A Lick and a Promise

cat licking milk

It takes a lot of licks to clean up spilt milk, but the cat doesn’t mind.

As I discover and build the system for my life to manage time and my many projects, it occurs to me that I’m approaching where I want to be with “a lick and a promise.”

This old-time phrase has several meanings to me. The most appropriate is to do a little bit now with the promise of a more thourough job later, similar to “It’s a cinch by the inch, but hard by the yard.”

Much of my system building has to do with making the mundane maintenace of my life into “licks” of tiny tasks, “little by little and bit by bit” instead of “promises” of attacking the whole big picture at once.

I’m building small habits now that might amuse others, things that they have always done without thinking about it. The key for me is to find some kind of accomplishment in the small task. It’s rather hard to be proud of myself for empthying the dishwasher, but not doing so wrecks havoc in my one-person kitchen.

A little task now–five minutes of picking up beind myself–does save hours of doing it later. I’ve often observed that the amount of time is the same, whether is it done in small daily “licks” or in more protracted efforts as “promised.” An hour’s work to be done in the future –as “promised” seems like less work than doing constant tasks every day, though it is certainly easier to do a small task now than a big one later. That later task gets bigger and bigger and more overwhelming the longer it is put off, known at my house as the Monstrous MESS.

Avoiding the small task now comes from the darker perspective this phrase. A lick, a spank, now with the promise of more later if whatever task at hand is not done. This use of “lick” comes from the idea of “taking one’s licks” either in a fight or at school, where back in the bad old days, a student could escape detention after school by “taking a lick” by being hit on the butt with a board (a board of education), which was a popular “get it over with” 5-minute punishment much preferable to a half-hour after school. There’s a certain amount of status in “taking one’s licks.”

Coercion by threat of punishment is not nearly as motivating as it might seem. It only produces resentment and resistance when the punishing hand is no longer there and the habit of avoidance is established. Unfortunately, the voice of the punisher is still there, and when that voice is heard inside my head, the resistance and resentment avoids the small task at hand.

So now my job is to being to replace that old voice with one that is my own, a “let’s do it now…it’ll only take a minute” even if the task is only a “lick and a promise” for taming the Monstrous MESS.

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