Assessing how we feel about the past, present and future can help us feel happier, age better and even improve our relationships
How many times have you experienced a change in perspective? Maybe you had a conversation with someone where your opinion was challenged, or you went on a walk and found that by the time you got back home, that thing that had been bothering you all day somehow felt easier to talk about. Making a conscious effort to look at our experiences positively can be one of the best things we can do for our health. Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine found that individuals who have greater optimism are more likely to achieve ‘exceptional longevity’ – that is, living to the age of 85 or older. Time Perspective Therapy (TPT) delves into why this might be. It focuses on our perceptions of our past, present and future, and how we can improve and balance our outlook on them. TPT has often been used to help treat soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and studies have concluded that it can also work for people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress, and ultimately, enhance an individual’s wellbeing.
“The mental benefits of TPT can be wide and far-reaching,” says Rosemary Sword, psychologist and co-author of The Time Cure. “It can open our mind to seeing our lives from a different viewpoint, and in doing so, we see ourselves and others more compassionately and more empathetically.” The principle of TPT is that you can accept and then make peace with past traumas and negative experiences. “It reminds us to live in the moment, to remember to do things we enjoy every day, and also how to move forward in our lives.”
“We all know how time is split into the past, the present, and the future,” explains Rosemary. “But these can be broken down into subsets.” Have a think about which one of these applies to you the most:
1. Past-positive people focus on the good things that have happened. They often keep scrapbooks, collect photos, and look forward to celebrating traditional holidays.
2. Past-negative people focus on all the things that went wrong for them over the years and may think, ‘It doesn’t matter what I do, my life will never change’.
3. Present-hedonistic people live in the moment – seeking pleasure, novelty and sensation, sometimes in an attempt to avoid pain or uncomfortable thoughts.
4. Present-fatalistic people feel that their decisions are moot because predetermined fate plays the guiding role in life; they frequently believe ‘what will be, will be.’
5. Future-oriented people plan for the future and trust that their decision will work.
When our time perspectives are skewed (usually in the negative), not only are we affected, but the people we come in contact with are as well, such as our families, friends and coworkers. “TPT helps people see patterns that they may have adopted as coping mechanisms for living with stress, anxiety, depression, or day-to-day struggles and worries,” says Rosemary. “Many approaches to self-help focus on a person’s history and how past events can affect their thought processes. However, constantly reliving bad experiences can have extremely negative effects. A person may be stuck between a traumatic past experience (past negatives) and their hopeless views on the present (present fatalism). If they do think about the future, it’s usually in the negative.” In TPT, there is a focus on balancing a person’s past negatives with positive memories; their present fatalism with some present hedonistic enjoyment; then making plans for a bright, positive future and working towards making those plans a reality.
When we’re feeling low, it’s more than likely something bad has happened. Maybe you recently split up with your partner, or you miss someone who passed away. “You might feel empty inside, find yourself gaining or losing weight, sleeping too much or too little, becoming irritable and angry, having no energy or have difficulty concentrating,” suggests Rosemary. “We can’t change the past: it’s happened and we’re living in the aftermath of it, but we can change the focus of it. So when we find ourselves falling down the rabbit hole of thinking about what has happened, stop and try to recollect a memory that is positive instead.” And the more you can remember, the better. “What you’re doing is building a treasure chest of pastpositive memories to lift your spirits.”
Recall a happy time from your past – a pastpositive memory. Then think about:
Remember as much detail as possible, including your senses.
During stressful times, relationships can suffer. Often, this is because it’s hard for us to put energy towards others when we’re feeling low ourselves. This is where being present hedonistic can come into play. “We can bring joy to our lives and the people around us in the most simple of ways,” says Rosemary. “It can help, for example, to turn projects such as chores or meal making into joyful experiences.” Looking to the future can help balance your time perspectives as well. Start by reviewing the plans you currently have, short-term and long-term. Do they bring you joy? Are they realistic? And if you haven’t been into making plans recently, this is the perfect time to start. “No matter what your situation, by having a plan for your future, you’ll be able to work towards making it a reality. And if things don’t go the way you expect, take heart, be adaptable, and make changes when necessary.”
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