During your PhD, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking “if only X, then Y”. 

For example, ‘if only I was able to get to the lab, I’d be able to finish this chapter’, or ‘if only I could finish this chapter, I’d be able to relax’, or ‘if only I work late, then I’ll get everything done’.

‘If only, then’ is a fallacy, a way of assigning responsibility for our own wellbeing to some future event or outcome. By making our feelings of wellbeing contingent upon future outcomes, you run the risk of deferring your own wellbeing indefinitely, because when you do get to the lab, finish the chapter or work late it’s rare that your problems disappear. 

What normally happens instead is that new ‘if, then’ conditions emerge. You solve one problem, but your brain conjures up some fresh ones for you, whose resolution you then duly make contingent upon yet more future outcomes. And so on, and so on. 

We all do it – it’s easy to assign responsibility for the solutions to your problem to some future event or outcome.

Do this often enough though and you in effect defer happiness indefinitely. You lose the ability to be happy in the present and be comfortable with the problems you’re facing rather than seeking to push them into the future as a way of avoiding them. Eventually, life becomes a constant process of self-improvement rather than something you can appreciate right now, flaws and all. 


Hello, Doctor…

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