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If Only – Keeping You Stuck and Frustrated

Two words. Six letters. So much potential for destruction. You say it to yourself and so do I, sometimes without even realizing it. Do you even realize how powerful it is?

If only I had more time, I would exercise. If only my parents weren’t so annoying, I’d be less stressed. If only I had a bigger house, then I’d be more organized. If only, if only, if only…You know, it isn’t just the “if only” part that is so damaging. By itself, it just a harmless wish or fantasy. It’s saying “then”, as if you only have permission to have this better outcome when the first part happens.

Let’s break this down once, shall we? Take the example about having a bigger house and being more organized. I threw this one in for me. We still live in the starter home my husband and I bought before we had kids. It seemed huge back then. It’s now quite small for all five of us and I find
myself frustrated on a regular basis.

So my desired outcome is being more organized. There’s always some truth to the if only-then combination, so let’s find it and make peace with it. What are some advantages of a bigger house regarding organization? Bigger closets, more floor space for furniture, more rooms for everything to have a place, storage for seasonal things. OK, those are all true and would make sense.

Here’s the kicker – watch for the black-and-white extreme language. Does being in my current smaller house completely forbid me from being more organized than I am right now? Well, NO. I actually have plenty of choices. I could give away some things, I could throw away some things, I could replace
larger things with smaller things, we could work better with our budget to save money for a larger house, and I could just be thankful I even have a house in today’s bad economy.

I’m doing pretty much all of those things, and they do help. Would it still be simpler and easier to have more elbow room? Yes. Is it likely that we’ll get a bigger house in the not-so-distant future when we have made our situation favorable? Yes. Is it still possible for me to keep things better organized than I do right now? Oh yes, there’s always potential for that. I’m simply frustrated that this problem isn’t going to be solved tomorrow.

Oh, and don’t forget this – I could still be disorganized even in a bigger house. That’s the real disillusion. Just because my wish might come true doesn’t mean I’ve actually solved my problem. I would have a better opportunity for organization with more space, but I still have to put the work into it. Let’s take the other examples for a moment here. Your parents could suddenly become less annoying and you might still have plenty of stress. You might find yourself out of work – with plenty of time on your hands – and you may still not exercise one minute.

It’s deciding to make the choice for your desired outcome, regardless of whatever the “if only” excuse is in front of it. Want to be more organized? Watch the “Clean Sweep” show on TV and take some notes. Want to be less stressed? Take a yoga class. Want to exercise? Find ways to be active in short periods of time without fancy equipment, like a short walk over lunchtime. No need to wait around for the “if only” part to happen.

Just watch yourself one day, today, and see how many times you say “if only” to yourself. What are your “if onlys”? Are you really trapped by the “if only” part, or could you make it happen anyway with a little creativity?

If Only – Keeping You Stuck and Frustrated

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska. She blogs regularly on the Psych Central blog, Family Mental Health.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2018). If Only – Keeping You Stuck and Frustrated. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 May 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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