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When you’re trying to make a decision about what you truly want out of life, always ask yourself, And then what?
I’ve always thought about that question when I watch movies that include some kind of villain bent on world domination.
Every time I see this I want to ask, Okay you won, now what?
The evildoer/bad guy/supervillain/etc. never seem to explain what they’re actually going to do after they take over the world. We, as the audience, are the only privy to the fact that they want to, half the time it doesn’t even matter why. Sure, there’s usually some reasoning behind it, like the villain was wronged in the past and wants revenge, or they’re on some kind of power trip, or, like the Joker in the Dark Knight, they just want to watch the world burn, but there’s still never a picture painted of what the life of the villain is going to look like when it’s all said and done.
I’m always watching the story and in my head I’m like, Okay, so you want to kill all the humans and take over the planet, or watch the city burn into chaos, or be the supreme ruler of a slavishly obedient society, fine… and then what? Are you just going to sit on your throne and eat grapes? Who’s going to bring them to you? Are you going to get bored and kill off your henchman too? What’s the point in ruling over a planet with no people? Even if you saved some to have slaves or something, what are you actually going to be doing with your time? What’s your day-to-day look like? Wandering around your fortress bored because there’s nothing else to conquer? I mean, sure you want to rule the planet and be the most powerful whateverthefuck, but I mean, and then what??
I can’t help but continually ask that question regarding the motives of bad guys in movies because I’ve always thought that if they could only play it all out in their head before they went on a planet-conquering rampage, they might be able to see that their motives are misplaced and directed at something external instead of understanding what it is inside them that’s driving them to lash out in such a homicidal way (I know, I know, sure, just ask the soul-devouring demon/planet-ravaging demi-god/hero’s childhood best friend who wants the ultimate revenge, to simply sit down and have an existential chat about their past trauma and what they truly desire that’s hiding behind all of that egomaniacal delusion. I’m sure that’ll save the planet.), BUT I’ve also learned how to adopt that same kind of questioning into my own pursuits and decision making.
Whenever I find myself feeling fixated on the desired outcome, I always ask myself, And then what?
Most of the time, the answer to that question has something to do with finally feeling some sense of contentment or joy that you’re seeking. You feel as if you won’t be happy until you’ve achieved your goal and so you fixate on the ends and disregard how you feel during the means. Whether it be saving money for a fancy car, or arguing with a troll online, or trying to write enough to where you don’t have to feel apprehensive about calling yourself a writer in public, when you’ve reached your goal and continue to ask yourself what happens next can reveal to you what you’ve really been seeking the entire time.
Let’s take myself and how I’ve recently been trying to get to know a girl, for example.
We meet online, we chat for a few days, maybe a week or two. After getting to know each other, circumstances in her life prevent her from reaching out as often as she was. I feel disappointed but understand. I ask myself why I feel that way. Well, I want her to text me. And then what? Then, we can keep talking and it’ll be fun. And then what? Then I’ll feel better because we can get to know each other more. And then what? Then, who knows, maybe we can start a relationship. And then what? Then we can make a life together. And then what? Well, then I can be…happy? Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere! Now we can assume that the only reason for my actions or distress regarding the actions of others is all in service to some kind of future happiness.
Keyword — future.
This fixation on future contentment only serves to distract you from the potential happiness of the present moment and what you could be doing for yourself right now to live as presently as possible.
I’ve had a lifelong problem of misplaced attention and energy. Like so many others, instead of taking the advice of honest gurus, sages of any ilk, or just genuinely happy people to live as present-minded as I’m able, I can still find it damn near impossible sometimes.
Instead of strictly focus on, say, this very article, I have to constantly fight off the pull of my attention towards what I’m going to be doing when I’m done. I can’t help but play out the rest of my day even as I write these words. I don’t even have anything to do today. Yet, I still find myself trying to parse out my time as if I still have a schedule to maintain when, for the time being, I really don’t. All of that effort and unnecessary stress about how I’m going to go about my day when I’m done writing this only acts as a deterrent to quality writing and keeps my attention in a constant boomerang cycle, thrown into the future and only returning momentarily before being chucked away again.
I play it all out in my head until it literally loops back around into this very moment. If you’re ever feeling stuck or distracted, try to do the same. It looks something like this:
I need to finish writing. Ok, and then what? So I can go on a jog because I have to deliver packages later. That’s literally five hours away, you have plenty of time. But okay, and then what? Then, I’ll come home and make dinner and hang out. And then what? Well, I’ll probably be tired, so maybe I’ll watch a movie and go to bed. And then what? Then I’ll wake up tomorrow, I guess. And then what? What will you do tomorrow morning that you do every morning that you’re rushing to get to now? I’ll …write? Ah, so you’re trying to hurry through your writing so you can burn through the rest of your day so you can wake up tomorrow and be sitting right where you are now? …I suppose. Well then, pretend that all already happened and that it is already tomorrow and here you are, now what?
Do you see how this kind of mental tennis can become exhausting? When it’s all said and done, we have to be aware of the fact that the motives for our actions and mentality towards them aren’t always what they seem to be. It can be so easy to project our desires into some future state of mind that we neglect our capacity to reel in that projection and focus on how we act and feel in the moment we actually have control over.
You don’t need to conquer a planet or wait around for someone to text you back to feel worthy of joy. You don’t actually need that future life you envision for yourself to feel fulfilled as a person and content as a human being already dealing with a crisis of existence on a daily basis.
When you’re feeling anxious, or worried, or stressed, or hateful, or bitter, imagine all the things that would have to go differently to start feeling better. Imagine that everything goes according to plan and it all works out perfectly. Imagine getting everything you ever wanted and how it would make you feel. Think about sitting there as master of your life, soaking in the splendor you’ve accumulated, and while you’re sitting there imagining the fantasy of staring at the sky without a care in the world, ask yourself, And then what?