When Philip Zimbardo has an opportunity to give a summary on life, in regards to how we can make better use of it with a greater time perspective, the former Stanford University professor was frank and straightforward.
"Life is temptation," he said in one memorable TED talk. "It's all about yielding, resisting, yes, no, now, later, impulsive, reflective, present focus and future focus."
And it's how we respond to these temptations that reveals much about our time perspective. Whether the key to our decision-making is based on looking to the past, reacting to our present emotions and surroundings, or considering our future goals, a lot can be revealed about which time perspective we have.
For many, a present-oriented time perspective, one that demands that a person make decisions that are only based on present situations and stimulation, can be a cause behind a number of shortcoming or not living up to long-term goals.
As Zimbardo himself put it, "promised virtues fall prey to the passions of the moment."
For others, being too future-oriented and focusing too much on hopes for tomorrow can see them miss out on the exploration and fun that is to be had today, while those who are too past-oriented might have a tendency to ignore the new opportunities a brand new day has to offer.
Worst of all, is the fact that people are likely to be biased toward one of these perspectives, eventually becoming a person who subconsciously and automatically bases their decisions using just one of the three perspectives.
Many, Zimbardo says, fall prey to this bias that eventually takes over our decision-making processes.
Yet, few would consciously accept the idea of either falling short of their future goals (like buying a home), missing out on the joys of the present (like taking advantage of the freedom and relatively limited responsibilities of being young) or allowing past disappointments to affect their willingness to just try, at whatever needs to be attempted.
All of these are inevitable consequences of a biased time perspective. That is, if we allow such biases to become a mainstay in our subconscious. To avoid this fate, it is important, Zimbardo says, to bring our views on time to our conscious mind and implement a diverse perspective.
"Any time perspective in excess has more negatives than positives," Zimbardo says.
Instead of becoming the type that, for example, excessively sacrifices family time and fulfillment for future success, it's important to have a mixed perspective that combines all the positive aspects of the three different time perspectives.
For a past-oriented perspective, we ought to take the positive lessons of life and a sense of where we came from to keep us grounded. From a present-oriented perspective, we should take a sense of energy to explore people, places and ourselves, while incorporating a future-oriented perspective should be a reminder that greater rewards are always at stake.
In addition, Zimbardo advises that the type of negative memories of the past that keep everyone down and the sense of fatalism about the present (the no-matter-what-I-do-it's-hopeless type of feelings) be avoided. In short, they do nothing to help us.
All in all, it's hard to disagree with the former professor's logic. Life can, sometimes, feel all about temptation: temptation to quit, temptation to lose focus, temptation to even stay a bit too focused.
A diverse time perspective isn't a guaranteed magic bullet that can be used to properly address all of life's temptations, but what seems certain is that the consequences of a biased perspective can be fatal, a point that Zimbardo reiterates before signing off.
"I want to end by saying many of life's puzzles can be solved by understanding your time perspective and that of others' and the idea is so simple, so obvious, but I think the consequences are really profound."
How will you think about time?
Top Photo Credit: Banksy