Here’s a familiar situation. You’re in bed, eyes closed, blankets draped over your head. You’ve set your alarm back four times now. You can feel the sun baking your sheets, but your eyes hang shut as if clamped. Your mind races as it schemes a way to hole up in the pleasant darkness a little longer. It’s a mad sort of paranoia, almost urgent. You can’t get up now–think of how tired you will be. Your whole day will be ruined. You will get absolutely nothing done. If you could just squeeze more time out of your morning–just fifteen minutes, yes, fifteen minutes more, and you’re positive you will feel a world of difference in your mood, your productivity, your world view, everything.
Never felt this way? Congratulations, you’re either a lizardman or the next Ted Bundy. How else could you escape this fallacy of human thought? It is a toxic idea. It tells us that given a little more time, just a modest delay, our crude existence will suddenly accumulate into a golden homunculus of clarity. We feel it most often in that limbo between asleep and awake, but we encounter it all the time.
We look at the pile of laundry and imagine we will do it on Saturday morning. After all, we have a lot going on at work this week and we really need to focus to get that laundry done, even though deep down we know how tired we will be Saturday morning and how we will justify to ourselves that we have worked a long week and the laundry can just wait, fuck it, the laundry can wait, we’re not having guests over anytime soon, and besides it’s Steve’s turn to do the laundry.
We stare in the mirror at the naked blobbish imitation of ourselves and frown and say aloud, “I really should hit the gym, things are just kind of crazy right now,” but let’s face it, things are always kind of crazy right now, and every time we say that we condemn ourselves to love handles and muffin tops for at least the next year.
We walk through the front door of our soul-sucking job and think, “it’ll be so much easier for me to start my business next year,” but we’ve said that to ourselves every year for the last ten years and we know all too well how comfortable we are with our modest salary, even though a tiny piece of our spirit dies every time we sit down at that rickety wood desk that our manager probably bought at a redneck flea market.
We find comfort in the idea that we will someday accomplish our goals, but by indulging in that comfort we neglect to accomplish them. We push the alarm back fifteen minutes, and to the tired mind it costs little, a tiny decimal in a vast infinity, but tiny decimals summed ad infinitum fill a large space.
There’s a word for this sluggishness in Spanish: mañana. First-semester Spanish students learn that it means “tomorrow,” but it literally translates to “not today.” If you say “limpiaré mi cuarto mañana” you really mean “I will clean my room eventually.” When we set our alarms back, when we ignore the laundry, when we skip the gym, when we stay at our dead-end job despite the promise of another life, we effectively say to ourselves, “Ay, lo hare mañana.” I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it but not today.
The problem with mañana is that it can be applied indefinitely and, worse, it never helps. Has pushing back the alarm by fifteen minutes ever helped you to feel more awake? In my own experience, I feel worse. Now my morning is chaotic because I have to shower in half the time, run to catch the bus, skip coffee (the horror!), and so forth. I find the same result when delaying my goals. Take exercise, for example. I might convince myself that April is not my month and that in May I will have plenty of time to hit the gym at night. Except May is still stressful, going to the gym is still hard, and now I am an entire month behind schedule on my summer bod. (Have I ever once achieved what the kids call a “summer bod”? Let me not answer that.)
I don’t have a satisfying solution for mañana, but I do believe if such a solution exists then it comes from within. To overcome mañana is to train a commitment to habit and to find an unencumbered center of inspiration. Process and vision: these are the nuts and bolts of an achievable and worthwhile goal. Without them, the goal waits on your bedside table, ringing and ringing until it is silenced once more.