If/Then Thinking – That Spinning Mind Trap

We simply don’t have enough time.

Take that statement however you wish to apply it: this moment, today, this week, this month, this year, this decade, this lifetime.

But no matter how much time you attempt to claim, it will never be enough.

Time is that one resource we can feel pour off us in sheaves, never to return. If you’re like me, you chart the disappearance of your time like a climatologist might bemoan an ever-depleting snow-pack  – with that combination of dread and anxiety. We cup these moments in our hands, these moments where we can do what we’re passionate about or even these moments where we can just relax, take part in what those who study such things call ‘leisure time.’ But we rarely get there because of our To Do lists, our other responsibilities to home, work, family.

Worse. Not only do we not have enough time, but how we perceive our lack of time makes us more miserable.

Among the several observations and lessons learned discussed by Brigid Schulte in her recent and excellent Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, the one that resonated was how Schulte had to confront her prevalent if/then thinking.

You recognize this thinking: If I get the house clean, then I can write. If I get the grocery shopping done, then I can relax. If I can just get the kitchen clean, then I can spend time with my children. If I get a better job, then I can take up that mountain-climbing hobby.

I slip easily into this mind-trap, and doing so—this punishment/reward leveraging of my time—not only postpones (or ensures that I never get to) the then activity. Doing so also demeans the if activity. Being present in one’s life means being present in the mundane or unpleasant tasks just as it means being present in our more passionate, enlivened pursuits.

I work on this every day because I’m old and mentally slow and my feeble brain doesn’t work this way naturally. But, much like Schulte, in my better moments I’ve found that addressing this thinking has calmed me down, made me less anxious, and allowed me to identify areas of my life that are more fulfilling than I’d originally believed.

And on rarer days still, I almost feel like I’ve got enough time.