Which Time Personality Are You?

I’ve been recommending this book a lot lately: “The Time Paradox” by Philip Zimbardo. The concepts are sound and extremely useful for instruction in counseling.

There are three main “time personalities”: Pasts, Presents, and Futures. Most of us lean towards one as our dominant perspective.

Pasts can be Past Positive or Past Negative. Past positives are the nostalgic types who love family, the “good old days”, and reminiscing. Whether or not their past has been truly positive, Past Positives weave good feelings about their life story into their memories and often compare the present to the positive past.
Past Negatives tend to feel a chip on their shoulders about the hand they have been dealt in life. They feel wronged by the world, regret decisions, and would like a “do-over” more often than not.

Presents can be Present Hedonists or Present Fatalists. Present Hedonists are your classic “good time” guys. They live in the moment and are very focused on their senses and having a good time right now. They know that they have to work tomorrow but “have another drink and worry about that later!” They are usually outgoing, not always punctual, and extremely popular.
Present Fatalists are less common, but easy to spot. They are the “why bother, things won’t work out for me” types. Behind their present focus is a cynical attitude that they don’t have much control over their future, so they might as well not plan for it. They’re like a guy I sat next to on an airplane who looked at my baggage ticket and said, “Might as well just throw that out, since they probably just threw your bag away!”
Both types of Presents can be reckless with their money or emotionally promiscuous. They are also the classic “addict” personalities, concerned with their present-moment fix of drugs or shopping or other addictive behavior and not focused on the trouble it has caused them in the past (or awaits them in the future).

Futures are planners and leaders. They are the ones who get their medical checkups on time, who invest their money (often saving it for too long) and have trouble taking vacations or relaxing. Futures tend to be healthy, financially stable, and emotionally strong. While futures set themselves up to be the healthiest and most stable of the personalities, they have their downsides. Futures can be repressed, anal and annoyingly goody-goodies. Watch out for them and their Blackberries on the beach.

What Is Helpful About Knowing My Perspective?

Each holds some information that you might find helpful in solving a problem or improving a relationship. This is important to talk about in counseling, especially with couples, because if one partner is a Present Hedonist and the other is a Future, they are going to have to discuss money early on so that the Present Hedonist’s impulsive spending doesn’t get in the way of the Future’s goals. This same couple can also use the Present Hedonist’s ability to enjoy the moment and to relax to help the Future learn to balance work and play.

An example of an individual use is if you are trying to overcome insomnia; it might help to know how your Future orientation might be keeping you awake.

The only time perspectives that experts agree are not necessary to our well-being are the Past Negative and Present Fatalists. These types of are downers that sometimes surface in all of us, but really get become dangerously embedded in a few unlucky people. Both would do well with some therapy to help them move on from their negative core beliefs.

The best balance is:

  • Moderately high in Future and Present Hedonism (an equal balance)
  • Very high in Past Positive
  • Low or No Present Fatalism and Past Negative

Here are some ways you can balance your outlook.

Pasts: Take care to not compare your current life in a negative light to your good old days. Embrace some Present Hedonism and enjoy new things that are part of your present life and be careful to not get stuck in a rut. Practice your Future orientation by making plans based on what you know helps create your favorite memories. Use therapy to help you see yourself as you are now, and to make your past as positive a story as possible.

Presents: **This is the biggest red flag category as Present Hedonism often leads to debt, addiction, or health problems** Take care of your body and be extremely careful with your chosen substances. Food, drink, drugs, and spending are attractive to Present Hedonists. Wear a watch and try to overestimate your time commitments. Plan. Train your brain to think like a Future: use a calendar, make plans and stick to them, use a budget, schedule doctor’s appointments, and surround yourself with other Futures who can help you make good decisions.

Futures: Make plans with Present Hedonists, and see what it’s like to go with the flow. Have unscripted free time every week and use cognitive therapy to help give yourself permission to relax and have fun. Take off your watch, eat dessert, and sleep in. Remember the good old days, when you weren’t using all the neat gadgets that help you save time. What are you doing with all the time you’ve saved being so efficient?