"The most precious resource we all have is time." - Steve Jobs
Rushing to work in the morning, waking up your sleep-deprived teenagers to start to school, preparing for an exam, being worried before an operation, signing up for a bank loan, enjoying a movie with your loved one, watching the family snapshot album – many situations when we are influenced by time. But do you know how do you relate to time?
Time influences us differently, or as Philip Zimbardo from Stanford University phrases it: "my time is not the same as your time". In his recent book, The Time Paradox, he helps us to understand how subjectively we perceive time and what can be the consequences to our life if we choose the right combination of the possible six time-perspectives.
Past positive – looking at your past through rose-colored lenses
The past is important because our present identity and values are partly created from the memories we keep from our past, but our memory is not static like replaying a video recording. Many researchers suggest that we have a reconstructive memory and as we replay our memories (for example by telling stories about it), we make amendments and color our past. We even reconstruct our memories in accordance with our current attitudes, feelings, and beliefs. (For example, your wonderful memories can become rather painful after a divorce.)
Your past defines your roots and is the key to understand yourself. People who view their past positively are happier, healthier and more successful than those having a negative attitude towards their past.
Past negative – looking at the dark side of your past
Having a negative attitude towards our past causes depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, so we should avoid this perspective as much as possible. We all had problems and difficulties in our lives, but these experiences shaped us to be the persons we are today. Our struggles made us stronger and we could probably learn a lot from these negative situations. If we look at ourselves as victims, we cannot grow and develop.
Tip: Take some time every day to write down things you are thankful for. It is true that you cannot change the past, but you can always change how you feel and think about it. In psychology we call it "re-framing": try to look at the other side of the coin. In every pain, there is something positive, something you could learn from it, something that added to you.
Present hedonist – carpe diem
People with this perspective live for the moment and try to experience as much pleasure as possible and to avoid pain. Teens are typical hedonists, seeking novelty, excitement and short-term gains. (I have written about it here and here.
It's good to enjoy feeling alive and be passionate, but there is an extent to it, you have to be moderate. While it is great to be lost in the moment, if you always seek pleasure, it may jeopardize your long-term development and happiness. People living this hedonistic life are often not concerned about the consequences of their actions, so they are more likely to take part in risky behaviors.
We are born with an instinctive tendency to focus on the present: we have several biological needs that demand this, but society often demands us to delay gratification. I already wrote about the infamous Marshmallow experiment here in which they found that children who are able to resist temptation are significantly more successful in their life.
Present fatalist – "it's all decided, I can't do anything"
Having this perspective means that you feel that fate has already decided everything about you. You are stressed and depressed, you cannot do anything, you feel that your life is controlled by forces outside of your influence. This is the perspective of many fairy tales.
This perspective takes the control out of your hand, therefore it decreases your self-esteem and force of will. This is again a time perspective that should be minimized.
Tip: Try to convince yourself that you always have a choice! Always list the things that you can do or decide in a situation. Draw three concentric circles. In the biggest one list the things that are only depending on you, in the next one list those things that you can do but you need someone else's help to do (also write down who can help you). And in the last circle list those things that are independent of you. You will be surprised how many steps you can make on your own.
Future orientation - planning ahead
Being future oriented can help you to be more successful because you can plan ahead and prepare for your future. For example, a future-oriented student will study for the exam rather than go out with his friends, because he can see his bright future with the degree in his hands. This perspective requires stability: someone in the middle of a family crisis or a war usually does not think about the future (or at least rarely in a positive, constructive, planning manner, if these people deal with the future, their thoughts are usually full of uncertainty and frustration).
Transcendental attitude - believing that life extends beyond death
Our goals usually extend to the point of our imagined death, but those having this perspective think further. This attitude is connected to spirituality and religion. This attitude is also good, but again to an extent: people living too much in the future may lose contact with their present. We live our life here, so we have to concentrate our energies here.
If we are keeping an eye on the future, it means that we can grab opportunities that our life offers.
Tip: Analyze your future, try to evaluate your options and choose the best opportunity. Set goals, if you are able to look into the future and set realistic but challenging goals for yourself, that's half a success. Then all you need is a plan to reach these goals – step by step. Sounds simple right?
What is the ideal time perspective?
Well, you may be wondering reading this post, what can be the ideal choice… Well, it's actually a combination of many time perspectives. I would summarize this way:
- High past positive
- Moderate present hedonist
- Moderately high future-oriented
It helps to solve many problems in life if you understand your time perspective and that of those around you. If you are interested to reveal it with a questionnaire then you find one here.
- Philip Zimbardo (2008): The time paradox, Free Press, New York
- Claudia Hammond (2013): Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, Harper Perennial, New York
- Arthur P. Shimamura: Reconstructing Memories With the Stories We Tell - Our memories define who we are as individuals or at least who we think we are. Downloaded from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-brain-the-beholder/201309/reconstructing-memories-the-stories-we-tell
Sources of pictures