Where Do We Go From Here?

Trying times call for inner reflection

Posted Nov 27, 2016

Austa Somvichian-Clausen
Source: Austa Somvichian-Clausen

We are living in trying times when more than half the population of the US is struggling with the results of the unprecedented, most contentious presidential election in our nation's 240-year history. The unrest is palpable as friends and families argue beliefs and core values, sometimes to the point of shunning those whose friendship they once sought and respected. So it seemed a good idea to ask my dear friend, fellow Psychology Today contributor, esteemed colleague, writing partner and mentor, Phil Zimbardo for some words of wisdom to share with our readers.

But first, here’s how the therapy we developed, Time Perspective Therapy (TPT), might help you now:

How to use TPT in this time of conflict

Many people have been suffering from adverse effects caused by the election, displaying symptoms similar to acute anxiety: feeling anxious and irritated, fearful, difficulty sleeping, maybe even nightmares. Most of these symptoms will likely subside in time. But what these folks may be experiencing now is real and shouldn’t be discounted. TPT, when applied in this situation, can help people move forward:

The past

Don’t sweep the past under the carpet. Realize you can’t change what’s happened, or your initial reaction – or anyone else’s. But it’s unhealthy to be stuck in the past. Take time to review all the good that lead up to the current situation; when the negatives start popping up in your memory, then replace them with the good. For instance, the unveiling of deep-seated beliefs that this election has revealed. Depending on your point of view, this may or may not seem like a good thing, but it actually is in one way because it’s important for all of us to recognize how others think and feel before we can move forward together as a united nation. This technique isn’t a panacea but when practiced, it can act as a soothing balm for the soul.

The present

You are here. Now. Reading this. That’s a good thing because you aren’t on Facebook or watching news cycles about the after-math of that strange November 8. And hopefully you aren’t being extremely present hedonistic, trying to mask your depression by stuffing your face with unhealthy edibles, getting drunk or orbiting on drugs. Or feeling so fatalistic you are reading this from the bed you haven’t been able to drag yourself out of for weeks.

Here’s a question for you: What nice thing have you done for yourself lately? If the answer is any of the things listed above, then think again. What you need is to get out in nature. Breathe. Go for a walk and if you have a dog, take her/him. Pet your cat. Focus on the holidays. Complete that craft project that’s been in the closet. Clean out the garage. And most importantly, reconnect with your friends and family and if they are in the other camp, make a pact not to talk about politics; talk about the things you have in common. Work on feeling compassion and love. You’ll feel better.

The future

Start making plans to do something that will make a difference in your life and the lives of others – like volunteering for a cause you support. If you are so inclined, wear a safety pin to show you are a safe person to go to if someone is being bullied or abused, but be prepared to back up what it means. Join a movement that speaks to you, such as the Women’s Marches that will occur throughout the country on January 21, 2017, events that are open to all.

And this leads us to Phil’s words of inspiration and a project you may want to become involved in:

What is the meaning of life to Phil Zimbardo?

First, to be fully aware of the brevity of human existence, so then I live each day as if it were my last and enjoy as fully as possible every moment's pleasures in nature, friendships, family, human creations, and sexuality (even at 83 years of age).

Next, to believe that I am Immortal and will live forever, so thus must work hard to make life worth living fully for me and the mortals around me. One way I do this is by designing projects that enrich human existence, such as my Heroic Imagination Project (HIP). HIP's mission is to fill the world with generations of Everyday Heroes, who by their daily deeds of transforming compassion into socially significant actions enrich collective existence each day in some way.

Could you expand on this?

I am trying to create a new conception of “hero” and “heroism”. First, I will raise some provocative questions for reflection, then provide some unique answers to them.

  • Why should we replace Super Heroes with ordinary, everyday Heroes?
  • Why should we expand our view of Heroes beyond military brave warriors who have done daring deeds on the battlefield?
  • Why should we go beyond honoring heroic action taken by solo individuals that illustrate extreme instances of courage in action?
  • Why should we not limit our Hero gallery to only those exceptional people who have made a lifetime commitment to a noble cause despite personal sacrifices and potential risks—Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King?
  • Why should those who challenge institutional corruption as “whistle blowers” be accorded hero status when there is usually not any mortal risks?

The single answer to all these Whys is that they unfairly narrow the definition of "Hero" to the province of a relatively small set of people, mostly male, who appear to be rare, exceptional individuals with special talents not shared by ordinary mortals.

I have been on a mission to totally challenge such a narrow set of beliefs. Instead, I offer an inspiring alternative for ordinary mortals, like most of humanity. 

To realize that vision I created The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) as a non-profit (501 c-3) organization in San Francisco, founded in 2008.

What’s the purpose/mission of HIP?

HIP's purpose is to promote everyday heroism as:

a) An antidote to inhumanity, corruption, injustice, and evil (of action and inaction);

b) A celebration of the positive potential of human nature.

c) As a natural consequence of a commitment by ordinary people to do extra-ordinary deeds of social goodness whenever possible.

HIP's mission is to teach individuals situational awareness, and basic skills needed to make effective decisions in challenging situations in their daily lives.

HIP achieves its purpose and mission by translating research findings from social psychology and related fields into knowledge, tools, strategies and exercises that help individuals and groups take effective and wise action at crucial moments in their lives.

What does HIP do?

Phil Zimbardo
Source: Phil Zimbardo

HIP trains young people to be Heroes–in-Training by doing daily deeds of goodness, caring and kindness, thus translating the private virtue of compassion into the civic virtue of heroism. The point is to make such actions an integral part of everyone’s character, which values being socio-centric over ego-centrism. Our heroes in training seek to create Hero Squads of similarly minded individual who collaborate when possible. Working in tandem young people can achieve many things - all of which will contribute to:

Enriching the meaning of life!


Phil Zimbardo

And fond aloha,

Rose Sword (see you in DC on January 21!)


For more in depth information about how your life is affected by the mental time zones that you live in, please check out our website and our books: The Time Cure  and The Time Paradox.

Learn how to cope with stress and anxiety; visit our Aetas – Mind Balancing Apps website here

Visit our Psychology Today blogs to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!