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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Time Types and Attitude"

A couple of weeks ago I was out kayaking with my friend David. We put in at the rest stop/boat ramp between exit 20 & 21 on Rt. 195 near Wareham, Ma. It was Thursday, so there was little competition with other boaters. The weather was perfect and the tide was with us going out and on our way back. We went up the river that emptied out into Buzzards Bay.

My friend David is the perfect kayaking buddy because his approach to time results in little chance of feeling rushed. We paddled lazily out to the Bay and enjoyed watching the Osprey make like “dive bombers” as they wildly crashed into the water looking for their next catch of the day. It was eight miles of bliss, serenity and being in the moment. During our time together with nature and saltwater we were in a state of “no worries.”

Stanford University psychology professor emeritus Philip Zimbardo would say that our paddling time was “present-hedonist” (I prefer the word “pleasure”). The professor has conducted a decade of research on time perspectives. He concluded that our attitude toward time is just as critical as personality traits like optimism or extroversion. In my therapy practice I have observed how different time types has enabled or disabled relationships, work performance and life satisfaction.

Jane Collingwood from PyschCentral states in her article on “What’s Your Time Perspective?”…

“Ideally, we can learn to shift our attention easily between the past, present and future, and consciously adapt our mindset to any given situation. Learning to switch time perspectives allows us to fully take part in everything we do, whether it’s a relaxed evening enjoying a glass of wine or reminiscing about long-ago events with an old friend.”

She summarizes Zimbardo’s five time types as follows:

  1. The ‘past-negative’ type. You focus on negative personal experiences that still have the power to upset you. This can lead to feelings of bitterness and regret.

  2. The ‘past-positive’ type. You take a nostalgic view of the past, and stay in very close contact with your family. You tend to have happy relationships, but the downside is a cautious, “better safe than sorry” approach which may hold you back.

  3. The ‘present-hedonistic’ type. You are dominated by pleasure-seeking impulses, and are reluctant to postpone feeling good for the sake of greater gain later. You are popular but tend to have a less healthy lifestyle and take more risks.

  4. The ‘present-fatalistic’ type. You aren’t enjoying the present but feel trapped in it, unable to change the inevitability of the future. This sense of powerlessness can lead to anxiety, depression and risk-taking.

  5. The ‘future-focused’ type. You are highly ambitious, focused on goals, and big on making ‘to do’ lists. You tend to feel a nagging sense of urgency that can create stress for yourself and those around you. Your investment in the future can come at the cost of close relationships and recreation time.

Since grad school, I have been aware of how these different approaches to time impact communication, relationships and productivity. Zimbardo’s research points to even more specific ways we can be enabled or disabled by our time type. His five types increase our understanding of how different approaches to time shape our beliefs and behaviors.

Each of the time types shift as we move through life, but if you look closely you will be able to identify a primary and secondary time type that has shaped your journey. Look over the five types and see if you can identify a primary orientation in your life.

  • What is your primary and secondary time type?
  • See if you can identify a family type from your youth.
  • Does your work or family’s time type beat to a different drum?
  • How does your experience of time create strengths and challenges in your life?