Time is a universal concept that has proven to be a conundrum since man became aware of it. In our current fast-paced world, it can be a life-saving trait to know how to manage time. However, whether time is an actual thing or just a construct, no one has been able to prove it.
A lot of learned people have described time in many different ways. Albert Einstein said, “Time is what clocks measure”. Philosopher Adolph Grunbaum said about time, “…a linear continuum of instants”. There are many more but permit me to stop here.
As for me, I am going with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who said that time is a construct of the human mind in order to make sense of our reality. Try it now, imagine what things will be like without your perception of time. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.
I believe that what we are actually dealing with in our reality is just the measurement of time and not the actual ’thing’.
We all perceive time, at least to the best of my knowledge. However, our perception of it is different which brings us to the crux of this discussion.
The primary aim here is our individual perception of time and how we relate to it. That is exactly what time perspective is, according to Dr. Zimbardo, how you relate to time.
Let us step back a little bit here. The general perception of time is past, present, and future. As you probably already know, each person pays different levels of attention to each part of this time trichotomy.
The amount of attention you give to a time period makes up your time perspective. Normally, no one will give 100% of their attention to just one time period. However, the bulk of our attention is often biased towards a particular time period.
Dr. Phillip Zimbardo explains time perspectives in detail in his bestselling book Time Paradox. He classified our biases into 5 main time perspectives. These classifications are highlighted below.
As the name suggests, this is the time perspective of people who focus on the good times that have passed. These are the people who often reminisce about the good old days. They often keep pictures dearly, love to celebrate days of the past in the present, etc.
Folks with this time perspective dwell heavily on what went wrong. They are the ones who ‘refuse’ to move on from the near misses and displeasures of the past.
These are the thrill seekers. The folks that live for the moment. People with this time perspective want to receive pleasure and strive to avoid pain (that rings a bell, right?). Without thinking too much, you can tell that a lot of people have this tendency. People hardly do anything unless there is a perceived pleasurable value coming from it.
These people believe that destiny is ultimate. In that vein, they believe that they don’t have a choice in how things turn out in their reality. From their point of view, it is “Que sera sera”, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your desires do not matter.
These are the optimists. They often keep their heads floating in the realm of “what will happen?”. They will often plan into the future and keep their hopes high that things will work out.
This futuristic time perspective, according to Dr. Zimbardo, has a subset called Transcendental Future. People with this time perspective believe in an afterlife in which your experiences there is dependent on how you lived here.
I am sure that you have or are still trying to figure out which of these time perspectives you have a bias towards. There are no good or bad time perspectives. So, there is no need for anyone to beat themselves up over what they have found out.
The aim of this article is to bring your attention to how your time perspective might be affecting your reality. And, of course, how you can find balance.
It is important to make it clear that “your reality” in this context is not what is happening around you. Your reality is how you perceive what is happening around you. This differentiation is the reason two people will have the same experience and react to it differently.
The time perspective we have affects our lives in many different ways. This is so because it becomes entrenched in our psyche and gets entangled with our decision making processes. So, our realities are essentially created based on how we view time. Let us use some examples to clarify things.
Now check this, almost everyone who becomes addicted to something knows the consequences beforehand. But then they still go ahead. This is not because they choose to ruin themselves, it is simply because the warnings do not fit into their time perspective.
Drugs, unwanted pregnancies, STDs, etc. awareness are often created to warn people about what might happen in the future. Only those that are future-oriented will take these warnings seriously. The present hedonistic ones too hear it; in fact, they understand these warnings but that does not change their behaviors.
This is simply because the present time perspective is what majorly drives their decision. When the time comes to make a choice, they will go for the immediate gratification which is their time bias.
Time perspectives can also affect collective realities. When you have a group of people who share the same time perspective, it tends to characterize that set of people.
Italy is a great example of this. If you know a bit about the politics in Italy, you will understand this illustration for a fact.
In terms of time perspective, you can actually split Italy into North and South just below the region of Tuscany. Phillip Zimbardo, an Italian himself, carried out a research that confirms this. The result showed that the northerners tend towards being future-oriented while those in the south generally have a past or present hedonistic time perspective.
Looking at this issue from a neutral point of view, the socio-economic map of Italy shows a stark difference between the north and the south. There is little left to explain as the future-oriented people of the north are generally more progressive than the south (no offense).
To further buttress this point, Dr. Zimbardo tells of his encounter with a southern Italian poet during one of his trips to Sicily. The poet told him that it occurred to him during Zimbardo’s speech that there is no future tense verb (something like “will be”) in the Sicilian dialect. In the poet’s words, “that’s why nothing gets done!”. “I didn’t realize this because we never plan.”
Hopefully, you now have an idea of the time perspective(s) you have a bias for and how it is affecting you. If you are not totally sure yet, Dr. Zimbardo has developed a tool that you can use. He calls it the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI).
Once you are done, your result will be generated according to the answers you choose (answer as honestly as you can). You can compare your result with what is tagged as the ideal time perspective.
Don’t get too carried away with this. Your time perspective does not need to match what is considered ideal. Life is all about growing and getting better. The fun in life ends the moment you don’t need to grow anymore.
An optimal time perspective is not constant, rather it changes depending on the situation at hand as well as our individual needs and values. So, don’t feel bad whatever your result was from the survey.
An ideal time perspective for an individual will be balanced. This means that a time perspective chart will often vary from one individual to another even if they are all balanced. However, they will all be within the same range.
A group of researchers used the cluster analysis on the ZTPI chart of scores to determine the ideal time perspective that created a high state of well-being. It was discovered that a BTP is characterized by a high score in futuristic and past positive perspectives in conjunction with a low score in present fatalistic and past negative.
If you compare your score with the BTP, you will get a clear picture of how much you deviate from the ideal state. Now you can tell what time bias you need to increase or reduce to achieve balance.
One good way to achieve this balance is to stay present. “Present” in this context is neither fatalistic nor hedonistic. I am referring to the NOW.
There are only two situations anyone can find themselves. A situation you can do something about or one that you cannot do anything about. In either case, it is futile to worry. You either go ahead and do what needs to be done or you accept that there is nothing to be done.
The bulk of human dissatisfaction is self-inflicted. They all stem from the fact that you are either burying your head in the past or floating it in the future. However, in the NOW, unless you’re physically distressed, there is no ‘suffering’.
It is true that there is no way we can escape referencing the past or the future in this reality. However, it is important that we keep it at that, “referencing”.
It is okay to take a trip in either direction but only for long enough to get what you need to deal with a situation NOW. You should resist the temptation of building a lofty castle in this illusory place.
Come to think of it, the only time there is is NOW. It is impossible to experience a time that isn’t NOW. Even if you travel back in time or into the future, you will still experience time as NOW.
The more you practice keeping your awareness at this moment, the more you will balance out your time perspective. The more you do that, the higher your well-being and overall happiness.
The past is a NOW we have experienced. The future is a NOW we are yet to experience. NOW is all we have. Live it!