You say live in the moment not in the future. But if I don’t plan and have goals
why would I do anything? Don’t I need ambition to motivate me?
My heart broke a tiny bit when I read your question. I could immediately feel it—you’re thinking yourself too small. There are all these built-in assumptions in your question and they all point to the fact that you’ve been programmed to see yourself in weak and broken terms. Let’s change that. Because that change happens instantaneously in any collection of moments where you remember that you are in fact a critical aspect without which the universe would be incomplete.
“…if I don’t plan and have goals why would I do anything?” Oh, so cavemen had a goal to become civilized? Every day they would have just laid around having sex and eating grapes? They never would have thought to find easier ways to get food, or there never would have been an animal or plant that they would have noticed things about and thereby learned things from?
Did it ever occur to you that most of the remarkable things we’ve achieved since becoming human were done before we even had language to allow us to be conscious of an “us?” Ego is primarily made of language. Nature comes to you as feelings. It does things like motivate you to eat by making you hungry, or it motivates you to stay near people because it feels good to be around them. These are the fundamental motivations that activate children to learn to walk and talk in only two years and they weren’t even students and no one was even teaching them.
So first off, you’re not naturally lazy and uninterested in learning. Quite the opposite. If you stopped replaying those limiting ideas to yourself in your head you would naturally realize how amazing you truly are. No one told you you were a poet and a leader and a singer and a dancer when you were three. You just had no reason to think that you couldn’t be any of those things. But today, with all of the thinking you do, now you think you have to earn things.
You can’t learn by being anymore. As an adult ego you’ve surrendered your freedom to create your own feelings and now you believe someone else anoints you with feelings of success. You’ve been taught that following your nature is now somehow lazy, or irresponsible, so your life is primarily dedicated to getting others to think favourable thoughts about you. That is not responsible though. Quite the opposite. Doing everything your told to is irresponsible. Where is your choice to be constructive in that? Where is your contribution? If everything you do is made of obligation and repetition then you cease to be a Human Being and you’ve become some kind of economic robot that’s following someone else’s lines on the floor. That is not a free life. Needing over 90% on an exam is not a route to freedom. Loving learning is.
Secondly, why do you need a future goal to motivate you? So you’re telling me that you can be motivated to save for the down-payment on a house, but you’re not interested in having day to day happiness? You mean you’re not ambitious about this moment? You mean you will surrender your joy in this moment, in the hopes that you will accumulate more of it at some future event which may or may not happen?
Your life happens in moments. This one was either happy or it wasn’t. When it’s over you shift to the next one. So you can’t save up moments. You can’t store happiness and then rain it down on yourself in buckets in the future. You either used a moment to create happiness or you used it to create something else. But once it’s gone you’ve used it. Once it’s gone it’s gone—that’s it.
So yes, be ambitious. About your own joy. You weren’t put on this planet to work 10 hours a day for some company. Hours and companies don’t even really exist. They are constructs of our minds. But your joy is an actual experience. When you’re waiting for an ambulance you can easily stretch minutes into hours, and yet when you’re experiencing a tearful goodbye, an hour can suddenly feel like minutes. But throughout, moment by moment, you feel your life as you traverse events. So do not mistake concepts for experiences. 30 degrees is a concept. The feeling of heat is an in-the-moment sensation. Most of the things modern ambition chases are concepts like money, fame, status and the imagined security of power. To lead a healthy life we must be ambitious regarding the quality of our experiences. We must be motivated by our intrinsic compulsions. We must trust who we are. Because Issac Newton hated people, worked naked and never bathed, but that worked out okay in the end didn’t it. He did what felt right for him and genius emerged.
So what’s important is your Experience of Life. I would encourage you to be very dedicated and enthusiastic and bold about steering each individual moment toward what feels right for the person you are in that moment. Wherever that takes you will be just fine as long as you don’t mistake superficial pleasure for profound interaction with the universe. Getting high might temporarily feel pleasurable, but unless its active effects promote either stronger connections or the breaking down of barriers, then a high simply isn’t as gratifying to you as something like falling in love, or having a sense of personal achievement.
Don’t start off with the idea that you’re lazy and stupid because you want to enjoy your own life. You should want to. Why else live it? But don’t live it in some maybe-future. Live it in your for-certain Now. It’s not that hard if you just pay a little attention. And stay ambitious about being joyful.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.