Time Perspective

Time is an invaluable part of life – a finite personal resource. It’s interesting to stop and think about how we use our time. Whether we’re alone, with others, working, learning, active or sedentary, having fun or feeling low – words like ‘spend, waste, take, give, share, manage, invest’ are often used when we talk about time.  We’re usually either remembering and reflecting on the past or hoping and planning for the future. Sometimes we’re even present in the moment and appreciating and enjoying the right now…

How we use our time and think about time can impact our psychological health and well-being – affecting our satisfaction, meaning and enjoyment in life. Time research highlights time perspective and time use and its impact on our well-being.

Time perspective is our understanding of, connection to and thoughts about the past, present and future. These can influence our motivation, attitudes, behaviour and subjective lived experiences.  Our time perspective is a dispositional characteristic influenced by individual differences – including culture, upbringing, education and level of social connection. 

As well as a time perspective, we have a time personality with factors such as punctuality, time keeping, planning and impatience representing markers of this.

Research suggests that while factors such as additional leisure time (holidays) or perceived reduction in time (stressors) can influence our immediate perspective, our overall general time perspective is relatively stable. 

Zimbardo’s (2008) theory of time perspective includes five areas: 

Future: Your focus tends to be on future rewards and success attached to long term goals.

Present hedonic: You have a strong tendency to meet your needs and desires now, with little thought for consequences of these actions.

Present fatalistic: You feel a sense of hopelessness and believe that you have little personal control over your choices and life.

Past positive: You have a nostalgic and enjoyable view of your past and maintain positive relationship with family and friends over time.

Past negative: You focus on past experiences and interactions which were negative and harmful.

While you may be able to recognise which time perspective is dominant in you from reading the above, if you want to learn more you can complete the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory  to identify your time perspective and become more aware of how this may affect your everyday life.

The time perspective you have can impact your physical and psychological well-being, as well as your relationships with others. While many of us will naturally have a dominant style in our time perspective, a balanced time perspective which utilises a past, present and future outlook (depending on the situation) is proposed as the most beneficial to overall well-being.

Becoming more aware of your personal time perspective may motivate you to assess how you’re currently thinking about and using your time and begin to explore ways to develop a balanced time perspective, creating more opportunities for personal meaning, engagement and enjoyment in life.

Further Reading

Hefferon, K., & Boniwell, I. (2011). Ch 7: Values, Motivation and Goal Theories. In Positive psychology: Theory, research and applications. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

The Psychology of Time TED Talk, Zimbardo (2009)

The Time Paradox

Vella-Brodrick, D. (2017). It’s about time for positive psychology to get more involved in time use research. In M. White, G. Slemp & S. Murray (Eds.). (2017). Future directions in well-being: Education, organizations and policy (pp.213 – 217). Springer.

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