Saturday, September 13, 2014


by Mary Kennedy 

I call it the "When-Then" syndrome and it affects people from all walks of life. How do I know this? I see it in my clients (I'm a clinical psychologist), I see it in my friends and worst of all, I see it in myself!

Here's how the When-Then syndrome works. Think of a goal, something you really want to accomplish. But instead of setting a reasonable deadline (a goal without a deadline is just a fantasy, by the way. Something nice to dream about, but it will never happen.)

Now, you're all excited about accomplishing this goal. But...instead of getting to work on it right away, you pick another event (way off in the hazy future) and you decide that you can't get started on your goal until the other event takes place. It's completely irrational, but you cling to the idea anway.

For example, are you guilty of using any of the When-Then's listed below?
When I lose ten pounds, then I'll buy a bathing suit. Reality check. You may never lose those ten pounds or at least not in the forseeable future. What are you going to do, avoid the beach altogether? You don't have to have a body like a Victoria's Secret model to have a good time at the shore.
When things slow down at work, then 'll get started on an exercise program. Trust me, things may never slow down at work, in fact, they may get even more busy. Reality check. Time is ticking by, you are more out of shape than ever with no realistic plans to do anything about it.

When the kids are back to school, then I'll have some time to myself and I can organize the closets. When the kids are back to school and the house is quiet, you may have no desire to clean the closets! You may relish the time to yourself and prefer to enjoy a good book. (preferably a cozy mystery). Reality check. There is never an ideal time to clean closets. Just pencil it in on the calendar and do it!                

When I move, then I can really get started on my novel. Reality check. This is called "the geographical solution" in psych circles. Some people have the mistaken notion that their lives will instantly get better if they move to a different city. Reality check. Life doesn't work that way. Remember that line in the Billy Joel song, "Piano Man." The narrator says, "I know I could be a movie star if I just could get out of this place." If years go by and you are still clinging to the belief that everything will be different if you move, trust me, it won't. People are like turtles, we bring our shells with us.
When I find the right person to make me happy, then my sadness and crying spells will disappear. This is probably the most insidious "When- Then" of all because it is always a mistake to entrust your happiness to another person. Happiness has to come from within, and if you feel hopelessly sad or depressed, please talk to a trusted friend or a licensed mental health professional. Reality check. You can learn to be happy on your own. It's not only advisable, it's essential. Seven out of ten women over the age of 65 live alone, and yes, most of them are happy!

Watch out for the "When-then's" in your conversation and in your self-talk. Nip them in the bud. Life is to be lived, right now, right here!! As Doris Day said in her famous song, "The future's not ours to see, que cera, que cera."
Mary Kennedy


Unknown said...

Very good points, Mary. I'm also guilty of the When-Then mentality. When I recognize it, I try to stop it - but I don't always recognize it for what it is right off. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, and we may never get to "Then".

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Hi Lynda, you accomplish an amazing amount in your life! I am in awe of what you do...don't worry about the "When-then" syndrome, you are probably accomplishing enough for three lifetimes, my friend.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

This is a very powerful post, Mary! Thanks so much. MJ (off to plan trip to France because if not now, when?)



Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Love it, MJ! We can start planning for Paris right now.... Then no matter what happen in Bookland, we can says, "We always had Paris."

Dru said...

Thanks Mary, this is a great post. I sometimes get suckered into the when-if, but now I'm at the stage where I do what I want and I don't care. I think we get this way is because of our need to compete with ourselves or subconsciously with others.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Dru, that is incredibly perceptive. I think you hit the nail on the head...I notice I seem to care less and less "what people think" as the years go by. . Thanks so much for stopping by!