6 time orientations — how they affect people & cultures

In “The Secret Power of Time,” professor Philip Zimbardo discusses how ways of representing of time affect people’s work, health and well-being. A fascinating non-NLP view of time:

Have you read the book Zimbaro mentions, The Geography of Time? (I haven’t.) If so, what do you think of it?

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The structure of resourceful and unresourceful states

As an NLP modeler, I’ve learned to ask “How do people do that?” about nearly everything. Often the most mundane, taken-for-granted behaviors yield the most surprising and intriguing results.

Unresourcefulness, for example. It’s not surprising that people can get unresourceful when they have no clue how to do something, or have failed in the past. Especially if the task or project is important, or has large consequences.

It is surprising that people get unresourceful about skills they know they can do, and have done successfully many times before.

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Expanding “now”

How a person structures “now” on their timeline has a big effect on their quality of life. Two important distinctions about now are:

  1. the degree to which the person is “in time” or “observing time”, and
  2. the physical size of “now.”

If now is physically small, the person is likely to feel pressured or harassed, as though there is literally not enough time to get things done.

If now is spacious, they are likely to experience of having plenty of time, even when they have a lot to do and not much actual time available.

If now is enormous, the future may seem irrelevant because it is so small and far away. This works well for meditating, but can cause significant problems in day-to-day life.

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In time, observe time — why not both?

How a person structures “now” on their timeline has a big effect on their quality of life.

  • If they are in time, with their timeline running through their body (or they stand inside a “time tube”), they are probably good at being present in the moment. However, they may stay so in the moment that they have trouble keeping appointments or planning ahead.
  • If they observe time, standing outside the “now” so they have perspective and can see the future from now, they can probably remember appointments and plan ahead. However, they might find it difficult to enjoy the moment because they always see, hear, and think about their future and/or past.

Each option has useful elements, and it would be nice to have them all, rather than having to pick one or the other. That’s why I developed the following technique.

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