tomorrow never comes

Procrastinators have all kinds of things they want to do, they just don’t want to do them today. Maybe they don’t feel like it; maybe there are so many other things they feel like they must do today they can’t possibly contemplate embarking on the others. The problem is that it is always today, and so if you don’t do tasks some today, you will never do them. Sure, one might think changing “someday” to “some today” involves just deleting the middle syllable, but if that was the case then why are there so many things I’ve been meaning to do someday that any realistic appraisal would indicate I’m never going to get around to?

A cognitive-therapish check for “I’ll do it someday” is just to ask oneself: “Exactly what will someday look like–how will that day be different from today so that I will actually do it that today even though I’m not doing it this today.” However, if this check actually works to rouse action, one might then encounter the problem of trying to start on many different things one has been putting off all at the same time, thereby making progress on none of them and further depleting whatever remaining credibility one might have with oneself.

An interesting counterstrategy I read in a book once was to pick some day on the calendar several weeks hence and write “SOMEDAY” on it. As in, “You said you were going to do this ‘someday’ and here, with plenty of advance warning, ‘someday’ turns out to be Thursday the nineteenth.” Writing “SOMEDAY” rather than “Organize office” or whatever else is the task in question might help reinforce to oneself that this is a task that one is never going to get around to without some kind of cognitive artifice to underscore its tendency to fall into the Vortex Of Tomorrow. And if someday does come and one still doesn’t do it, at least it can prompt reflection on whether waiting for someday was really the problem or whether one is delaying doing the task for other reasons.

New Years’ Day is a day practically designed to enable the conclusion “Here, this day! This day is when that day going forward is going to be different from the previous day going backward.” This is why New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday: it’s all about hope. Plus, whereas certain other holidays one could name are all about giving things to other people, New Year’s Day gives carte blanche for being self-absorbed.

We’re nearing the end of National Write A Novel month, or however people abbreviate it, and I suppose this is a variant of the same thing–you’ve said forever that you’d like to write a novel someday, but when is it ever going to be someday? How about November?

With somedays like “I really need to start a diet someday soon,” I wonder how much it’s like the way people talk about the causes of riots. There are background conditions–as in, expanding backside background conditions–but these don’t manage to mobilize great effort to reverse daily routines all by yourself. After all, how much of a difference is it really going to make for your long-term situation if you start that diet tomorrow instead of today, and besides you already messed up today with that donut you had with breakfast. (Except, of course, the great illusion is that ‘tomorrow’ is a place in time that’s less than 24 hours away; instead, 24 hours from now it will still be ‘today.’) So, then if the diet ever commences at all, it’s because of some precipitating event, as if the Rodney King verdict had been about your fat ass. Seems like many people who have lost a lot of weight on a diet have some story–and, more often, multiple stories from multiple episodes of loss in a yo-yoing weight career–of an event that pushed them over the threshold of resolved and changed “someday” into “now.” As people who’ve known me for any length of time know, I’ve had my own struggles with weight and my own “preciptating event” stories, which I was going to launch into here but this post has gone on long enough. Someday, maybe.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

3 thoughts on “tomorrow never comes”

  1. “With somedays like “I really need to start a diet someday soon,” I wonder how much it’s like the way people talk about the causes of riots.”

    Yes, but you’ve been mis-hearing. Those people are actually muttering, “I really need to start a riot someday.”

    But seriously folks. In AA (and other venues in recoveryland) the “precipitating event” is called “hitting bottom.” The trouble is that it’s usually a matter of retrospective interpretation. There are lots of bad moments, and most don’t lead to recovery. So the person looks back, sees the last event before he started on the twelve steps, and then identifies that event as his or her bottom (“bottom” in this sense not to be confused with “fat ass.”)


  2. I need lists. I have two, one for “little” things like calling to schedule an appointment or looking up a citation and another for “big” things like reviews, revising manuscripts, books to read, and so forth. That way I can pick up the small or the large, but always have something right there to accomplish.

    Of course things like losing weight and overcoming my nail biting habit don’t make the list, especially with information like this to use as a justification for holding off.


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