John Moneir looks into the evolution of procrastination and, to our relief, finds that with great comfort, comes great faffing.
“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” – Blaise Pascal
Many days I am unable to maintain a high degree of focus and, as it were, just “crack on” with the delights that university has to offer. I sometimes ponder about great men of the past such as Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison, and it both fascinates and scares me that there is such a gulf between us. I can’t say for certain, but I doubt that Edison, in the course of his famous 1,000 attempts would have been checking Facebook or YouTube if ever he became disinterested in tinkering with the lightbulb.
While I doubt his boredom and apathy ever reached a dangerous stage, if he did procrastinate, I feel somehow that it would be have been some kind of useful expression of leisure to reinvigorate him.
For some sinister reason, people in the 21st Century are more prone than ever to procrastination. There is even a self-help group: Procrastinators Anonymous. However, it would be ridiculous to suggest that procrastination has only come about in the 21st Century; it does not operate ex nihilo, it is only a symptom.
There are perhaps underlying factors which may help to explain why this phenomenon has been exacerbated in our times. Many of us live in lavish comfort, and I think it is not too audacious to suggest that we have become rather self-indulgent, lazy and lacking any discipline.
It may be very fine and practical to exercise a philosophy of doing whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anybody else. But if you give into every whim and desire and lack self-control, should it really come as a surprise that you are unable to focus and force yourself to finish tasks that you have no inclination or desire to do? If you practice a lifestyle of doing whatever you feel like doing, why should that suddenly evaporate when found with the choice of procrastination and work? I am not, of course, suggesting that this is a causative – correlation and causation are not the same. Nevertheless, on the spectrum of probabilities, the people who are disciplined, who are driven and who exercise self-restraint, are in a better position when facing the cunning mistress of procrastination, than those exercising hedonism.
Having said this, the noble art of procrastination is expressed differently these days and is worth considering. Isaac Newton may have procrastinated by lying under an apple tree after a leisurely stroll, perhaps enjoying the rarity of English sunshine. Mr John Moneir on the other hand, scrolls endlessly through the netherworld of Facebook and Instagram, trawling through copious amounts of irrelevant and useless content and going back to his task more exhausted than before. Poring through social media is no form of leisure at all, it is simply an exercise of mental exhaustion and most of us are not capable of receiving and retaining such an unlimited amount of information.
Seeking solace in the arms of social media is like being thirsty for water and seeking salt to quench our thirst. If there is any form of procrastination that is to be loathed and avoided, it is social media for he is a deceptive thief in the guise of a friend. Trust him not, for he doth not pay what he promises.
Procrastination is an immortal despot and she will continue her rule of tyranny as long as humans roam the earth. I don’t propose to offer a solution that will allow you to avoid it altogether. Perhaps one small step to take is finding the most suitable expression of leisure, instead of being inundated with the madness of social media and mind-numbing information. While The Lord of the Rings is a most noble and righteous path, for all the pagans out there, indulge in something that brings you joy and maybe you can greet procrastination as an old friend.