IF and WHEN – Two Words That Can Kill Your Dreams

Quotation about a happy person from Hugh DownsTell me if you’ve ever felt this way: You have aspirations and goals that excite you but sometimes you feel stuck. Mired. Your feet are planted in cement. Instead of moving forward you’re glued in place. Some describe it as being unable to climb out of a rut.

That’s inertia. Regardless of the words each of us would select, I’m sure we agree that it’s uncomfortable and frustrating — and it holds us back from getting what we want.

Inertia Can Happen To Anyone

Feeling stuck has nothing to do with how smart you are or how motivated you are. It can literally happen to anyone. The trick is to check your thought patterns to see how you’re contributing. I’m a big fan of eliminating black and white thinking, but in this particular case there is no neutral. You’re either making it better or making it worse.

The Dark Side of IF and WHEN

IF and WHEN are powerful words used to set expectations and create limits. We tell our children they can have dessert when they finish their vegetables. We’ll go to the beach on Saturday if it doesn’t rain. Nothing wrong with those uses — but like anything with a little power, there is a dark side. IF and WHEN can be used to hold us back.

If I just had ________, I’d be happy.

If only he hadn’t __________.

If I were younger, employers would be more interested in hiring me.

If she ________, then I’ll _____________. Otherwise, I’m not saying anything.

I’ll look for a new job when I’ve lost weight.

I’ll treat her better when she learns to __________.

In the above examples, we’re using IF and WHEN to give ourselves permission to limit actions. We’re creating the potential to feel stuck and dissatisfied.

Reframe It To Move Forward

Can you identify IF and WHEN statements that have too much power over you? Try turning them around in your mind until something more positive surfaces.

Let’s play with the phrase about looking for a new job only after we’ve lost weight. If we really want a new position, is it possible that we’re scared about the whole job search process and we’re using our weight to delay the scary activities? Are we protecting ourselves from perceived future rejection? Taking sufficient time to list job skills and think about all the different employers and work environments where we’d enjoy employing those skills is one way to take power away from an unhelpful ‘when’ statement. Giving ourselves permission to accept that we won’t be selected for every position we apply for is another way to burst that black cloud.

What about the other example involving a job search — the one where ageism seems to be holding the person back from finding a good job? I can tell you from personal experience working with dozens of candidates over 60 that this one blinds a lot of people from the real reasons they’re not getting results. It can become an easy out. I’m not saying ageism doesn’t exist — what I’m saying is deciding we’re not getting what we want because of outside forces we can’t control, will prevent us from thoroughly examining the elements that are completely within our control.

The words 'If' and 'When' portrayed as a dark rain cloudSo what about you? Got any IFs or WHENs that need to go?

Tweet this —> Two Words That Can Kill Your Dreams


12 Replies to “IF and WHEN – Two Words That Can Kill Your Dreams”

    1. Thank you, Mohamed. And I apologize for not responding right away. This one got away from me! I appreciate your readership – I hope you will find more articles here in the future that interest you as much.


  1. Hello Susan.
    Wow! I really like this week’s post. I love it when a writer acknowledges, affirms and then leads the reader. In NLP we call that “Pace & Lead”. My favorite part: “Inertia Can Happen To Anyone. Feeling stuck has nothing to do with how smart you are or how motivated you are. It can literally happen to anyone. ” -Peace & Blessings! -Phyllis


  2. The title of your post really grabbed me – it can be a great reminder just to say over and over: “IF and WHEN can kill your dreams!” When I was younger I had a lot of “if” and “when” obstacles, but there’s something about getting older that for me really brought into focus that I couldn’t afford those IFs and WHENs. I had to live with NOW! This was a good post for me to check to make sure I wasn’t letting those little words in to my thinking.


  3. “If only” is a thought that victimizes the person as a way to find a excuse instead of finding the courage to take responsibility for one’s own actions and its consequences. Easy to say it, and something to work on daily, to develop self awareness and find ways for self improvement. I like the way you challenge us to reframe it, instead of get rid of. It is an approach that’s more practical to accept than the traditional suggestion to drop it or forget about it. In other words a soft approach telling keep the thought, but reshape it into a positive action. You are a kind, sensitive leader.


    1. Delmy,

      Thank you for the kind words. They are much appreciated. I agree that it takes courage to look for those opportunities to step up and change the way we view things.

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


  4. The what is syndrome! I know that only to well and here is a verse from my poem emergings: The anguish of what if this or maybe that, procrastination over which path to take, two steps forward, one back round and round ………..
    Great post Susan thank you


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