‘When’ is a Big Fat Lie!

Empathy Gratitude Respect


Key Point: The phrase “I will be happy when…” is likely a set-up and a lie. A lot of disappointment and unhappiness is related to connecting our state of being exclusively to some set of future conditions. The first part of the “when” lie, is that it suggests one cannot be happy in one’s current circumstances. So happiness is elusively attached to the unknown future. The second part of this lie is that the “when” usually gets renegotiated. As people achieve or get close to their desired situation they judge it to no longer be sufficient for personal happiness and subsequently, new conditions get set. Research by exceptional academics like Barbara Fredrickson, Martin Seligman and Tal Ben-Shahar provide ample quantitative evidence in support of this overall view as it relates to personal happiness.

At work, I’ve heard the “when” phrase expressed explicitly or as an undertone too often. At an individual level this includes comments like, “I will be happy when I get that raise,” “when I get that promotion,” “when I won’t have to work with that jerk,” “when I retire,” and so on. Of course being dominated by the condition of “when” is different than having aspirations and objectives. Unfortunately too many people leave this earth without achieving peace and happiness based on chasing the elusive “when.” Shirzad Chamine in his superb book, Positive Intelligence, explains that this is often due to getting pushed around in our own minds by a Saboteur, Chamine calls “The Judge.” The Judge in our head tells us we’re not worthy of peace and happiness unless there are certain circumstances or conditions not currently present. The first rule of Respect in the Character Triangle is Self-Respect, something the Judge Saboteur fights against.

Character Moves:

  1. It takes constant work, but learning how to accept, rather than denying, rejecting or resenting our circumstances is the only path that takes us away from the lie of “when.” That seems straightforward, but honestly ask yourself how many “when’s” you have right now?
  2. Chamine suggests using the “three-gift technique” to confront the lie of “when.” Describe three scenarios where your current circumstances could be leveraged as a gift. Regardless how dire, what are three ways you might turn your present situation into an opportunity? Note: This does NOT suggest inviting more bad circumstances or doing nothing about it. (Using this technique invites us to connect with what Chamine calls our “Sage,” the part of the mind that works as a friend rather than a Saboteur).
  3. Try the three-gift technique on one thing at work (or your personal life) that may be causing high distress.
  4. Learn how to apply the five powers of Chamine’s Sage: Empathize, Explore, Innovate, Navigate, Activate. Put these five Sage powers to work to effectively propel forward, while connecting with the Character Triangle of Self-Accountability, Respect and Abundance. Stop allowing the lie of “when” to hold you, happiness and meaning as hostage.

No big fat lies in the Triangle