The Motivation of An Imagined Future

The Motivation of An Imagined Future January 12, 2021

I don’t really like time travel movies. It feels like they don’t really work through the true repercussions of being able to travel through time. They usually hone in on one consequence they want to erase and ignore, or half-heartedly explain away, the can of worms time travel would open.

Thinking about this recently, I realized that we are all time travelers. We are traveling pretty slowly and consistently through time, but traveling nonetheless. None of us are truly paused in time.

But even more than that, I could be classified as a time-traveler because I am very rarely truly living in the present. What I mean is this: I am most motivated by an imagined future. Afraid of what could go awry. Hopeful of what could go well. I am looking forward to or dreading something that has yet to happen (and may not happen at all).


Imagined Futures

We can’t help this, to some degree. Like I said, we are time-travelers and one minute is leading to the next, one decision causing a consequence and inviting another decision.

I am usually thinking six decisions ahead of myself. I am imagining a happily-ever-after or a doomsday. I imagine big grand moments and vacations we haven’t even begun to plan yet. I imagine getting fired or yelled at or generally disliked by someone. I imagine saying or doing the wrong thing, not following through on something. I imagine wild success, fame, riches, and influence.

And all of this imagining is more than just a mental exercise. It is more than just fun and games.

My imagined future shapes the decisions I make today. My choices come from fear of one imagined future or hope of another.


In The Present

The problem with this is that I often face unforeseen consequences of my choices because a) I am giving them too much weight – expecting one choice to be defining or b) I give them too little weight – not seeing their significance and impact on today, treating them as flippant or insignificant to my imagined future.

The other danger of this is that I am not making choices based on reality. I am making choices about what I expect reality to be somewhere down the line. I guess this can be helpful in some ways. But it can also be detrimental. Because the hard truth is that most of my imagined futures do not come to pass. As one present melds into another, things rarely work out exactly how I imagined. In fact, things usually work out in a completely bizarre way that is not only not what I expect, but something literally beyond my imagination.

The unintentional result is that I rarely see, choose, or internalize moments for what they are worth. I strip them down and remake them. I sift through them and sort them according to a reality that has not and likely will not come to pass.

Of course, being motivated by an imagined future is not all bad. In fact, it is just the way we are. We can’t help it. And if we swung too far the other way, it would lead to confusion and chaos because we would not have the consistency of a hoped-for future to thread through our decisions.

But we must be careful.

The key, I believe, is balance. Making decisions based on values rather than circumstantial hypothesis. Making decisions based on character rather than fear or superficial hope. Filling the present with gratitude even as we traverse time towards a future full of surprises.

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