Tomorrow Is Not Your Friend
Originally published by Stephen Guise on his personal website.
I used to see tomorrow as my friend.
If I had a bad day, there was always tomorrow’s fresh start to save me. If I wasn’t productive today, I could just get a little bit more done tomorrow. Whenever today wasn’t perfect, tomorrow still had the possibility. Anything could happen tomorrow!
But as time went on, I saw the red flags. I realized that tomorrow is like a friend who always stabs you in the back, but you don’t notice because you assume a friend wouldn’t do that to you. Well, that’s true — a real friend wouldn’t do that to you.
Tomorrow smiles and makes lofty promises to us, but when we wake up each morning, it vanishes and it’s today again.
Adding to the fact that we never get to live tomorrow, what you do today — NOT your plans — is the most reliable indicator of what you’ll do in the following days. So even if you hope for a great tomorrow, it would mean setting the precedent today. Author Kelly McGonigal succinctly says what I’m getting at:
“We wrongly but persistently expect to make different decisions tomorrow than we do today.”
~ Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. (from The Willpower Instinct)
It’s natural to think of tomorrow in an opportunistic way. Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start… but so was today! Remember when you thought so yesterday?
Since we only live in today and it accurately predicts what we’ll do later, tomorrow is relatively worthless. And that’s not all. Tomorrow’s mere presence seems to lead us into poor decisions. Not only is it not your friend — tomorrow is your enemy!
A Study Shows How Opportunities Tomorrow Hurt Us Today
“Researchers at Yale University gave students the choice between a fat-free yogurt and a large Mrs. Fields cookie. When the students were told they would have the same options the following week, 83 percent chose the cookie, compared with only 57 percent of students who thought the snacks were a one-time opportunity. Students showed the same pattern when the choice was between lowbrow and highbrow entertainment (“I can be educated and enlightened next week”), and between an immediate, smaller financial reward and a larger, delayed financial reward (“ I need the cash now, but next week I’ll wait for the bigger payoff ”).
In fact, 67 percent of students who were told they’d have the same choice the following week predicted that they would choose the more virtuous option. But when the experimenters actually brought them back to the lab for a second choice, only 36 percent made a different choice. Nevertheless, they felt much less guilt over that initial indulgent choice when they thought they could make up for it later.”
~ Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. (The Willpower Instinct)
I’ve got three thoughts on this study:
- It shows how the psychology of “more opportunities later” impairs our present moment decisions. How often has the promise of later made you neglect a present opportunity? I’m guilty of it.
- The present moment is the only moment we will EVER have.
- If we only have the present, and thinking of the future devalues the present, then we need to stop thinking about the future!
It’s simple logic. We need to forget about tomorrow. Let’s cancel it, not befriend it!
If you’re dying of dehydration in the desert, and you see an oasis in the distance, would you rather it be farther away or closer to you? Closer. Of course. Today is closer. Today is the solution.
So how could tomorrow ever be a better option?
It never will be, but let’s discuss why we still think it is.
Why Tomorrow Always Seems Like A Better Option
We all have values; we don’t always live according to those values. That’s because part of us is, well, animalistic.
By postponing our values to tomorrow and indulging today, we think we satisfy the whole self — the animal and the intellect. The animalistic part of us is impatient, and it gets what it wants now (junk food, fun, etc); the higher self gets what it wants tomorrow, or you know, a little later if that doesn’t work out… whenever we get around to it is fine.
If it all goes to plan, it’s a win win! Tomorrow seems better because it’s seemingly the only way to get what we want now AND later.
It sounds nice in theory, really, but the habit factor makes it a big problem. Habits are behaviors that — when repeated in a similar way often enough and associated with a reward — are latched onto by the subconscious brain like a leech latches onto a mammal. Yeah. Just like that.
Put it all together:
- We eat chocolate while watching TV today and promise we’ll exercise tomorrow.
- It’s satisfying on all levels: an easy reward now and the promise of progress later. It feels great!
- The sugar-laden reward tickles the brain and TV-watching is fun.
- The brain registers the event, LOVES the outcome and promise of future progress, and begins doing it regularly.
- Sometimes we exercise the next day; other times, plans change and “life happens.”
From this process, you’ll form the habit of reversing your priorities from the ideal to the temporal. It’s the procrastination habit. Sometimes is enough to keep you on board with a LOSING program like this one. We should never be satisfied with sometimes because consistency is the fabric of greatness!
Tomorrow Is A Mystery, But Your Habits Aren’t
Tomorrow is not only a blank slate, but an unknown slate. You might wake up with a headache, an unexpected appointment, an emergency, or a really lazy mood that laughs in the face of 4 cups of coffee. If I have one cup of coffee, I will involuntarily run a marathon, but that’s besides the point.
When the allure of “doing it tomorrow” makes you procrastinate to eat healthy food, clean your kitchen, file your taxes, and call your grandma, among other important things, what do you think happens after 10 or 20 years of doing it? What do you have?
Many people procrastinate even when conditions to act are ideal, and even when they want to do them.
How can this be explained? I’ll tell you. We aren’t opposed to doing the right things, but we’ve simply trained ourselves to put them off indefinitely because tomorrow is sexy. Have we fallen in love with tomorrow, when today has clearly been our soulmate all along? Yes, but only if you want to frame this as a romantic comedy.
This puts an interesting spin on the well-worn topic of procrastination. People assume they procrastinate by choice, when they’re more than likely just following a well-established procrastination habit without much thought. Up next is some data that shows where and just how deep procrastination’s roots go in America.
Watching TV 5 Hours A Day Is Not Living, It’s Planning To Live Tomorrow
TV is entertaining and I watch it some, but it pales in comparison to the real world experiences you can have like scuba-diving, exploring the maze of Venice at night (magical), or exploring a new country. The average American watches about five hours of TV every day 1, and if you’re average in this regard:
- Minus 8 hrs sleep, TV is a third of your free time!
- Minus the 8 hr workday too, it’s more than 60% of your free time.
- Minus chores and personal care, it absolutely dominates your free time!
With that time, we could get in world-class shape, read fascinating books, learn languages, earn money, and improve our lives in a number of other ways. But I’m not telling you what to do with your time. This article applies to whatever you really want to do. TV just seems to be the procrastination device of choice for many, with cell phones and mindless internet browsing also being popular.
People can’t live their dreams because of excuses. Other people say, “don’t use excuses,” but they don’t address why we have them.
Excuses exist to justify the pursuit of our subconscious, easy, habitual desires over our harder-to-get dreams.
If you have a TV-watching habit, you will (often unknowingly) find excuses to support this lifestyle and protect it from change. This is how your subconscious controls you in a sneaky way. And do you know what one of the most common, bulletproof, and satisfying excuses is?
“Oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is not your friend.