Time Perspectives and Time Perspective Therapy
We frequently take the importance of time for granted, never realizing how our view of this valuable asset affects not only our thoughts and behaviors, but also the choices we make. What can we do? We can be more aware of how we think about time – our past, our present, and our future - as well as how we spend it.
In TPT, the past is divided into past negative and past positive, and the present is divided into present fatalism and present hedonism. If any one of these time perspectives, including the future, are weighed too heavily, we can lose out on what’s really happening now and/or lose sight of what could be happening in our future, causing us to be unsteady.
Being out of balance in this way also shades the way we think as well as impacts negatively our decision making process. For instance, if you are stuck in a negative past experience, you might think that from now on everything that happens to you will be negative so why even bother planning for your future because it’s just going to be the same old, same old. Or if you are an extreme present hedonist adrenaline junky looking for ways to spike your adrenal glands, you might engage in risky behaviors that unintentionally endanger yourself or others because you are living in the moment and not thinking about future consequences. If you are out of balance in your future time perspective, constantly thinking and worrying about all the things you have to do, you might forget or miss out on the everyday, wonderful things happening in your life and the lives of your loved ones.
6 main time perspectives
1. Past positive people focus on the “good old days.” They may keep scrapbooks, collect photos, and look forward to celebrating traditional holidays.
2. Past negative people focus on all the things that went wrong in the past: “it doesn’t matter what I do, my life will never change.”
3. Present hedonistic people live in the moment – seeking pleasure, novelty, and sensation, and avoiding pain.
4. Present fatalistic people feel that decisions are moot because predetermined fate plays the guiding role in life: “What will be, will be.”
5. Future-oriented people plan for the future and trust that their decision will work out.
Note: there is a subset of the future time-oriented people: Transcendental future-oriented. These people believe that by leading a “good” life, they will be rewarded in the afterlife.
*biased toward the past
Good and bad things happen to everyone, but not everyone sees the world in the same way or gives equal weight to experiences. Put simply, some of us naturally see the world through rose-colored glasses (past positive), whereas other see the world through a darker lens (past negative). We have found that people who primarily focus on the past value the old more than the new; the familiar over the novel; and the cautions, conservative approach over the daring, more liberal or risky one.
*biased toward the present
People who live in the present are far less—or not at all—influenced by either past experiences or future considerations. They focus only on the immediate present—what’s happening now. They make decisions based on the inner forces and outer pressures in their immediate stimulus situation: internal hormonal signals, feelings, smells, sounds, the attractive qualities of the object of desire, and what others are urging them to do. Remember the old parental question, ‘‘If all of your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you do that too?’’ For people with a bias toward the present, the answer is likely to be ‘‘Yes.”
*biased toward the future
No one is born thinking about how to plan for the future. A number of conditions—including living in a temperate zone (where it’s necessary to anticipate seasonal change), living in a stable family or society, being Protestant or Jewish, and becoming educated—can create future oriented people. In general, future-oriented people do very well. They are less aggressive, are less depressed, have more energy, take care of their health, have good impulse control, and have more self-esteem. But those stuck in the past, locked into negative memories, may have lost the ability to even conceive of a hopeful future and must journey toward this time perspective to create balance.
Time Perspective Therapy in a Nutshell
When our time perspectives are skewed, usually in the negative, not only are we affected, but the people we come in contact with - families, friends, co-workers, even an innocent store clerk - can be affected as well. Time Perspective Therapy helps people see patterns that they may have adopted as coping mechanisms for living with stress, anxiety, depression, or day to day struggles and worries. It shows them how to help themselves while they help their loved ones.
Time Perspective Therapy takes into consideration not only a person’s past and present, but also their future. Many approaches to therapy, including self-help, focus on a person’s history and how past events affect their thought processes. We’ve found that constantly reliving past traumas or adverse experiences can have extremely negative effects on a person—we call it “being stuck in the quicksand of the past.” A person may be stuck between a traumatic past experience (past negatives) and their hopeless present (present fatalism.) If they do think about the future, it’s usually negative. In TPT focus is placed on balancing a person’s past negatives with positive memories of the past; their present fatalism with some present hedonistic enjoyment; and making plans for a bright, positive future.