Suppose I’ve observed a tendency to postpone. I habitually let my obligations pile up, delaying responding till forced by circumstances. If this were the habit I’d chosen during last month’s labor, I’d have been called to observe the illusions that kept that habit alive. Suppose that the first illusion I uncover is a perpetual notion that I don’t have time right now. The illusion is subtle, presenting itself as an underlying emotion of overwhelmedness. On top of this, I uncover another illusion that persuades me I’ll have more time later. Again, the suggestion is subtle and indirect, an assuredness about the future. Deceived by the these two illusions — overwhelmedness and assuredness — I customarily absolve myself from present responsibilities and hand them over to a future me, in a habit called procrastination.
Having observed these illusions behind my procrastination, I’m naturally brought to challenge them. First, the illusion of overwhelmedness. Can I verify that I never have enough time now? Or rather, does self-observation reveal that I’m always overwhelmed — now or later — regardless of external circumstances, except that later no longer carries the luxury of postponement? And if so, do I really want to be dragged through my daily obligations by compulsion? I verify that the illusion of overwhelmedness is a false gauge of how crowded the moment really is. It’s a negative emotion that seeks to feel overwhelmed always and everywhere. I’d better learn to disregard it and press onward by attending to things at the moment they appear. I coin this new way of thinking in the aphorism: If not now, when?
Moving on to challenge the illusion of assuredness, do I actually have more time later? When later comes, have other obligations not piled up to further weaken my ability to respond? This illusion, too, proves unfounded, another case of wrong thinking. I’d better learn to do now whatever I can because later becomes a new ‘now,’ with new obligations. I coin this new way of thinking in the aphorism: Later never comes.
Having thus uncovered the illusions behind my habit, I’ve fulfilled the July labor and advanced a step toward tackling procrastination. I open my laptop to check email. Twenty unread messages await my attention.
“Let’s do this later,” says procrastination, subtly.
“Later never comes,” I respond, dodging my opponent’s opening lunge. My maneuver is efficient. Procrastination, thus startled, wobbles in surprise and barely retains balance, his right foot of assuredness shaken. He shifts his weight onto the left foot of overwhelmedness and recovers to thrust another blow:
“You don’t have time to answer twenty emails now!”
“If not now, when?”
This skillful side-step fully trips my opponent. As he lays vulnerably at my feet, I thrust a final blow by mercilessly opening the first message in my inbox and closing the debate.
If we don’t harvest in July we can’t thresh in August. If we don’t uncover illusion we can’t Be. In this work — as in any work — one thing opens the door to another, while the neglect of one thing prevents the completion of another. Having discovered our wrong thinking in July, it invariably follows that we proceed to formulating right thinking in its stead. Our August labor will revolve around winnowing the right from the wrong at the moment the habit seeks to assert itself. To fit the moment, our weapon must be brief and potent. Our right thinking must be coined in the form of an aphorism, a succinct command, the smooth stone David used to stun Goliath.
Which aphorism do you choose to counterbalance the illusion behind your habit?