What is your time perspective?


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Learn more about your attitude towards time, temptation and goals in life.

What is Time Perspective?

Time perspective is a fairly new concept in Psychology and refers to the study of how we divide experiences into different time frames. Time perspective  is used automatically, without our awareness and yet it greatly influences our decisions. Would you want to be in the dark and have that unconscious time bias control you, or would you want to reclaim awareness of this process and use it to your best advantage? If you want to make it work for you, keep on reading.

How do you handle temptation?

We are constantly bombarded by temptation and need to make different decisions that are governed by our time perspective: Go to the office or call in sick? Study now, or go out with friends? Have a burger, or stick to my diet? Have another drink before I leave the party or get in my car now? Give up because it’s too hard, or endure a little longer? Give in to temptation or delay gratification?

Being able to resist temptation and impulsive urges, or impulse control, is an essential theme in Psychology. One of the first scientists to tackle this concept was Walter Mischel, whose famous Marshmallow study tested impulse control in pre-schoolers. Years later he revisited the same kids in their late teens and noticed dramatic differences between those who had low and high impulse control (see video below).

Recently, psychologist Philip Zimbardo repeated the same study to look at impulse control through the Time Perspective paradox (see video below).

Would you have waited for the doubled reward, or would you have eaten the marshmallow? You answer provides powerful insights about your attitudes towards time and your ability to resist temptation.

What are the different Time Perspective profiles?

Based on differences in these attitudes, there are three main time orientations: Past, Present and Future. These can be further divided, depending on the person’s emotional focus: is the focus on the good, positive and pleasurable, or on the negative and tragic side of things. Only future-oriented people don’t seem to have a fatalistic side (thy are either future goal-oriented or future transcendental). Each individual can score low, moderate or high in each of this categories and this gives a complete profile of your personal time perspective. The Zimbardo Time Perspective test will tell you more about your own time perspective. It took almost twenty years to collect enough empirical data for this test. A statistical factor analysis of people’s responses identified 6 Time Perspective Factors.

Past-Oriented People

All past-oriented individuals use past experience as a baseline to which new experiences are compared. Their past is where you find family traditions, cultural and nationalist values, but also a place that hides trauma, shame or guilt.  Such memories might drive people to depression or aggression, if they seek revenge or retaliation. Usually, past-oriented people resist change, look for the familiar and are not creative or innovative.

Past Positive

Past Positive people tend to recall the positive experiences from their past. They are usually friendly and happy, and have a positive self-esteem. They are moderate in energy and creativity, and low in depression, anxiety and aggression.

Past Negative

Past Negative people remember the traumatic and negative experiences from the past and tend to overgeneralize those for their entire life. They spend a  lot of time thinking and reliving the bad memories from the past and that prevents them from enjoying themselves in the present. Not surprisingly, this makes them score very high in anxiety, depression and aggression.

Present-Oriented People

Present-oriented people live in the the present moment and don’t bother to linger in the past or worry too much about the future. They seek sensation and new experiences. Thus, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior, explore novelty and improvise. They are usually creative individuals, who focus on the process of any activity (not the result). They tend to have a lot of fun, but also  get in dangerous situations. They are more likely to do extreme sports, speed or race. Among them, we find more smokers, over-eaters and addicts. They are more likely to drive under the influence, not wear seat-belts, gamble, get in credit card debt and have lower grades in school.

Present Hedonist

Present Hedonist people focus on the pleasure of the moment, trying to live their lives as fully as possible. They score very high in novelty and sensation seeking. They are creative and energetic, but also have high levels of aggression that they are unable to control. Typically, they score low in conscientiousness, emotional stability, impulse control and ego control, and prefer to experiment with experiences and situations.

Present Fatalist

Present Fatalist people simply do not see a bright future. They often believe fate has predetermined their life and nothing they do can make a difference, so they choose to live for the moment. They score high in aggression, anxiety and depression, because they often perceive themselves as helpless and view life as unfair. They score very low in self-esteem, happiness, emotional stability, energy, conscientiousness and show no concerns for the future.

Future-Oriented People

These individuals have goals and plans that take priority to any momentary sensation and temptation. They have a clear idea of where they want to get in life and spend the present working towards achieving their goals.

Future goal-oriented

This is the group with the highest longevity and conscientiousness. They also have high energy, impulse control and ego control. They score low in sensation seeking, aggression and depression. They are cautious (more likely to visit doctors for check-ups) and take care of their health, which leads to longer life. They often exercise probability thinking – predicting and analyzing different scenarios – in attempt to come up with the most effective solution. They are achievement-oriented, have expectations for the future and hope for change. When faced with temptations, they tend to do a cost-benefit analysis and if they determine the temptation is moving them away from their goals, they simply ignore it.They tend to have higher grades in school and care about environmental sustainability, as they look into the future. They are reliable and trustworthy, because of their high conscientiousness level.

On the negative side, these individuals tend to work hard, often too hard, and get anxious or excessively worried, if they think they are failing. Working to much and having too little fun (which might be viewed as a distraction) can make them socially isolated and deprived of an adequate support group.

Future Transcendental

These people are rarely seen in our modern culture. They are focused on a future that transcends life on earth and live according to a doctrine, so they can achieve what they want in the afterlife (usually within a religious doctrine).

Each of these time perspective factors has some positive and some negative aspects. When we begin to recognize them in ourselves we can begin a gradual shift towards the optimal healthy time perspective.

"What is your time perspective?", out of 5 based on 1 ratings.

2 comments for “What is your time perspective?

  1. Tenyo
    October 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Looking forward to a bright future :)

    Past-negative – 2.00
    Past-positive – 3.22
    Present-hedonistic – 2.40
    Present-fatalistic – 2.11
    Future – 4.08

  2. Dima
    October 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    So am I!
    My own Time perspective Profile came out

    Past-negative – 2.40
    Past-positive – 3.44
    Present-hedonistic – 2.47
    Present-fatalistic – 1.78
    Future – 4.23

    I know I used to be much more influenced by negative past events, but I’ve learned to let go. Once I let pain from the past STAY IN THE PAST, I have become much more energetic, focused and determined, and I’ve enjoyed my life and my new relationships and experiences more fully.

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