The Big Lie: If Only Syndrome

by Miles Mettler

On a recent trip I was working out in the hotel exercise room. It had the typical equipment including a couple of treadmills, an elliptical, and some free weights. I was on the elliptical.

As I was nearing the end of my workout, a facilities employee of the hotel came in and saw me. I greeted him and he said, "I need one of those at home so I can get rid of this (pointing to his gut)."

Here's what he was really saying. If only I had an elliptical at home then I would look better but since I don't have one this is how I'm going to have to be.

He displayed 'If Only Syndrome.' Do you recognize it?

The problem is that it is a lie. But it's a lie that he believes. And since he believes it to be true in his life, he'll continue to justify his lack of health and protruding gut.

His own comment was a value statement he was making revealing that health is important to him and being overweight is counter to that belief. All he did was see me working out. Nothing that I said made him feel that way...he already shares that value.

What do you think would happen if he did have an elliptical at home? Is it probable that he’d say something like this? “I need to have more time so I can use the elliptical.” In other words he’d be saying, if only I had more time then I’d be in better shape and look a lot better than I do, but since I don’t I’ll just have to continue being the way I am.

I've seen it too many times...If Only Syndrome.

I've seen it at times in my own life in various forms. I've believed the lie as it relates to my health and fitness, to my relationships, to spending time with the kids, to being productive, to tithing, and list goes on and on....

So what's the remedy? In brief, it follows a process like this...

The First Step:

The first step is to become aware. Awareness is the first step in changing. Typically you can't change that of which you are unaware.

It's probably a good bet that the facilities gentleman didn't have a clue as to the self-sabotaging words he was saying and planting in his brain. But each time he repeats it or thinks it, it becomes a thought more and more hard wired into his brain...a false belief he created.

The Second Step:

To change the belief, he must change his thoughts and his behavior, which is the next step. There is supporting evidence on both sides of this issue. Some say that thoughts drive behavior and other very good research indicates that behavior will influence and drive subsequence thoughts. I believe that it can happen in tandem or either can lead the way. What matters is the result.

Certainly the 'If only' thought pattern does not serve him or anyone well. It's a self-defeating, victim mindset. It leads to poor outcomes and leaves a person feeling helpless.

To change it'll be necessary for him to realize his faulty thinking. Instead he'll need to believe that when he decides to put his health as a priority he'll find a way to make it happen, whether he has an elliptical or not. He'll find the time he needs to make it happen as well.

The Third Step:

Lastly, in order to make permanent, sustainable change, he'll need to create a supportive environment, both internally and externally.

Internally he'll need to engage in more productive and positive self-talk and feed his mind with messages that will set him up for success.

Externally he'll want to surround himself with supporting advocates and a physical environment that supports healthy behaviors.

In hindsight, I regretted not taking the opportunity and the time to engage him in further dialogue to discover more about his hidden mindset. If I'd have done so, I'm pretty confident that I'd have revealed what I often discover...people don't realize how their thoughts shape their behavior, nor how their behavior shapes their thoughts.

I regretted not telling him the truth. That he is God’s masterpiece created anew so he can do the good things planned for him long ago. That he is able to accomplish more than he could ask or hope by God’s power at work within him. That he can fix his thoughts on what is true. [download PDF of Who God Says You Are]

Until that realization takes place, the status quo or worse will be the future. Without a different and better vision for the future, there will be nothing to initiate change. That can happen because the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the effort (pain) to change. Or he could develop a compelling desire for a better future that pulls him toward making the changes necessary.

Does it happen this way? Yes. Can it happen for him (or you)? Yes. Will it happen for him? Probably not. Unless he becomes aware and believes that he can have a healthier future by thinking better and living better, and by believing the truth instead of the lie.