#4: What are you waiting for?

Godot ain't coming

This is, I must confess, embarrassing. On September 10, I made my last post on this newsletter. It was meant to be Part 1 of a three-parter. The next two were supposed to appear on September 11 and 12. What happened?

I froze. First I froze because of the panic caused by the self-imposed deadline. Then I stayed immobile because I had missed the deadline by so much that there was no urgency any more. Then I thought of other things and chilled. I covered up for my self-loathing by eating lots of comfort food. I make the best bacon-and-egg fried rice in India. My clothes no longer fit.

It is not only with this newsletter that I have done this. It is the story of my life. My epitaph could read: Here lies Amit. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe he’s procrastinating.

This is, of course, not just me. You have also done this. We are all familiar with this short-term cycle (by dinosaur via Narayani Basu):

And some of us may also be familiar with the long-term version of this, in which the years pass, and you’re older and wiser and still wasting time. At 25, you want to do it. At 45, well, screw it.

Why do we procrastinate? I’ve read many theories, but I don’t buy the common explanations like fear or anxiety or bad moods. I speculated yesterday during a webinar for the writing course I teach that it could have something to do with the way we are wired. Our brains evolved in prehistoric times when the next burst of nutrition was unpredictable. (What if we don’t catch the deer this time?) It would be natural for the brain to evolve to avoid tasks that require cognitive energy. Essay later, Candy Crush now. Bring on the dopamine.

Many of the impulses that drive us are impulses of commission: we do things that we regret. Procrastination is an impulse of omission, and is perhaps worse. The cost of our inaction is unseen. Who can tell what we have lost?

The author Piers Steel equated procrastination with self-harm, and I don’t think that is hyperbole. Nor do people who Google the term: see the fourth and fifth suggestions below to get a sense of how tortured people feel by it:

But enough talk of procrastination. At least as far as this newsletter is concerned, I am going to get my act together. This will come at you at least once a week, and maybe more. It will include my thoughts on a bunch of different subjects, rather than just one long essay. Although today’s edition has turned out to be on a single subject. Will I be able to move on to the next para?

Yes.

Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley’s Father’s Scooter

Episode 214 of The Seen and the Unseen released today. My guest is Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley, which is, as you’d have guessed, a pseudonym. We cover a lot of ground, and if you liked my episode with Pratap Bhanu Mehta, you will like this as well. Similar terrain.

Raghu co-writes the superb newsletter Anticipating the Unintended. I’m jealous, not because he’s a fine thinker, but because he is — wait for the ‘P’ word — prolific. When you’re prolific and profound at the same time, that’s something.

And now, please subscribe

If you’re reading this because you clicked on a link, please subscribe to this newsletter. It is free. In case Twitter is ever banned in India, this will be the one way you can follow me. Please do so.

And finally, why are you reading this? Isn’t there something important you have to do?