The Edge of Time

Where do you "live?" Past, present, future?

Posted Jan 13, 2020

clock faces/pexels-photo-707676.jpeg
clock faces/pexels-photo-707676.jpeg
Source: clock faces/pexels-photo-707676.jpeg

What time zone do you live in? No, I’m not talking about California vs. Connecticut. Instead, I mean time perspective, that is, whether you focus on the past, the present, or the future.

Or I could ask: How much of the time do you live in each of these states of mind? As a performer—or someone interested in performance, whether athletic, artistic, or otherwise—does your “performer self” live differently than your “other self”?

And what’s the “temperature” like? As you reflect on the past, do you recall positive or negative events? What matters to you most right this moment? How much are you driven by what you want to happen?

I’ve been reflecting on these questions since reading a recent conversation between Dr. Phil Zimbardo and Dr. Ben Dean. Zimbardo is a long-time psychologist—I think of him as a psychologist’s psychologist, the embodiment of someone who thinks about how we think and how that affects what we do (or vice versa). Dean has for years offered coach training from the perspective of positive psychology.

The two were discussing the concept of time, based on Zimbardo’s book co-authored with John Boyd, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

There’s chronological time, of course—objective time. But what they discuss in this interview and what the book is about, is “psychological time”—the time we create in our minds: where we focus our attention.

Zimbardo suggests that the most satisfying—you live longer, you’re happier, you’re more productive in the long run—is if you have balance among all three. Your recollections of the past are mostly positive versus negative, you’re able to focus on pleasure in the present versus being fatalistic, and you put time into planning and being conscientious versus transcendent.

How can you apply these to performers and performance? Here are some examples:

  • Luis, a ski racer, is aware that much of the time, he’s focused on not making the errors of his last race
  • Laura, an actor, has nearly given up on auditioning. She feels like she never gets callbacks
  • Lindsay, a medical student, is so driven by demands and expectations that she has no time for leisure, such as watching a movie; she knows that if this keeps up, she’ll burn out

How might I advise these hypothetical people?

With Luis, I probably would suggest more balance in various ways: What is it that he wishes to accomplish? What can he learn not only from his past failures but also his successes? When he’s actually out on the hill, can he bring his mind to the present moment?

Laura is—appropriately—paying attention to what’s going on in her life right now. Is she accurate in her estimation that she never has a successful tryout? Is she auditioning for parts that call for a tall, scrawny, white woman and she’s an ample woman of color? (If so, among other things she may need a different agent.) Are there aspects of this challenge that she can have some control over? Can she widen her network? Audition differently? What dreams fueled her energy in the past? What hopes can spur her on?

Lindsay’s in a tough spot. Her situation is very real. Yet it’s probably time for her to carve out bits of downtime, even if they’re only occasional. And think about “light at the end of the tunnel” whether that’s short term: “I just need to get to semester break” or longer-term: “when I get to the next phase of my training, this is how I can regain some control over my life.”

And of course for all three of them, at the moments of performance, the present moment is the time frame to stay in/return to. Long ago and far away—10 years ago in fact—my first Psychology Today blog started with a simple, simplistic, but very useful performance “pep cheer”: What time is it? Now! Where am I? Here!

Want to find out how you “measure up?” What is your time orientation? You can take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZPTI). You’ll get immediate feedback; you’ll be able to compare your responses to those that Zimbardo and Boyd have developed regarding “ideal” time perspectives. Your score may help you reflect on what works in your life, what you wish to emphasize and work toward, and what you wish to de-emphasize and let go of.