December 21, 2012

Is The End of the World Your Ultimate Fear Fantasy?

Posted Dec 01, 2012

For the past couple of years, we’ve been bombarded by disaster shows

Are we experiencing the end of the world?

Psychology, which was originally developed to help people overcome their traumas and fears, was quickly adopted and adapted by corporations to “help people” decide what products to purchase. In the old days, these corporate suggestions were distributed to the public as advertisements by newspapers and periodicals, then by the radio. More recently, their best methods of distributing this advice are via television and the internet. As we are all aware, the products being sold run the gamut - from deodorant to dating services, from energy efficient light bulbs to exercise equipment, from furniture even to fear arousal. For the past couple of years, we’ve been bombarded by disaster shows and on-line videos about the end of the Mayan Calendar, Armageddon and the Christian Apocalypse. In the past couple of months we’ve been pelted with reports of our economic demise via “The Fiscal Cliff” we are perched upon. All of this “information” points to the “fact” that we are in the throes of the end of the world – physically or economically or both - as we know it. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing if you are a true believer!

What Is This All About?

As a race of beings, humans have undergone incredible stress and survived to see many a millennium. We have lived in fear of being eaten by saber tooth tigers and sometimes each other, of being raped and pillaged and enslaved, of being warred upon, of ice ages, volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes, and maybe worst of all - Social Rejection. When we think about it, although we’ve progressed technologically, we continue to live under the fear of most of these things! And yet we continue to evolve, procreate and live our lives.

Which Wolf Will You Feed?

There’s an old Cherokee legend about a grandfather teaching his grandson about life. The grandfather tells his grandson there are two wolves fighting inside him – one is evil full of everything bad you can imagine – anger, envy, fear and so on. The other wolf is good – full of joy, peace, love, compassion and hope. After careful thought, the grandson asks “Which wolf will win?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.” It seems we have been offered a steady diet of fear-based media of late – but we don’t have to eat it.

What to Do?

Don’t buy the fear. Although it might be thought-provoking and to a degree a thrill to think we are in the end of days, for thousands of years, people have thought the end of the world is just around the corner. With that belief firmly planted, many did foolish things they regretted later when the prophesy failed. So whatever you do, don’t borrow a bunch of money or buy a truckload of products you won’t use or don’t need thinking you won’t have to pay it back because come December 22, 2012, it won’t matter. Little will send you into depression faster than starting 2013 with an insurmountable stack of bills to pay, and bill collectors ringing your bell.

Present Hedonists versus Present Fatalists

Some people like the terrified feeling they get when watching a scary movie, having their stomachs left behind when they bungee jump, driving far beyond the speed limit or drinking too much. In Time Perspective Therapy, these folks are considered to be “present hedonists” – they live for the moment and enjoy the feeling of danger, of being “out of control.” Enjoying yourself is a good thing in moderation but when we feed the evil wolf too much, we lose sight of what’s really important – the future. Folks who dwell on the negative aspects of their lives are likely “present fatalists”. They get stuck in a deep chasm of despair at their life situation and can’t find a way out. They have nothing to look forward to, so why bother even thinking about the gloomy future – it only holds more of the same. They live day to day in a hopeless funk.

Future Negative versus Future Positive

People that focus on the belief that we are experiencing Armageddon or the apocalypse are likely “future negative”. They may have bought into fear-based media and purchased supplies for the literal war between good and evil nations. In Time Perspective Therapy, we like to follow the Cherokee grandfather’s lead and believe this war is as old as humanity; on-going and personal - fought constantly within each of us. Other folks believe that although we are experiencing tough times now – economically and natural disaster-wise - like previous generations, we will continue to evolve, adapt and create new, more sustainable technology and ways of living. These folks are what we consider to be “future positive.” Societies that survive and thrive need an abundance of these folks to be visionaries who transform beliefs and values into productive action.

What Do Your Thoughts about The End of the World Say About You?

In Time Perspective Therapy, the way we think – positively or negatively - about our past, present and future is a good indication of how we view our personal situations and the world. In previous columns we discussed how difficult it is to overcome traumatic events that cause posttraumatic stress because they are so deeply embedded throughout our brain (Your Brain on Trauma) and how dwelling on past traumas is not helpful (Why Reliving Trauma Only goes So Far). Here are a few examples of what you think about the end of the Mayan Calendar, Armageddon or the apocalypse might indicate about your time perspective:

• If you think of December 21, 2012 as just another day, or there are only X number of days to party because the end of the world is coming, you may be a present hedonist.

• If you think it doesn’t matter what you do because the world is coming to an end and you are depressed about it, you may be a present fatalist.

• If you are putting the finishing touches on your apocalypse shelter, you may be future fatalistic.

• If you see the end of the Mayan Calendar as a sort of rebirth or the beginning of a new and brighter era for mankind, you are likely future positive and with a possible high transcendental future.

Your Personal Time Perspectives

Interested in finding out your personal time perspectives? At, you will find a link under the “info” tab to take a free psychological test, the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI). After you take the test, plot your scores on the graph to see if you are a present hedonist, present fatalist, past positive, past negative, future – or a combination personality. If it turns out your highest scores are present fatalist, extreme present hedonist or you have a low future score - or if you feel there is no hope for the future, definitely take a pass the next time the media dishes you a large serving of fear—because you are the type that typically gets taken down by such alarms. Don’t feed the evil wolf – feed the good wolf! There is hope for a brighter future and you will be part of it! Finally, read more in detail about how your hidden time perspectives control your decisions and actions, and how you can create the optimal balanced blend of time zones in your life—The Time Paradox (Zimbardo & Boyd, Simon & Schuster, 2008).

For more information on the effects of PTSD, see The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing,) and for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit and