"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Stuck in time: Past, present or future

By on September 27, 2017 in Columnist with 0 Comments


June DarlingBy June Darling

You’re about to find out why some people are more successful than others, why some are happier, why some are addicted to gambling, drugs and alcohol and why some couples have more friction.

When you hear the answer, it probably won’t make sense, but here goes. Time orientation.

That’s right.

How you think about time is a total game-changer. Before you read further, realize that this is not an article about being more efficient with your time. No, this topic is bigger.

According to researchers, most people are dominated by a time preference. Their focus — where their fantasies and thoughts reside — is more in the past, present, or future. This time orientation largely determines many outcomes in their lives.

Past time orientation. Some remember the good ole days. They had dinners together as a family. The country was united. Mother made the best apple pie.

These folks put up memorials and get flowers for their family gravesites. They have family rituals that have been observed with pleasure for years.

For some past oriented people, however, life was tough. Dad was mean. Mom was a drunk. Life sucked. And yes, these prisoners of the negative past are often depressed and bitter.

A past oriented person can have both negative and positive remembrances. Clearly, more positive is better.

Still there can be problems if a person spends a huge amount of time thinking about the past. They may hang on to grudges. Their view of themselves may be limited to who they were in the past. And if you’re hanging out in the past, it’s hard to experience the present or plan for tomorrow.

Present time orientation. Some folks spend most of their time in the present. They suck the marrow out of life. They smell the roses. Carpe diem is their mantra. Spontaneity, friends, and fun are what it’s all about for them. Sounds pretty good.

There are downsides, however, to being extremely present focused.

These folks may be overdrawn at the bank. Their refrigerator may be bare because they were too busy playing tennis with friends to go to the grocery store. Perhaps they overeat, drink, take drugs, or gamble too much.

It’s all about what feels good now with little thought about tomorrow. Their inability to delay gratification can lead to reckless and unethical or illegal behavior. These folks largely show up in places of incarceration. They are much more likely to be in poverty.

Future time orientation. These folks think ahead a LOT. They plan, make goals, to-do lists, schedules, and set up retirement funds.

Hard work is the rule. These strongly future oriented folks are all about delaying gratification now to live a good life in the future. The futures are the most successful.

The downside for these “futures” is that some of them spend long hours working. They may miss their children’s school play or sports events. They may be unable to just sit still and enjoy the moment. They may lose some of their money in divorces. They may have few friendships.

If you’d like to know how these orientations can cause conflict in a couple, here are two quotes from the early days of our marriage:

(Me): “Be in bed by eight, get up by five and exercise — you gotta be kidding me!” (present time orientation)

(Him): “Go out to dinner with friends in 30 minutes? Waste our time dancing, bah!” (future time orientation)

After many years and a few battle scars, my husband, John, and I eventually learned more about the upsides and downsides to various ways of thinking about and being with time. We found how to be more balanced and flexible with our own time orientation.

Here are a few ideas if you want to modify your dominant time perspective to be happier, more successful, and side-step some marital problems:

If you want to add more positive orientation toward the past, create a family tree, reconnect with old friends. Celebrate holidays. Go to reunions.

If you want to be more present-oriented, spend time with pets and kids. Go DANCING.

If you want to be more future-oriented practice delaying gratification. The next time you want something like a cookie, practice waiting. Make a small goal, write the steps you need to take to achieve the goal.

You can find many more tips and stories in The Time Paradox by Zimbardo and Boyd. For many other fascinating stories and facts of how time impacts not only individuals, but organizations, and especially countries, read Robert Levine’s book The Geography of Time.

How might you move up to The Good Life by balancing your time orientation?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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