When. Not If.

Lately I’ve realized one of my own tendencies. I will often choose to say “if” when I talk about doing something—even when it’s about something that I’m planning on happening or truly want to see happen. This little two-letter word is a manifestation of a mindset I hope to change in myself. It conveys uncertainty. For anything you WANT to see happen or will WORK to see happen, you should say “when” not “if.” It’s surprising how interchangeable these words are.

I’ve often found myself saying to a friend, “If we catch up for lunch tomorrow….”and all too often it falls through or one of us never actually makes the phone call to make definite plans. I realized that by using “if” I unknowingly imply that my intentions to meet up with them aren’t definite. Had I said “When we catch up for lunch tomorrow…” it would have led to picking a place and time right then and I would have seen them for lunch the next day.

In an even more detrimental setting, saying to a future client, “If I work with you on this upcoming project…” allows an opening for it to fall through or doesn’t convey my excitement and willingness to work with them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth—and when your words no longer reflect your intentions, something has to change.

When I stop using “if” I put power behind my words and I set expectations for my own actions. And just how I approach my to-do lists—when I write it or say it, it’s going to happen. It will weigh on me until it does.

Now I’m not saying that “if” isn’t applicable to certain circumstances. You would never want to say to a girl “When I take you out on a date tomorrow…” if you just approached her at the bar or you’re going to look arrogant. Similarly, you don’t want to say to your boss, “When you give me that promotion…” or you’re going to look too forceful and will very likely NEVER see that promotion. But more often than not, “when” is the word we should all chose to put power behind what we say. Whether you’re saying this to a friend, a client or only yourself, it provides confidence and motivation. And when couldn’t we all use a little bit more of that?


WHEN I visit Chicago again, I want to watch a game from the Wrigley Rooftops!
WHEN I visit Chicago again, I want to watch a game from the Wrigley Rooftops!

14 thoughts on “When. Not If.

  1. Stephanie, I always appreciate your writing – very clear and concise, with some provocative ideas.

    I agree that sometimes “if” is a word we choose when we don’t really want to do something. There’s definitely wisdom here.

    But one caution that occurred to me is the text from James 4: “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “*If* it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.”

    I’m sure James isn’t saying we shouldn’t plan. And I don’t think he’s saying we should always add the words “God-willing” to every sentence we utter.

    But it’s always good to remember that God is sovereign. He is the One who determines what happens in our lives, in our businesses, in our relationships. Our belief that “if we want something done, we just have to want it” is shown up as an illusion next to passages like the one above.

    Keep up the provocative work!

    1. Thank you, Barry! And you also have some very thought-provoking ideas to share. I do believe that God has the ultimate plan for each of us, but to put His plans into motion we can help by being active rather than passive. And that’s where my if/when idea came from. We all have opportunities placed before us, but it’s up to us if and when we choose to take them 🙂

  2. I REALLY enjoyed this post. If you dont mind I would like to post this concept to my blog, expand on it with some thoughts of my own, and link it back to you. I would prolly post it Tuesday because I have my post for tomorrow ready (sort of a personal follow up to my post today about what personally motivates me and made me “wake up” so to speak).

    So is it ok if I expand on your post Tuesday?

  3. This reminds me of when I did debating and my teacher always told me off because I would say “I think” and it made me look weak and unsure hence making my speech less convincing. Anyway, that was a tad irrelevant to your post. From now on I will try to have a when-not-if mindset.

  4. Great write up…just matched with the book I have been reading by Napoleon Hill ‘Think And Grow Rich’. Hill talks of how with a definitive thought you can make your wishes come true; Yes definitive thoughts do create a climate for a positive result. Once again an inspiring post.

  5. I love this post and you’re view! I too find myself saying “if” all too much about things I WANT to happen. You’ve reminded me that I need to say when and it is more likely to happen that way 🙂

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