In times of trauma and disaster, our nation tops the list in pulling together and helping each other (read: the American Red Cross.) So why is it some of us have such a hard time helping others in our every day lives? One factor may be the way we view what’s important—and what’s not—and how we perceive time.
The importance of time and time perspective in our lives
Our time perspective—how we perceive the past, present and future—plays an important role in our lives but few of us are aware of it. In fact, we seldom think about time except when it starts running out. You know the sensation—that nervous, overwhelming feeling that occurs when we are late for an appointment, or have lost track of time and forgot to pick up the kids after school, or when we pile one more thing onto our already overflowing to-do list and feel anxious and “pressed” for time to accomplish even one of thing on the list. What’s going on inside us when this happens? Other than the obvious lack of time, we are likely subconsciously recalling a past negative experience when we were late and the sometimes dire consequences we paid. We may also experience a large dose of present fatalism—the feeling of “I screwed up!”, as well as future negative—“I am going to get myself in so much trouble if I am not careful!”
Our time perspectives also play a role in the way we see our selves, those around us, and our world. They can also dictate the way we behave in any given situation. For instance, one day you may think you have plenty of time and will allow someone into your lane of traffic. On another day you may be running late and those few seconds it would take to let someone in ahead of you feel a little too precious so you barrel past and don’t let them in. But think about it – if you are already several minutes late do a few seconds really matter?
Love is kindness and kindness is power
To quote Robert Louis Stevenson, “the essence of love is kindness…” Kindness is power in its positive form - just as cruelty is power in its negative form. And let’s be clear—doing something for someone else because we expect something from them in return is not kindness. It’s a transaction, calculated move or maybe even manipulation. Being kind is doing something without expecting anything in return other than the warm glow you feel for being kind.
Each of us has within us the power to make someone else feel good—or bad. It’s our choice, every waking hour. By being aware of and drawing upon positive time perspectives (past positive instead of past negative, future positive instead of future fatalistic) experiences, we can create a positive present experience. Whether it’s instigating a smile or compliment to the person behind the counter or choosing to be rude, helping someone in need like the elder struggling to get a product off a shelf at the grocery store or walking quickly past. We have the power to relieve a bit of tension, make someone feel good about them self and think, “There is good in the world.” Or we can do the exact opposite. Being kind is an investment in a brighter, more positive future—the other person’s and ultimately yours. It’s a reflection of the goodness—the kindness—in you.
Why not start today by being more aware of how our time perspectives dictate our actions and reactions? By focusing on someone else, by easing their stress, we have so much to gain and so little to lose. We can all live lives of loving kindness. Kindness is an immediate force multiplier—in the lives of those we touch with kindness as well as ours. It doesn’t cost anything except a very little bit of borrowed time. Turn your compassion to socially engaged small herioc actions, to become a hero-in-training. Unleash the hidden hero inside you to make your world a better place for everyone your sunshine radiates upon.
Check out our other Psychology Today blogs to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!
Take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory at www.thetimeparadox.com to discover your personal time perspective.
Visit our website, "http://www.timecure.com/" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com, to view a free 20 minute video - The River of Time; you’ll learn self-soothing techniques as well as how to let go of past negatives, work towards a brighter future, and live in a more compassionate present.
See The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy "http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychotherapy" \o "Psychology Today looks at Psychotherapy" Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing); for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit "http://www.timecure.com/" \o "www.timecure.com" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com and "http://www.lifehut.com/" \o "www.lifehut.com" \t "_blank" www.lifehut.com.