards.
… when I’ve finished this big project at work.
… when I get the response to a question I’ve asked.
… when I get a raise.
… when I’ve lost 15 pounds.
… when I’ve unpacked the last of these boxes.
... when I'm finally on vacation.
... when I'm back into a routine.
THEN, I can be less stressed. THEN, I can breathe. THEN, I can feel good.”
I'm not saying that we shouldn't have goals and dreams. It's healthy to have dreams. We NEED them.
However, those aspirations so often serve as a cop-out for feeling okay in the present moment.
With when-then thinking, we delay feeling okay to some “when” in the future and rob ourselves of the opportunity to feel okay NOW.
We tell ourselves we don’t have to try to feel good right now because the future achievement of our dreams will “do it” for us. "I'll just wait until XYZ happens and THEN I'll feel okay."
There are a few problems with this type of thinking.
It involves putting a hell of a lot of eggs in the “when” or “future” basket… and that “when” is not guaranteed.
Feeling okay or good is something that can only come from within. I know it’s tempting to imagine someone swooping in to fix our issues or to envision how a shift in our circumstances will lead to instant and enduring happiness… but it doesn’t work that way. Feeling good is a choice we GET to make in every moment.
When we achieve the “when” we’ve been dreaming about, we do feel a boost in joy, contentment, or peace, but that boost is usually short-lived. In fact, in relatively short order, we end up right back to however it was we were feeling before we attained our goal. So, it doesn't end up being the panacea we hoped it would be.
Don’t believe me? Try this. Take a moment to consider all the things in your life right now that you once dreamed of having: a partner, a baby, a grandchild, a new car, a specific job, retirement, more money, your own home, the ability to travel, etc.
You probably felt pretty good when you first achieved those things, right? But did it last? Did the achievement of any of those things prevent you from ever feeling stressed or not good again? No.
Again, this is because feeling good comes from within. It’s a choice.
I know it can be a bit shocking to realize how many of the things you once longed for you now take for granted. Don't beat yourself up. You're human. This is normal.
However, use what you may be feeling in response to this exercise as an opportunity to grow. Let it fuel your resolve to own feeling okay in the present moment. This isn't about repressing feelings. It's about honouring feelings of disappointment, fear, stress, and so on when they come up, but then choosing where you want to put your focus and how you want to feel in the "now" after you acknowledge those feelings.
It is possible to have goals and dreams and, at the same time, choose to feel good now.
You may be asking yourself "But how do I go about 'feeling good'? This sounds too simple!"
Like so many of the things in life that really matter, it is, in fact, simple. It's just not easy, thanks to our ingrained mindsets and habits.
When you make the choice to feel better, you are not merely saying to yourself "Okay, fine, I'm happy now! Ta-da!". Deciding to get back to feeling okay is about consciously choosing, over and over again, to bring your awareness back to an activity or perspective that makes you feel good. You can draw on your personal stress management toolbox to do this. Not sure what I mean by that? Check out my blog from a couple of weeks ago, "What's in your bucket?" for some ideas on what to include in your toolbox. Take a look at my "Pleasantly surprising information about stress" blog, too, for a different perspective on stress management. If you still have questions after that, send me a note; I'd be happy to chat.
The above is an excerpt from the first session in my The Balanced Banker presentation series. Many attendees of that session talk about how being given this perspective on "when-then thinking" – and, essentially, the permission to feel okay now – has helped them tremendously in managing the stress of their jobs.
Thank you for reading!
LORA Concepts Inc.
workplace engagement and well-being
p.s. The information, insight, and advice I share through my work is meant to exist alongside whatever else you may be doing to bolster your mental health, manage stress, or improve your well-being. Nothing I share is meant to replace directives or treatment plans provided by your doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional.