Build New Habits by Replacing IF with WHEN

Stop giving yourself excuses not to do something!!

A few months ago, I was introduced to the power of using if-then statements to help with habit-forming and achieving long-term goals.

To put it in simple terms, the idea is that you have a desired behavior (let’s say, “drink more water every day”) and link it to a daily existing habit (“going into the kitchen”) by specifying an action that will accomplish that behavior. An example if-then statement then becomes,”If I go into the kitchen after I wake up, then I drink a full glass of water.” By doing this, you link a new habit to an existing one, which can really boost your probability of making that habit stick and reaching your goal.

It sounds amazing, but it didn’t work for me. I’ve proposed a slight alteration that’s helped me achieve way better results. I’ve started replacing IF with WHEN.

Why? “When” implies that it’s definitely going to happen. I can see it and taste it in my future. There’s no “it might or might not occur” as the word “if” conveys.

Using “if” instead of “when” is nothing new — parents have been urged to use it with children in order to convey the imminent arrival of something that is going to happen: “WHEN you have finished eating your chicken, you can have a cookie.” Yea, eating your chicken is going to happen kiddo.

Salespeople use the same strategy to convey your imminent purchase of a product: “WHEN you purchase this car, you will never be worried about the safety of your child again.” When salespeople say “if,” it’s saying that you might say no. They want you to visualize that you will buy that car by instead saying “when” and now putting that picture in your head of your child in that safe car, bright and shining life ahead.

So what happens when you combine this effective word switcheroo with the powerful habit-forming version of if-then statements? Habit domination. The power in this approach is using a when-then statement with an existing habit to form a new habit that is a step toward a bigger goal and it works so well.

Changing a Bad Health Habit

By using “If,” I always felt like I could give myself an out. “If I have time tomorrow, then I will do this task,” is an example of where I feel that the if-then statement totally let me down. What I was telling myself when I said this was that there was a possibility that I wouldn’t have time, therefore I won’t really commit to doing this task unless it pops up. Maybe I could circumvent it.

Enter switching “if” with “when.” Now check this out: “WHEN I have time tomorrow, then I will do this task.” The mere fact that I say “when” implies that it’s definitely going to happen tomorrow. I will have time and I will do that task and I’m not giving myself the chance of an out. And that’s exactly what I needed.

For example, I have historically been TERRIBLE at drinking water every day and for the life of me I couldn’t get myself to remember to drink it; I was always forgetting and I wasn’t committed. My mindset was “If I go into the kitchen, I’ll drink a full glass of water.” For some reason, this made me feel like I could avoid the kitchen and give myself a way out. For whatever reason, I hate water and used to give any excuse not to drink it. “Water is already in my soda” and the whole bit. But that wasn’t a sustainable mindset.

Instead, I told myself, “WHEN I go into the kitchen, I will drink a full glass of water.” I know it’s going to happen and I don’t give myself a way out. The result over the past 2 months is that my brain has been triggered by my habit of visiting the kitchen and I have successfully built the habit of getting as much water as I need during the day. Now I do it without even thinking.

What’s Your When-Then Statement?

With that, the onus is on you. What good habit are you trying to form and what when-then statement are you going to make for yourself?

Start forming that new habit today and stick to it. Because, WHEN you start this method, THEN you’ll see results.

Reach out to me should you find yourself needing help creating these statements for yourself, I’m always here for advice.


Syndi Braun is a dynamic professional who seeks to help others accomplish more of their personal goals.