The conceptual framework for a man's search for meaning

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Life is a story that only time can tell

May 23rd, 2011 by dimpledbrain

My English teacher once told me that the toughest part in the language to master  is tenses. (besides the absolutely ridiculous spelling and pronunciation). However the silver lining is that you can very quickly grasp the idea in this post. Do you realize your attitude towards time can reveal a big chunk about you?

The author Philip Zimbardo in his book The Time Paradox split time perspective into (a) past (b) present and (c) future. Each category is further broken down into the good (past positive, present hedonistic) and the bad (past negative, present fatalistic). Transcendental future is like life after death kind of.

  1. Past negative – ‘I’ve made mistakes in the past that I wish I could undo’
  2. Past positive – enjoy ‘good old times’
  3. Present fatalistic – doesn’t pay to plan. Whatever will be, will be.
  4. Present hedonistic – enjoy things that give immediate gratification. In for short term gain  vs long term negative consequences
  5. Future – goal oriented, will do things that prevent long term negative consequences (e.g. taking vitamins, flossing teeth, getting health/dental checkups. In short those you call health freaks.)
  6. Transcendental future – Future’s future if you like. Life after death kind of. E.g. those with a religion/ belief.


  • Zen Buddhism is not included as part of the above. Monks (or those who try to attain Zen or Enlightenment) have special view on time – they compress the future and the past into the present. Zimbardo calls it Present Holistic.
  • All the time perspectives are theoretically unrelated. However, there is a certain pattern (e.g. high future+high past positive,+low past negative+low present fatalistic)  in individual time perspective profiles.

If you are interested to understand your own time perspective,

  • Click here. It’s a simple 56 questions requiring you to weigh on a scale of 1-5.
  • From the scores computed, you can evaluate against the suggested ideal time perspective.

What can we do? (Some of the suggestions given by Zimbardo as follows:)

  1. If you are too future oriented, then you should do less, not more.
  2. If you are too present oriented, remember that moderation is a virtue. They say turning down the volume allows you to hear the lyrics better.
  3. If you are somewhat past negative oriented, you need to reconstruct your past experience. The glass is half full, not half empty. Reframe any negative thoughts or experiences.
  4. To become more future oriented – wear a watch even if it’s not working, avoid alcohol, mix with futures & floss your teeth etc
  5. To become more present oriented – go spontaneous, don’t wear a watch, buy a pet, learn something new, try a new restaurant, say yes to most invitations & work at wasting time (fly kites, blow bubbles) etc
  6. To become more past positive oriented -atone for past sins, call an old friend, tell your parents you love them, start a diary, place pictures of happy times in your home

All said, the expression life is a story that only time can tell is indeed a timely perspective, and rightly so.

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