After completing an activity I sometimes don’t know what to do next and think “what should I do now?” This is not only a thought; it is also an experiential state. I’ve become more conscious of this experiential state and named it the “what-should-I-do-now” state. The state is characterized by my looking outside myself to find the next thing I should do. The phrasing is indicative of what the state is and means. It assumes that there is an objectively right thing to do next and that I need to find it now. It is an attempt to guide myself by external pointers rather than internal guides such as desires or needs. And it presumes that I need to be occupied now and shouldn’t just be unoccupied or doing nothing.
The “should” phrasing and the felt-experience presuppose a particular conception of life and the world. This conception is that there is an objectively right thing to do now and that I will progress in life - get somewhere, be somebody - by fulfilling that objective. For me, getting somewhere has the sense of making progress towards a goal of being rated highly by an external standard held by others. It suggests a worldview in which there are external guideposts which can show me how to discover my next action and how to live in general. So instead of being connected to subjective desires and feelings and following their lead without approval from the outside, I ignore my internal desires and try to achieve an image of what I should be in order to attain attention for accomplishing a goal that others value.
A quite different experiential state is that of “having an inclination” or “being drawn to investigate” or “wanting to know” or “just feeling like doing” whose character contrasts with the “what-should-I-do-now” experience. This experience is one of looking inside myself and discovering what I want and following that inclination. The doing that results is motivated inwardly and so has less of the quality of being forced to act. The idea behind this way of acting is being my own person. It suggests that one lives better by not living outside oneself.
Thoreau wrote, “Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.”