When as the last time you had a thought that started with the phrase “well when I”? Maybe it wasn’t that exact phrase. Maybe it could’ve been “once I’m…” or “I can’t because…” or “not right now, but eventually I’ll…”. Was it when a friend asked if you were ready to start dating? When your coworker asked if you applied for that promotion? When you were looking at a bathing suit online? What these instances have in common is that they were actively putting off starting an aspect of your life. If we don’t feel confident in our skin, putting off change can keep us feeling comfortable and safe. Our current self doesn’t have to face a potentially anxiety inducing situation. Instead our later, better, “perfect” self will deal with it. But at what cost? Let’s break down what “well when I” really means, and why it’s more harmful than helpful in the long run.
Why Do We Say “Well When I”?
Saying “well when I” protects our emotions from two things:
First, we don’t have to face the scary thing right now. Whether it’s putting ourselves out there emotionally or physically, we don’t have the confidence in who we are at this moment to take that leap. Or worse, we don’t think we are deserving as we are now of the potential good that could come from the change. There is something about the way that we are right now that our mind is telling us makes us less worthy, less valuable. But are we less valuable? If your boss gained ten pounds, would you stop respecting their authority in the workplace? If your partner lost a bit of muscle tone, would you stop loving them? If your child was a pant size or two bigger, would you love them any less? Or tell them they were unattractive in their clothing? Then why are we less worthy or less beautiful in this moment than we may be 15 pounds lighter or a few pant sizes smaller?
Second, we don’t have to fully quit on the goal or idea in the future. We aren’t giving up on our careers, love life or body goal, we’re just not “there” yet. We can claim that the version of ourselves we are now isn’t our real selves, but instead just a temporary version of ourselves. We don’t have to embrace the part of ourselves that we are insecure about because they won’t always be there. We don’t have to find a way to be confident in our skin because one day we will be “perfect”. But that leads to the next question: when will we hit that point of worthiness?
When Do We Get to Stop Using “Well When I”?
Often this phrase is followed by an ideal. “Well when I’m at my goal weight”, or “well when I fit in my jeans from high school”, or “well when I finish fill in the blank fad diet” then I’ll start living my life and taking steps towards my goals and happiness that don’t have to do with my body. But, are these body goals achievable and healthy? And what happens if we meet the goal but still don’t feel confident enough to take the leap? Also, does that goal actually indicate that we are somehow a better and more deserving person? If we put off dating until we are a certain size, would we actually find love or someone who is infatuated with our waist size? If our job is dependent on our jean size, is that a job we actually want and can sustain? Or will we just find a new flaw to latch on to so that we don’t have to face our fear that we may fail? The truth is, until we address the emotional and mental source of the insecurity that had us avoiding putting ourselves out there in the first place we will never stop finding excuses or reasons that we are undeserving of happiness and never attempt to take a leap.
Facing Potential Failure
First off, I don’t like the word failure but I can’t think of a more universal term. Because not achieving a lot of the things we’re fearing doesn’t mean failure, it just means our path to happiness changes. First date didn’t go well? Ok, that wasn’t your person and you have to meet a few more new people. Someone else got the job you wanted? Ok, you stay at your current position a little longer and keep looking for other opportunities that may be a better fit. The dress from ten years ago you were hoping to wear didn’t fit? Ok, what are the options that feel more comfortable and compliment your body better. None of these alternatives are failure, it is just a somewhat different reality than you had been planning on or hoping for. But if we keep using our “well when I” excuses, we’ll be stuck in a stagnant state speaking negatively to ourselves, convincing ourselves that we are undeserving as we are. And what if we don’t fail? What if we wear the bikini to the beach and have a great day with our family and friends? What if we go on that date and meet someone who adds to our happiness? What if we nail the interview and get the job? Is that so bad? Don’t we deserve to feel joys big and small?
Taking that First Step
The first step to breaking the “well when I” mindset is to identify when these thoughts occur and what it is about ourselves that we are using as a reason to hold back. For each person it may be different. For some it may be their weight. For some it may be how their weight is distributed. For some it may be their ability to control themselves around food. For others it may be something not weight or food related, or something they cannot quite put their finger on yet. Often the insecurity that comes to mind easiest isn’t what is actually holding us back, but instead the surface level insecurity something that is easier to address than a deeper insecurity that it is covering.
Once we identify the insecurity, we have to face it and break it down. This takes time, work, patience and resilience. There will be set backs that may seem like failure but they aren’t, they’re being a human being. It took a long time to hardwire our brains to put so much value on this aspect of ourselves that it grew to a large insecurity, so it will take a while to rewire our brains to not immediately focus on it whenever we have to face ourselves or put ourselves out there to be potentially judged by others. For many of us, this will take some professional assistance as well as the support of those around us. Working with a professional who is trained to help you face these insecurities and develop a healthy relationship with food and your body can build a lasting change in how you treat yourself.