Something from Nothing

Procrastination. Idealism. Nihilism.


I recently listened to this talk on procrastination. The speaker, Tim Pychyl, has a book on the topic with pretty high reviews. Two things stood out to me. First, his point about death and bereavement. Second, procrastination as a habit of negative reinforcement. This helped me formulate some ideas I’ve had for awhile, as well as reflect on my own habitual procrastination.

He mentioned that procrastination can affect your health, and cited research on people grieving over someone they lost, friend or family. He said that their number one regret had to do with plans they’d have with the person who died, plans they never fulfilled because the procrastinated on it.

And how real is that? I lost a friend two weeks ago. He played drums with us. I’d intended to call him for awhile. Two months go by and now he’s dead. Yet this is how it always happens. Impermanence, the Buddhists call it. Forgetting this, what should be the first tenant of any belief system, promotes procrastination.

At the heart of procrastination is a belief in time. Mainly, that we have it. When we don’t. As Althusser says, the future lasts forever. Tomorrow is a point we never reach. We’re prisoners of today. More accurately, now. To put things off is to believe we are able to do them later. There is no later. There is never a later.

Procrastination in this way is a form of idealism. It’s a habitual misrepresentation of the real state of affairs. It’s a refusal to look at the truth of our existence as finite beings. The mind of the procrastinator attempts to exist in a solipsistic realm, often one of pleasure.

Hence the second point of interest. Procrastination is a habit of negative reinforcement. This means its a removal of the stimulus. Call it ‘the act’ or ‘the labor’. The necessity of doing whatever it is that must be done causes unpleasant feelings. Perhaps it’s the belief that the task has weight to it. Removing those unpleasant feelings (negative) allows the person to feel pleasure. I wonder if there are those who, without any power for themselves, exercise the only power they do have by not doing anything. Existing in pleasure, removing the stimulus of unpleasant truth, is their way to be a king in of their mind. Perhaps this is the secret to why people choose to continue being consumers.

But the negative reinforcement depends on that original stimulus. So I ask myself, how do you prevent that unpleasantness? I would answer with perspective.

One mode of recognition is a political one. Essentially, this is utilitarian. How does the task contribute to the goal? This contributes to a long term view. I study for myself and for my political goals. I play guitar for myself and because it’s a skill that can be used. I cultivate motivation from Mao’s phrase: make civilized the mind, make savage the body. I remember that our species is enslaved by psychopaths and that ecological collapse is a real imminent possibility.

But a deluge of facts, for me, doesn’t work as effectively as another kind of perspective.

Lately it’s been an obsession of mine to finish my goals for 2017. What works best  to avoid procrastination is remembering that both the unpleasantness (stimulus), and the necessity of having to do anything at all (labor) are both illusions.

That task has no weight. Like yourself, the thing exerts no gravity. None of this existence bears significance. I revert to a foundation of eternal impermanence. I watch this video on Jupiter, in awe and terror. I worship the truth of cosmic nihilism. I have no fear of labor so long as I remember the act itself is completely without point.

What is effective for me is that paradox. Knowing that nothing has meaning gives me the energy to do it. I no longer feel weight because I no longer insist that I have any. I begin to produce when I realize that it’s not my shadow that follows me with every step, but the death of my illusion of self, always present in the forever of tomorrow.


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