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We take action when we want something to happen. Like a pasodoble-charged bull, we throw ourselves forward to make a move. On the other end of the continuum of things we want to happen are the things we don’t want to happen. These are the notions that get lost in the periphery because they require more attention than we can give at the moment.
Picture this, Monday morning, you find a tear, no bigger than the size of your pinky, on your favorite beige-colored cotton bedsheets. You estimate not more than ten stitches will be needed to patch it up as you examine. Stitching isn’t rocket science. It’s simple if it doesn’t need to be pretty. Then, you recall that article I wrote about starting your day the right way and how experts say you are your best in the morning. You ask, would it be wise to spend your best hours doing the banal task of stitching? No, you decide to do it later.
The Problem with Later
The thing about saying you’ll do something later is it implies you’ll either do it at 3:00 in the afternoon or six months from now. If the whooshing sound of a deadline doesn’t ring in your ears, there’s no knowing for sure when exactly later is. Until the tiny tear becomes a full-blown rip like the one Merida cut through the tapestry her mother sewed, dividing your favorite sheet into two ugly ones.
When that happens, a white fever of regret washes over you in the form of all the things you should have done but didn’t do. Then again, how could you have known? The tiny tear was asking too much. At that moment, “later” was all you could give.
But that’s not true, is it? Somewhere at the back of your mind, a familiar voice echoes, and you realize you could have given a little bit more, a little bit less, a little bit better.
Metaphors and needlework aside, what would you give to get one opportunity back?
My favorite takeaway from listening to roughly 80 hours of Ted Talks is from Benny Lewis. He says, “There are 7 days in a week, and someday isn’t one of them.”
“There are 7 days in a week, and someday isn’t one of them.”
— Benny Lewis
Hope Is the Thing with Feathers
When do you take action?
First, let’s inspect why we take action:
It’s not a question of whether you can do something or not, it’s a matter of urgency and importance.
If you’ve tried cramming a thousand-word essay eight hours before it’s due, then you know it is Urgency that becomes master of the two. Unfortunately, urgent and important don’t always go together.
If you want the important things done, you either do it now or you schedule it for tomorrow. In Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about giving your goals a space to live in the world. And you do that by first letting it take space in your calendar, planner, or journal. Write it down. Get into the details—date, time, place. And do yourself a favor by showing up consistently.
There’s no denying the hopeful musing that comes with “someday” and “one day.” As the late great writer Emily Dickinson put it, hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
Hope will sit there for as long as you need it and will wilt there for as long as allowed.
In life, the hope of one day and someday may not be enough without action in the now.
Let’s try a little bit of reverse engineering. If you can do it later, why not do it now? All it takes is two minutes.
The 2-Minute Rule: Tell yourself that you’re only going to do the work for two minutes—no more, no less. Set a timer, and if after two minutes you still feel like you don’t want to go through the motion, then don’t do it. Give this habit-forming principle a try, and let me know in the comments how it works out for you.