Procrastination and Parallel Lives

I imagine that if someone would plot my activity levels in a graph, it would look like an E.C.G (Electrocardiogram). That too, an abnormal E.C.G which shows spikes of intense activity, followed by a long flatline of inactivity, and repeat. For that is how I find myself working these days. I could go on and on for few days or weeks, tick every unfinished tasks, and have time for my hobbies, journaling and workouts. And then suddenly, as if someone hit the slow down or pause button, I would spend few days or weeks procrastinating if I should move a muscle.

I would love to say that ‘Procrastination is my middle name’, but unfortunately I have a lot of names already. My parents had a decision fatigue after they gave birth to me, and so I ended up with a Long name, a Short name, a name with many middle names - which is actually a combination of my long and short names. My friends decided to cut my big name into whatever they please, which gave me a few more names. Anyway, that is a story for another day. For now, it’s enough to say that I have an affair with procrastination, but not enough for it to be my middle name.

Why do people procrastinate? I have pondered about this, and I ended up equating procrastination with laziness.

Why is my room not clean? Because I was lazy to not do it.

Why is the garden unkempt? Why have the plants withered? Because I was lazy to take care of them. ( I have killed a few plants, which are, let’s say, Hard to Kill !!)

We tend to procrastinate on a lot of things. About mundane activities in our daily lives,or about taking life defining decisions. Laziness is a reason for procrastination, Sure. But is it the only reason? Especially when it comes to taking complex decisions?

I never thought much about the deeper reasons behind procrastination and indecision until now. Listening to Oliver Burkeman 1 talking about ‘Deciding’ 2 threw some new light on this for me.

Oliver Burkeman says, it is natural for people to not take a decision quickly. Because having to make a decision, puts people in a position where they have to choose. Puts them in the position of the narrator of Robert Frost’s ‘Two Roads Diverged in a Wood’. In a position, where they once choose a road, they would never know how the journey through the other road would have gone.

Oliver says that the moment you take a decision, you are cutting a stream of parallel life in which you would have taken the other decision. Up until that moment, both of those lives exist in your imagination, but the moment you take that decision, you permanently cut one imaginary life, and the other one becomes a reality. He gave a nice example ‘The only way I can be a caring father for my child on a daily basis, and be able go on a six month yoga retreat around the world, is to never take the decision to do either one of them.'

We can only be in one place, at a time. That’s our finitude. But we can be in hundred different places, do hundred different things in hundred different parallel lives, at the same time, in our fantasies. When put this way, it’s easy to understand our affliction with procrastination and not taking decisions.

Few are stuck in the memories of their past. Few, are stuck with the imagination of their (many) future lives.

Cover Image credits: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

  1. A British Journalist & Writer. ↩︎

  2. Deciding' is a part of the Oliver Burkeman series called ‘Time management for mortals’ in the Waking up App for meditation & Mindfulness ↩︎