When I’m married, then I won’t be lonely. When I feel ready , then I’ll start. When I’m more confident, then I’ll say what I really think. When I lose weight, then I’ll feel good about my body. When I get a publishing deal, then I’ll know I’m a good writer. When I’m adult, I’ll know what I’m doing.
Any of these sound familiar? As humans we often fall into this kind of when/then thinking. I know I certainly do. Even knowing to watch for it, I still find it creeping into my thought patterns. Although these kinds of statements are about things we want, when/then thinking can actually keep us from having those things in the present.
The things we want are always in the future.
When we aren’t completely satisfied with the way things currently are, it’s natural to look forward to something we think will bring improvement. But when we attach our happiness, our success, our worthiness to something that might happen in the future it remains just beyond our reach.
For example, I might think when I make a little more money, then I won’t have to worry any more. But what happens when I get a raise? Maybe my anxiety will subside, but more likely I’ll worry whether this raise is really enough. Maybe when I get the next raise…or the next promotion…or the new job? In this way we keep moving the goal and whatever it is we want stays in the realm of someday.
We put off testing things important to us.
Similarly, when we’re counting on something in the future to fix our problems we often avoid actually putting the solution to the test. I was interested in a job…and then put off applying for it for years. I told myself when I got the job, then I would be successful, financially comfortable, and certain about the future. Even though I wasn’t content where I was, it seemed less painful to stay and keep telling myself someday things would be different than to risk finding out the job wasn’t actually the solution I was making it out to be.
When I finally applied for my supposed dream job…I didn’t get it. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have fixed all my problems. Waiting to test the thing I wanted took away the urgency of trying anything else in the meantime. Which brings me to my next point…
We don’t take responsibility for ourselves in the present.
When we’re looking to something in the future to save us from our current problems, there’s no reason for us to do anything about them right now. A common example of this is putting things off for the magical day we have more time. When I’m not so busy, then I’ll plan meals ahead of time. When life gets back to normal, then I’ll figure out a productive schedule for my days. When I have more time, then I’ll exercise more.
The problem arises when we use our hope of a better future as an excuse to not do anything in the present. If we assume we’ll eventually have enough time for all the things we want to do or our schedule will become more manageable, then there’s no reason to take a hard look at our calendar and ask whether we want to keep choosing all those commitments. There’s no reason to examine our priorities or question whether time is really the only thing getting in the way of what we say we want to do.
We hand over control of our lives to other people and external circumstances.
If we’re not taking responsibility for ourselves, likely we’re looking externally instead. When she apologizes, then I can start to heal. When he approves of my decision, then I’ll know I’m doing the right thing. When I win the lottery, then I can finally quit the job I hate.
Honestly, the other person might never do the thing we hope for. Our life circumstances will likely never fall neatly into place on their own. Waiting for something outside our control keeps us stuck. Instead, we can choose to pursue healing, to make decisions right for us, to create the kind of life we want to be living.
We don’t see what we have or what we can do in the present.
It’s easy to overlook what’s good about right now when we’re looking ahead to when things will hopefully be better. We miss the lessons we can learn from what’s right in front of us.
There is of course nothing wrong with hopes and dreams. Setting goals and planning ahead can be very good things. But there’s a big difference between building your future and waiting for it. “Someday” may never come.
One way I’ve found to bring myself back to the present is to ask questions. Here are a few possibilities. I’d love to hear…what questions help bring you back from someday to today? Please share in the comments!
What did I notice today?
What am I grateful for today?
What did I learn today?
When did I feel loved today?
How was I loyal to my dreams today?
What is something I want in the future and what’s a small step I can take toward it today?
What is something I’m waiting for and how can I test it now?