Losing the When-Then Mentality

Whenever a new year comes around, it’s always a great time for reflection - thinking about what we want for our lives, what we want to accomplish, the person we want to be, the goals we want to reach, and the dreams we want to pursue. Good for us, right?


But often, almost as soon as we start to think about these callings, our minds are flooded with reasons why it just won’t work, why you can’t do it, why it’s not realistic, why now isn’t the best time, why another time will be perfect.

I call this the “When-Then” mentality, and it typically goes something like this… “When X happens, then Y can happen.” You can probably fill in the blanks pretty easily.

When my kids are grown, then I can travel.

When I’ve saved more money, then I’ll start a business.

When I have more time, then I’ll write that book.

When work slows down…

When I lose weight…

Sounding familiar?

The problem, of course, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because that’s just how it works. Our minds are powerful things, and whatever we believe to be true usually has a way of being so. It doesn’t matter whether your dream is to own a business, become an active voice for a cause, travel the world, or to just become more organized or learn calligraphy. If you believe you can’t do it, you probably won’t… in fact, you probably won’t even try.

Look, I don’t mean to be hard on you. Because the truth is, we all know that our everyday lives can be formidable opponents to our calling and dreams. Trust me… I’m a mom who works full time. I get it. I get it so much. I have pushed things to the back burner with the best of them. I could back burner things in the olympics.

Pursuing Our Purpose

But each of us was created to fulfill a purpose, and no matter how much you push that purpose down or to the back burner, the deep longing never seems to quiet. And it becomes a cycle - the urge to pursue a passion becomes strong and then here come the reasons to not do it right now.

And that’s the thing about settling into the When/Then mentality. It is satan’s most successful tactic in our lives. I firmly believe that in the arsenal of tools he uses against us, getting us to waste time is often the most effective. When we waste time, our purpose is missed, little by little, a day at a time. And he uses it slyly, so he masks wasted time beneath the busyness of our everyday lives and makes it seem unavoidable. And because he makes the things we waste time with seem inherently good, he makes that wasted time feel noble.

Now, don’t mistake me, I’m not saying that raising your kids or having a job or whatever is keeping you from pursuing your passion AREN’T noble things. They absolutely are. The distinction I’m trying to make is that satan uses those things against us, and leads us to believe that if we are pursuing those things, we simply don’t have the time or ability to pursue anything else. He makes it increasingly easy for us to miss things God has for us by leading us to believe that God has only made a way for us to pursue one thing at a time.

Ditching the “When”

So what are we to do? How do we unstick ourselves from this when/then conundrum and start to pursue the dreams God has put in our hearts when our daily lives DO seem so packed?

What I’ve come to understand is that the best way to beat it is to forget for a bit about the “when” and start thinking about the “then”. Whatever your “then” is… whatever thing you’ve been putting on hold for another time because it seems unrealistic or out of reach… I’d be willing to bet that there is at least a small part of it that doesn’t depend on “when” at all.

Set Small Goals

So here’s my challenge to you:

Think about how you can change “then” to now. It could mean taking a big leap, but it absolutely doesn’t have to. It could mean carving out ten minutes each day or even each week to take a step toward something. Just one small step, one small thing you can do now.

If you can’t pick up and travel the world today because you don’t have the money or you’ve got small kids, then start by traveling someplace easier, cheaper or closer. Create travel and adventure where you are, even if for a day or afternoon.

If you’ve been holding off writing because you don’t have the time to dedicate to it, then commit to 10 minutes of writing a day or 30 minutes a week… whatever you can manage (something a friend recently challenged me to do, and here I am).

If you’ve been wanting to work with a non-profit or volunteer… carve out an hour a month to go volunteer, email or call them and find something they need that you can donate, or donate a skill you have where they may be short-handed.

Go Bigger

Once you’ve started to carve out time and commit to pursuing what you’ve had on hold, then double down on that plan. When you’ve shown yourself that it doesn’t take huge risks or leaps or sacrifices to pursue a dream, it becomes a lot easier to think of ways to keep pursuing them.

Create a longer-term plan for yourself, create a timeline if you want, and think about how you want to set bigger goals and pursue your passion and your purpose in bigger and bigger ways.

Whatever You Do… Start Now

You don’t have to wipe out your savings, quit your job, or sell your house. Life is real and it has real obligations and responsibilities. But you are a unique person created with a unique purpose. Don’t let the rush and stress of life take away from that purpose.

Whatever your “then” is, that dream you’ve had on hold for a “when”, find even the smallest way to pursue it… now.

Want to share your “then”? Comment and let me know how you’re planning to nix the “when”.