Past, Present, Future

Time Perspectives

The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory that we use in our Time Intelligence Report has two distinct flavours of the Past, Positive and Negative.

As concepts they’re self-explanatory. Is your past something you look back on fondly, or do you have bad memories of growing up? The surprising part is how powerfully having a positive past can affect your outlook in the present and the future.

Being positive about your past is a predictor of resilience and optimism. Martin Seligman, the principal founder of Positive Psychology discovered that an optimistic explanatory style was key to persistence. Believing that things will turn out well, despite setbacks, predicts success at school, in college and in work. In his book “Learned Optimism“, Seligman tells how he and his team successfully predicted US election results (primary and presidential) purely by analysing candidates’ speeches. The more they spoke of hope for the future, the more optimistic they were, the better chance they had of being elected.

Past positive people will get nostalgic about the good old days. They will surround themselves with photographs and souvenirs to prompt these good memories, and are the repositories of family stories and anecdotes. It’s possible to strengthen the positive links your past by keeping a gratitude diary, or just bringing to mind some good things that have happened, at the end of each day.

It’s common these days to assume that a tendency to think about the past is inevitably a bad thing – anyone “stuck in the past” will slow down our progress towards the future. They won’t be of any use looking backwards wearing their rose-tinted spectacles. The surprising truth is that those are the people you need when things start to go wrong on your project. Their roots go deep and they will suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, then bounce back.

Next time we’ll have a look at Past Negative.