The ultimate aim is to deploy a time perspective that realises our essential psychological needs and our most dearly held values in life. If we make positive use of our past, find ways to relish the present without compromising our future, and routinely make step-by-step plans for improvement, that’s balance and flexibility at its best.
Make the best of your past
- Channel your regrets, anger or shame about the past into positive planning and action. If you deeply regret not getting a degree, for example, then plan to enrol as a mature student. The key is to identify a goal. Simply embarking upon the mission will make you feel you are compensating for the past, and you can use your painful emotions as fuel for your self motivation.
- Focus on positive memories and not allowing negative ones to distract you from making the most of life. If you find that you can’t ignore unhelpful aspects of the past, seek help from a psychologist. Two well-recognised therapeutic techniques are rewind therapy and clinical hypnosis, and your GP can recommend respected practitioners.
Making the best of your present
- Immerse yourself in rewarding activities that demand your attention – reading or cooking with friends, rather than consuming ready-made but passive pleasures such as TV and alcohol, for example. When we’re energetically doing things, the good feelings last longer and go deeper than when we’re ‘effortlessly consuming’.
- Find more time for activities that produce what psychologists call ‘flow’ – a state of highly pleasurable and productive absorption in a task. Flow requires that the activity be a good match for our abilities, energies and appetites at that particular time, and that there are clear goals and near instant feedback on our performance. Dancing, sport and creative pursuits like sewing or playing a musical instrument can all lead to an experience of flow.
Make the best of your future
- Learn to be optimistic, which simply means believing that we can improve our future through our constructive actions. This will give you a sense of empowerment and control over your future, and minimise those niggling worries and doubts about the uncertainty of what lies ahead. By believing we will have a positive future, we actually increase our likelihood of doing so.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Single-mindedly pursuing one goal could lead to anxiety or disappointment. Instead, identify up to half-a-dozen exciting and self-motivating goals in your work and personal life, so that if one doesn’t work, you can always turn your attention to another.