Procrastination and Living in the Present

As a chronic procrastinator, this comic by Josh Mecouch of Formal Sweatpants (based on this article over at You Are Not So Smart) makes my stomach lurch. Throw in some accusatory, guilt-ridden conversations with a “past me” (Why didn’t you do [insert urgent task here]?), and it’s too familiar.

But it’s not just pitifully pathetic to envision a future self doing all the things you want to have done but don’t want to do now: it’s the shadow of a necessary illusion. Even for the purposes of living well in the present, it’s just not possible to avoid crafting these imaginary selves. In order to make meals for the week actually happen, in order to enjoy a movie night next Wednesday with friends, we need these illusions, don’t we? It can’t all be “Yes. Laptop. Yes. Leonard Cohen cover. Yes Christmas advertisements and twinkle lights.” It’s gotta also be “Yes. Me, here, now, going to the store to buy soap for when we run out soon, so my future self won’t be stinky. Me, here, now, thinking my thoughts about the future in the present, updating a calendar filled with days that themselves aren’t real yet.”

What is it about envisioning the future that allows for both action-infused planning and avoidy-lazy procrastination? In either scenario with the sweatpants or the soap, why do we always make our future selves work so hard? I see her now, the future Sarah doing the work I could be doing right now! And lo, she won’t, she really won’t: she’ll resist, just like present me.

Well, eventually she will get to it, the important things. One of us Sarahs will, but that one’s never the same.

She’s always sitting here, right now, hands typing over the laptop, listening to the Leonard Cohen cover, glancing at Christmas advertisements and twinkle lights. And she’ll say, “Sorry, future me, past me, and present me. I’m too busy at the moment to talk to you three, but let’s chat again sometime soon.”

6 thoughts on “Procrastination and Living in the Present

  1. Brilliant comic. And very intriguing questions you raise here… how much of the thought that we give to the future is actually necessary, positive, helpful, and how much is just living in illusion? Some of the world’s greatest mystics have said that if we stop planning and worrying, all things will still be provided for. The Tao fills every need spontaneously, and leaves nothing undone… and yet we don’t trust that. We want to see to it ourselves.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your thoughts. It’s strange: if we, too, are filled by the Tao, is our lack of trust and desire for control also filled with Tao? And, if not, I wonder whether considering it could be might undercut our desire’s influence.

  2. oh definitely contemplating the dao helps me! the smile in the mind’s eye at my little monkey brain chatter! i used to say to peeps, i floss my teeth because i’m a painter, i don’t want to lose the painting time to treatments. painting was right through me, like grain in wood…but now i have fibromyalgia and i’m not strong enough to paint with my hands (think scrubbing a floor energy levels to melt the oilbar) it is all so much harder, not just the hindrances of pacing the fibro energy, but thinking into momentum…
    love your sharing, good luck!
    ps i have a daoism tag in my cloud btw, you might like agnes martin post, amazing painter and daoist, so inspiring!

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Singing Bird–I love that flossing comes from the painter in you, and so glad to hear in your other comment that you’re able to do machine embroidery to make art! :) I’ll definitely check out your Angnes Martin post. Thanks for sharing, and best to you, too–good luck with your short films! :D

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