Tag Archives: procrastination

Damocles

How long is it before procrastination takes on the mythical proportions of an Impossible Hurdle? My plan to write about our recent excursion to France has turned into a post about NOT writing it (“for now”, says the procrastinator-at-large).

So what is the origin of the story (also the phrase, “hanging by a thread” to denote looming disaster or apprehension)? The History website enlightens, as follows:

History Stories

What was the sword of Damocles?

What was the sword of Damocles?

EVAN ANDREWS

The famed “sword of Damocles” dates back to an ancient moral parable popularized by the Roman philosopher Cicero in his 45 B.C. book “Tusculan Disputations.” Cicero’s version of the tale centers on Dionysius II, a tyrannical king who once ruled over the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Though rich and powerful, Dionysius was supremely unhappy. His iron-fisted rule had made him many enemies, and he was tormented by fears of assassination—so much so that he slept in a bedchamber surrounded by a moat and only trusted his daughters to shave his beard with a razor.

As Cicero tells it, the king’s dissatisfaction came to a head one day after a court flatterer named Damocles showered him with compliments and remarked how blissful his life must be. “Since this life delights you,” an annoyed Dionysius replied, “do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?” When Damocles agreed, Dionysius seated him on a golden couch and ordered a host of servants wait on him. He was treated to succulent cuts of meat and lavished with scented perfumes and ointments. Damocles couldn’t believe his luck, but just as he was starting to enjoy the life of a king, he noticed that Dionysius had also hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling. It was positioned over Damocles’ head, suspended only by a single strand of horsehair. From then on, the courtier’s fear for his life made it impossible for him to savor the opulence of the feast or enjoy the servants. After casting several nervous glances at the blade dangling above him, he asked to be excused, saying he no longer wished to be so fortunate.

For Cicero, the tale of Dionysius and Damocles represented the idea that those in power always labor under the specter of anxiety and death, and that “there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions.” The parable later became a common motif in medieval literature, and the phrase “sword of Damocles” is now commonly used as a catchall term to describe a looming danger. Likewise, the saying “hanging by a thread” has become shorthand for a fraught or precarious situation. One of its more famous uses came in 1961 during the Cold War, when President John F. Kennedy gave a speech before the United Nations in which he said that “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”

In Praise of Like

As a preteen, “liking” a boy was the highest form of attachment. Somewhere along the way, though, like was deemed second best to “love”. If you liked someone, that meant you were (only) friends but if you loved them, well, that was the romantic ideal.

I’ve been thinking lately that we shortchange ourselves when love supersedes like.

Shouldn’t our romantic partners/spouses etc. also be our close friends? People whom we respect, admire, enjoy and actually like? If those who set our hearts a-flutter are also good company, doesn’t that have more staying power?

Something else I liked this week: some hints on motivation.

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We usually know what we ought to be doing at any given moment – begin a project, get out and exercise, etc. — but feeling motivated enough to start may be more of a challenge.

So when I read this trick to outsmart your brain, it caught my attention.

A woman named Mel Robbins started researching the science behind motivation and discovered that our brains have an innate need to protect us. When we’re stressed, afraid, or in pain, our mind will keep us from doing the uncomfortable activity by communicating, “It’s ok, you don’t need to do that; do this instead”.

It’s not necessarily a lack of willpower or commitment that keeps us from pursuing what we ought to; it seems to be an innate response we can train ourselves to override.

Ms. Robbins has given talks and written a book about her 5-second rule and how to use it in every area of your life. It’s quite simple: when you find yourself procrastinating, count backward from 5 and then begin the activity. Apparently, it’s a form of metacognition that interrupts the excuses. Here’s more detail if you’re interested.

This sounds very cool and I’m going to use it right now to make myself pull some pesky weeds.

Or maybe after lunch….