I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of time, how we navigate it, and what’s driving us to act the way we do; around our health and lifestyle.
Would you agree with me if I said that future thinking individuals are great at planning and setting goals?
How about if I said that those who dwell on the past have a hard time letting go of grudges and tend to replay past experiences over and over again?
What about those that ‘live life for the moment’? Would you say they have little regard for yesterday or what might come tomorrow?
Last month I spent 9 glorious days with my mom. Something I reflected on during our time together was how differently we viewed the concept of time. My mom spent a lot of time replaying the past and her regrets around it. I on the other hand reflected more on the now and into the future.
In light of this, I did a Google search asking ‘why are some people stuck in the past and others more focused on the future?’
I found a few great resources but one stood out to me: an article by June Darling Ph.D., Stuck in Time: Past, Present or Future. Her article provided me with a fantastic understanding and appreciation for how we perceive time and how it relates to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
It turns out that this concept of time actually has a name. It’s known as Time Orientation.
According to research, most people are controlled by a Time Orientation in one of the three states: past, present or future. We cannot be in more than one at the same time but we do move between these states depending on the day, how we’re wired, and our life circumstances.
Taking a closer look at my own life, I have always spent most of my time ‘living’ in the future. I have to-do lists for all sorts of things. I regularly catch myself looking ahead, planning, organizing, preparing, and anticipating what’s coming. Now with greater understanding, I believe I’ve lived this way in an effort to feel safe and secure.
I’m also someone who likes setting goals and achieving them. It brings me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Being a future thinker has helped me in many ways in my business and personal life. For example, I find it easy to keep a regular bedtime and waking routine, meal plan each week, engage in a consistent exercise routine, and stick to my daily meditation practice.
But, the shadow side of being a future thinker is that I’m not much for spontaneity or surprises. Enjoying the ‘live for the moment’, present-time orientation is something I have to work at. It doesn’t come easy to me. Yet I don’t want to be so caught up in what might happen tomorrow that I miss what’s here today. That’s the reminder I give myself. To continue to practice the art of presence I do things like meditate, say my gratitudes, tune into my body’s physical cues, aches and pains, and celebrate my accomplishments instead of powering through with little acknowledgment. I also challenge myself in the face of spontaneous opportunities.
Looking at my past thinker time orientation, I still enjoy reminiscing about past experiences, looking at old photos, and watching nostalgic movies from my childhood (and realizing they weren’t as good as I remember them). However, I don’t find myself dwelling on what has happened days, months or years ago. I’ve made an effort to live life with very little regret. I believe things happen for a reason and there is always a silver lining to be found.
This way of living has helped me to ‘let go’ and accept things just as they are despite how challenging or amazing the past, present and future are. I feel there is something to learn from every experience, circumstance, injury, and health challenge, and when we do, we can move forward with new found knowledge.
By now, I hope you have a clearer picture of which state of being you tend to be oriented in most of the time. It’s not that you stay there 24/7 nor should you view your default state as good or bad. What I hope is that you gain understanding on how you move through life so you can better shift between each state without self-judgement or criticism and more with a sense of empowerment. Each state has its own set of strengths and challenges and where you reside most of the time largely determines the outcomes you experience in life.
Let’s take a closer look at time orientation and the pros and cons of each.
Future Thinkers: Future thinking individuals are great at planning, they are organized, methodical, set and achieve goals. This is especially helpful when embarking on a health journey or other venture that requires planning.
Past Thinkers: These are individuals that tell you all about the good ol’ days, celebrate past family members, special dates, enjoy family rituals, and reminiscing about the past.
Present Thinkers: Present focused individuals suck every ounce out of life, are fun, and live with a huge amount of spontaneity and zest for life. This is helpful because taking risks can help you get closer to what you desire.
Future Thinkers: These individuals spend long periods of time working, they may miss events or things to do with their kids, and they have a hard time enjoying the moment because they’re focused on the next step, task and minute.
Past Thinkers: Past thinkers tend to be focused on good or bad memories from days, months or years ago. They have a hard time letting go, hold onto grudges and tend to live with regrets.
Present Thinkers: These individuals tend to live so much for today that they have little regard for tomorrow. They find their bank accounts overdrawn and their fridges empty because they’re too busy ‘having fun’ to notice. They tend to be gamblers, suffer from drug addictions and have the tendency to overindulge.
As you can see, like everything in life, there are pros and cons. I am a firm believer that too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. From my experience and educational background, the best approach to all areas of life is one that incorporates a sense of balance. It might take a bit of work to shift your focus from consistently living in your primary time orientation but I believe that the more we practice something the better we get.
Here are a few ways you can explore different time orientations depending on where you land on the continuum.
- Let go.
I don’t believe it’s possible to live life without a single regret or never hold a grudge. What I do believe is that when we choose to let go, let the past be the past, learn from our experiences and take that new found knowledge into the future, we set ourselves free. Free of the baggage that can hold us back from being our happiest and healthiest version of ourselves. We cannot change our past but we can choose how we act and react in the future.
- Embrace the moment, in healthy ways.
There is nothing wrong with living for today because, like I always say, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But, if you embrace today at the expense of tomorrow too often this can lead you down a road with difficulties. A little planning goes a long way especially where our health and wellbeing are concerned. You don’t need to throw out your fun and spontaneous personality, it just needs to be balanced with a little planning and organization.
- Hold on, but don’t dwell.
There’s nothing more enjoyable than reminiscing about the past, sharing stories and lessons. It’s when we dwell in negative emotions, replay past traumas or things ‘we wish we would have done’ too often that we miss the good that’s happening right in front of our eyes. We are always evolving and changing as humans. The activities and sports you did as a teenager might not be possible as an adult. Maybe due to injury, a change of interest or some other limitation. That doesn’t mean dwelling on it will be helpful but rather it might be time to find new interests that are better suited to your age and ability. Celebrate the past while looking at new ways to embrace the present and future.
- Tune in.
Our bodies give us feedback about all sorts of things if we take a moment to tune in. By slowing down and taking a few deep breaths, we can tune into feelings of pleasure, pain, emotions and stress; physically and emotionally. When we take note of what our bodies are telling us it helps to bring us back to the moment. This also helps us move through our day with a greater sense of clarity and ease.
- Live for today, but consider tomorrow.
One of the best things I’ve done for my mental health and encouraged me to ‘live in the moment’ was start a meditation practice. I use the word practice because meditation is not something that came easy to me when I first tried it. In fact, as I share in my book, Synergize Your Health – The 6 Elements for Greater Vitality and Joy, for the first 30 years of my life I thought meditation was something “other people” did and I didn’t think it might benefit me. It took a major back injury for me to wake up and open up to this ancient practice. The biggest benefit of meditation is that it’s helped me live for today so that I can better navigate tomorrow.
- Plan, but not everything.
If you love to set goals, stay organized and plan for the future, awesome! I’m with you. But, over planning and being too future thinking has its drawbacks too. Like mine, your biggest challenge will be to enjoy some spontaneous adventure every so often. Making a conscious effort to do something outside your comfort zone, go on a date without planning every detail or enjoy something just for the pleasure without a purpose. It will take some practice but it will be worth it!
If you’re looking for more ways to improve your ability to live in all time orientations with a greater sense of ease, below are some real life ways you can begin to shift and explore things.
If you want to add more future-oriented practices to your life, you can try setting some small goals and what is needed to achieve them. They don’t have to be big things but things you can accomplish with a little planning. Future thinkers practice delayed gratification by creating a vision for the future and waiting to see it through.
If you want to add more positive past time orientation to your life, you can do things like create a family tree, look up old friends or family members you haven’t seen in a while, create and celebrate special holidays (in your own way) and attend school, work or family reunions. Making the past a time to celebrate is key here.
Finally, if you want to add more present-oriented time to your life, some great ways to do that are engaging in a hobby you love (one that you will lose track of time enjoying such as art, reading or dancing), spending time with your pets or with children. It’s easy to have fun and remain in the present moment around kids!
Now that you have a better understanding of time orientation and its impact on your life and health, which time orientation do you reside in most and which one would you like to practice more?
Let me know in the comments!
And, I invite you to take my quiz… What’s your self-care synergy level?