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May 2024
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Tomorrow, tomorrow …

It’s the bane of our existence— and the one thing that keeps us from going absolutely, completely nuts.

By John Cadley

Illustration of man sitting on couch eating ice creamIllustration by Bart Browne

Well, well—January again. I’ve written many times about this auspicious month, the time of “new beginnings” and “fresh starts.” If you follow this column you know I’m a bit jaded about all that—how I, in fact, view New Year’s resolutions as a sign of pathology bordering on the delusional. This is obvious from the first day of the new year, when all the people who have resolved to lose weight and get in shape lie motionless on giant couches, watch sports, and stuff themselves with snacks. They’ve gained five pounds before they even get into their new fashion- forward workout wear—if it still fits.

I’ve pondered this disconnect between intentions and actions for years, and I have come to the conclusion that it is not our fault. The problem lies in a single word that describes one of the most dangerous concepts in human behavior—“tomorrow.” We over-eat on January 1 because we believe we can start losing weight … tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes, we go to the gym and work out, and we wake up the next day and can barely get out of bed because of the aching muscles we haven’t used in 14 years. So, we decide to rest for a day and start again … tomorrow. And we do, until something comes up and we can’t make it to the gym that day, but we definitely will … tomorrow. And so it goes, until “tomorrow” becomes the death knell for all our brave and noble intentions.

The irony, as we all know, is that there is no “tomorrow.” It’s just a mental dumping ground for the things we don’t want to do today. You can’t do anything tomorrow. You can only wait until tomorrow becomes today and then you’re right back where you started from. I can understand the temptation to avoid life’s daily unpleasantries. But it can so easily backfire. Just consider the gentleman who put off making out his will until tomorrow and got run over by a bus today. Not only did he die tragically, he also left behind a string of relatives who will curse his name in perpetuity for denying them the cash they thought they had coming.

You can’t do anything tomorrow. You can only wait until tomorrow becomes today and then you’re right back where you started.

So, what if we had no concept of “tomorrow”? How would your life be different if today was the only time you had? Well, for one thing you’d be sleepy. You would have to get out of bed earlier, with just enough time for one cup of coffee instead of two. Then you’d grab your to-do list, race to the car, and drive a little too fast (and sleep-deprived) to get to your job on time so you can get everything done today.

While you’re working, you’ll be thinking about how much you can get done on your lunch hour, which means you’ll be distracted and probably make a mistake, so instead of billing your best client 20,000, you send him an invoice for 200,000 and get a chewing out from your boss that leaves singe marks on your eyebrows.

The work day ends, and you see there are still seven things to do with only six more hours until midnight—the end of today. No time to waste. You hit the grocery store, the cleaners, and the gas station, then head to the mall for the cashmere sweaters, which are 50% off today only! It’s 8:45 p.m. and you have one last thing to do—get to the pharmacy, which closes at 9 p.m. You hit the highway and get stopped for speeding. By the time the officer fills out the ticket, the pharmacy is closed, which wouldn’t be so bad except you needed to get a lotion to relieve the terrible itching from some mysterious rash you’ve developed.

It’s now 9:20 p.m. and you head for home, tired, stressed, sleep-deprived, and looking forward to another night scratching yourself like a dog with fleas. You reach for your comfort food—Rocky Road ice cream—and realize it’s your third carton this week. And then you think … Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to do everything today, if there was some way to postpone a few things? Yeah, if only …

All of which leads to the unavoidable conclusion that if tomorrow didn’t exist we would have to invent it—which we did. Otherwise, we’d all be sleep-deprived ice cream addicts looking desperately for a back scratcher.

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