Answer These Two Questions for a Better Life
What will the present punish me for, and what will the future punish me for? I’m convinced that answering these two questions can lead to a better life. But to explain how, we must first understand our relationship with time.
You can think about life as a series of moments unfolding, one after another. Each dot represents a moment, and the line connecting them represents the passage of time. We call the moment we’re currently in – the present, the moments we’ve experienced – the past, and the moments yet to come – the future. So in other words, the present is where the past and the future meet. The present is all we ever really experience, and it’s where the past is reaped and the future is sown.
Since the present moment is all we ever really experience, let’s get rid of all the other dots for a second. Now consider this question: if you could experience one thing in each present moment, what would it be? For me, the answer was this: I ask that each present moment be meaningful.
Now let’s consider the present and the future together. The line connecting all of the dots represents the axis of meaning. I find that as time goes on, as the entropy of my life increases, as I take on more responsibilities and hardships, it becomes harder to experience meaning in each moment. I think about how easy it was to be fully immersed in the moment as a child, and how often my mind wanders and is preoccupied now as an adult. So each moment requires greater strength than the last one to produce a meaningful experience. How can I get each moment to stay on the axis of meaning instead drifting away over time?
In each moment, the only thing that matters is our next action. The only thing we ever perform is our next action, and it starts in the present and ripples on infinitely into the future, helping to create it. And as I mentioned earlier, the present punishes a lack of meaning, and the future punishes weakness. So I look for an action that brings meaning and strength in each moment.
When it comes to finding the right next action, there is no-one-size-fits-all. Watching an hour of TV a day might bring one person strength, while it might bring weakness to another. And depending on the circumstances of our individual lives, we may be either person. During one season of our life, we may find it beneficial and strengthening to relax on the couch and watch some TV. But during another season of our life, we may find that it makes us weaker. The same goes for activities like weightlifting. Weightlifting may be meaningful to one person, while another finds it meaningless in the moment, and prefers to go for runs, play sports, or do circuits at the park.
Discovering the right next action is a unique process that depends on the individual, the demands of the moment and their environment, and what brings them meaning and strength.
Even the words I used – meaning and strength – might not resonate with someone else. But I think the central problem always comes back to this image and two questions: what will the present punish me for, and what will the future punish me for? Or in other words, what does the present reward, what does the future reward, and how can I act, in this moment, to receive the rewards of both?
If you have different words in mind, let me know in the comments: what does the present and the future reward/punish you for?
As always, thanks for watching! And I’ll see you next time.