If/Then Statements and Their Lasting Impact

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Very often in life, we set stipulations for ourselves before we can or will begin a new task, hobby, challenge or endeavor. Are these stipulations, often in the form of if/then statements, helpful or just procrastination tactics?

For the past two years, it has been impossible to avoid the animosity shared between Democratic and Republican supporters.

Unfortunately, friendships have been lost, holiday dinners have been battlefields, verbal fights have escalated and news ratings have soared. Political discussions during coffee breaks, at restaurants and at sporting events seem to dominate other topics.

Many everyday citizens and pundits eagerly waited for the midterm elections, which have come and gone. The expectation was that if more people voted, justice would occur.

But many experts believe the split decision that occurred resulted in both elation and disappointment.

At the same time, it is expected that the conciliatory statements expressed by both parties are momentary and that the verbal sparing and intense emotions will continue. The belief that “if changes happened, then life would be better” did not result. It would most likely be better to celebrate the positive gains that have resulted and accept the reality of those that have not occurred.

If/then statements affect many different areas of our lives.

One area is clearly health and fitness. When we experience a health scare, we may promise ourselves that we will live a healthy life, but that usually doesn’t end up being the case. We may say that we will start an exercise program after the holidays, when we finish a big project or when we have a friend to accompany us to the gym. The list may go on. It is hard to change and engage in health and fitness changes.

One step at time is usually the best motto in approaching areas of life that are challenging and not always appealing. These if/then statements are often barriers to progress in our lives.

Chronic health sufferers often delay getting involved in new endeavors due to their physical and emotional pain. If/then statements often rule their lives. It is difficult for chronic pain sufferers to think about participating in enjoyable activities. They may say, “If the pain subsides, then I will be able to exercise, go shopping, attend a party, etc.”

Even though it is very challenging, it is very important for the chronic pain sufferer to find ways to modify and integrate previously enjoyed activities into their lives. If playing a sport is not possible, then maybe consider chair yoga, attending a sporting activity or watching your favorite team. Finding ways to socialize with others, which may be challenging, is important. Inviting friends to your home, using social media and talking on the phone may be helpful.

Another form of if/then behavior is when individuals avoid socializing due to poor self image. He or she may feel too heavy to date. At the same time, an individual may be embarrassed about their job or career and may avoid family or social functions due to fear of questions.

As humans, it is not unusual to compare ourselves to others. We may think, “If I am married, then I would attend the party; if I had a child, then I would be happy; if I had a better job, then I would be respected.” In life there is always another step to conquer. It is hard to accept ourselves as we are and not make comparisons.

No matter if we are discussing politics, health and fitness, chronic health or self-esteem, if/then statements exist in our thought process. It is only natural when thinking about changes that feelings of anxiety may occur.

We need to challenge these statements by first recognizing their occurrences. Then take that first step, which is often the hardest, in starting something new and making a change in our life. You will be happy that you did. 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.

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