Time perspective is a term coined by psychology prof Philip Zimbardo. Do you know what yours is? Why would you care? According to the subtitle of The Time Paradox (2008) by Zimbardo and John Boyd, this is “The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.”
It’s not really just one paradox, but a series of them, however. Examples given on the website:
Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.
Each specific attitude toward time—or time perspective—is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.
Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.
Jane Collingwood writes in a Psych Central article about the five approaches to time perspective that Zimbardo has identified in The Time Paradox:
The ‘past-negative’ type. You focus on negative personal experiences that still have the power to upset you. This can lead to feelings of bitterness and regret.
The ‘past-positive’ type. You take a nostalgic view of the past, and stay in very close contact with your family. You tend to have happy relationships, but the downside is a cautious, ‘better safe than sorry’ approach which may hold you back.
The ‘present-hedonistic’ type. You are dominated by pleasure-seeking impulses, and are reluctant to postpone feeling good for the sake of greater gain later. You are popular but tend to have a less healthy lifestyle and take more risks.
The ‘present-fatalistic’ type. You aren’t enjoying the present but feel trapped in it, unable to change the inevitability of the future. This sense of powerlessness can lead to anxiety, depression and risk-taking.
The ‘future-focused’ type. You are highly ambitious, focused on goals, and big on making ‘to do’ lists. You tend to feel a nagging sense of urgency that can create stress for yourself and those around you. Your investment in the future can come at the cost of close relationships and recreation time.
Selected Quotes from The Time Paradox
Time perspective is the often nonconscious personal attitude that each of us holds toward time and the process whereby the continual flow of existence is bundled into time categories that help to give order, coherence, and meaning to our lives.
While no one can change events that occurred in the past, everyone can change attitudes and beliefs about them.
Yesterday was too early. Tomorrow will be too late. Today is the day of reckoning for each of us.
Einstein himself is reported to have said: When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.
Future-oriented people tend to be more successful professionally and academically, to eat well, to exercise regularly, and to schedule preventive doctor’s exams.
What’s Your Type?
Your type can be determined by taking Zimbardo’s time perspective inventory. Click here to answer the 61 questions and get your results.
The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy by Philip Zimbardo, Richard Sword, and Rosemary Sword applies the concept of time perspective to therapy with trauma survivors. The therapy approach used by the Swords helps those who get stuck in the Past Negative/Present Fatalistic place to shift to a more healing time perspective, including both the “past positive” and a more positive future orientation.
From Amazon’s Q & A with the authors of The Time Cure:
Q. How is this different from other approaches to addressing PTSD?
A. Time Perspective Therapy takes into consideration not only a person’s past and present, but also their future. Many approaches to helping PTSD sufferers focus on a person’s history and how past events affect their thought processes. Through our practice we’ve found that constantly reliving that past trauma can have extremely negative effects on a PTSD sufferer—we call it ‘being stuck in the quicksand of the past.’ A person with PTSD is stuck between their traumatic past experience (what we call ‘past negatives’) and their hopeless present (what we call ‘present fatalism’). If they do think about the future, it’s usually negative. In TPT we focus on balancing a person’s past negatives with positive memories of the past; their present fatalism with some present hedonistic enjoyment; and we make plans for a bright, positive future.