The good news, says Dr. Zimbardo: People can change their time perspective. A person can raise a past-positive score, Dr. Zimbardo says, by focusing on the good in your past: create photo albums, write letters of gratitude to people who inspired you, start an oral history of your family.
Your future orientation can get a boost by organizing your calendar or planning a family vacation, actions that get you to envision and plan for a positive future. And volunteering or becoming a mentor can help you see that your actions can have a positive impact. And you can increase your present hedonism-selectively!-by doing something to balance your mood, such as exercise or a nature walk. Also, reward your hard work with an activity you enjoy: dinner with a friend, a massage, an afternoon playing your favorite sport.
To lower your past-negative scores you can work to silence your pessimistic inner critic by meditating or keeping an ongoing list of all the good things in your life right now. “It’s thinking about what’s good in your life now, rather than what was bad in your life then,” says Dr. Zimbardo.
And you can reduce your future fatalistic perspective by learning a new skill or hobby that allows you to see your change, and doing it with a partner-it’s less isolating and the other person can give you positive feedback.
Dominic Monahan not surprisingly had a negative perspective after he was laid off from his job as a project manager at a printing press manufacturer in 2009, and moved into his mother’s suburban Chicago basement. He sent out hundreds of resumes-and landed no interviews. “I had no hope and was living in the past,” says the 42-year-old. “I was ready to give up.”
Mr. Monahan admits he was always pretty focused on present gratification. He preferred to ride his mountain bike, run, hunt, “or do anything” instead of studying. He dropped out of college, joined the Navy and held a series of technician jobs after he got out. He says he tried college several more times without graduating.
He started to exercise and took up the martial art Tae Kwan Do. His instructor, who is also a psychologist, taught him to talk back to his negative inner voice. Now, when he starts ruminating on mistakes he’s made in the past, or tells himself there is no hope, he says out loud: “Stop…This behavior is not going to move us in a positive direction or make us happy.”
The small steps he took all added up and “helped me get out of the negative past, be in the present and plan for the future,” he says. “Over time they started to change my subconscious into believing there is hope.”