There are numerous therapeutic perspectives related to time orientation. Some follow the approach to ignore the past, and focus on the present moment and future, where as others would contend that any distress and neurosis we experience is based on unresolved conflict from the past, and must be dealt with.
I believe there is some truth and benefit to each of these philosophies, and that each time frame of the past, present, and future can impact how we think, feel, and act.
Our past experience impacts who we are today, and who we are today impact the goals we set and expectations we hold about the future.
Examining how emotions relate to our perspective on time can offer some valuable insight about how to improve our mental health and experience greater positivity.
Heal your past
Our past has a major impact on the person we become, though often at an unconscious level. Being involved in coaching I tend to help clients focus on the present and future without processing the past too deeply, though the past cannot be disregarded.
Many people have a significant level of shame and bitterness toward past events and people, which has a serious impact on their level of contentment in the present. Ruminating on past mistakes and trauma is a major factor in mental illness.
We can learn to work through negative baggage by forgiving ourselves and others and letting go of the shame that binds us. When we take a trip down memory lane we can relive positive past experiences more often and focus on those memories that offer us joy and appreciation. Work toward forgiveness and find ways to prompt positive memories.
Embrace the present
It has been said that the only moment we really ever experience is the present. This is a relatively abstract notion as our thinking is so often consumed with the past and future.
Embracing the present is about learning to engage in the moment and experience more flow, or those situations where you lose track of time and are completely absorbed in what you’re doing.
This can also come from using our strengths and learning to savor the moment and be open to positive experiences. Focus on what you’re grateful for now, instead of what you want to have in the future or what you used to have in the past. Do random acts of kindness and appreciate when others do nice things for you.
Look forward to the future
The outlook we hold toward the future has major implications on our behavior, motivation, and mood. Do you have hope that your future will be bright? Do you tend to believe things will turn out well?
A major difference in outlook that effects our emotions and mood is whether we’re optimistic or pessimistic. Having an optimistic outlook opens up the potential to make the most of our life and engage in life more fully.
If you’ve ran into misfortune along the way it may be difficult to image things working out for the best. So one way to develop a positive outlook is to set realistic goals that can help you progress toward the future you desire. You can also use visualization and imagine your ideal future and the positive moments you will experience. The future is up to our imagination, so why not imagine the future as holding promise and blessings?
Some people tend to focus on the past, where others are obsessed with planning for the future, but finding a balance and being more conscious of our time orientation can serve to major role in mental health and happiness. There are certain times when focusing on past, present, or future will be most nourishing.
By making efforts to savor positive moments in the present, recall encouraging moments from the past, as well as visualizing a bright future, it can provide major steps toward psychological well-being and happiness.
Photo credit: jnb photo
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Last reviewed: 29 Mar 2011