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  • Writer's pictureStephen

3 Views of Time

I don't know if you are familiar with the self-understanding tool known as The Enneagram, but I have started to study and learn more about it in recent months. One of the things I appreciate about it, is its acknowledgement toward an orientation of time. Basically, it recognizes that there are three orientations of time - the past, the present, and the future. Now I know that doesn't really seem like a huge insight, but what it sees is that most people have a tendency toward one of those as their default mode of thinking. In other words, some people tend to mostly view the world through a past orientation - looking at life through what has already happened. Some people tend to have a present view of time - looking at life in this moment and thinking about what they can do right now. And some people tend to view the world through a future lens - thinking mostly about what is coming or could be happening out in front of them.

No one only views their lives through their singular lens, but if we can determine our primary orientation to time, it can help us know ourselves and our tendencies more clearly so we don't get stuck into exaggerated patterns of thinking. Some illustrations to help.


People who have a default orientation of time toward the past have the great benefit of quickly learning from the past - from both positive and negative experiences. A Past-Oriented individual can easily learn from their mistakes and their victories, echoing the words of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, "We live life forward, but we understand it backward." However, past-oriented people can also get stuck in the past, and when they do it can create lots of opportunities for regret to surface in their lives. If they aren't careful, those regrets can pile up and lead to a significant amount of despair.


People who have a default orientation of time toward the future can be some of the most strategic thinkers in the world. They have the amazing ability to see lots of possibilities and potential outcomes, and can help make critical decisions for today based on all of those options. And while their forward view of time can be very strategic, if future-oriented people get stuck in tomorrow-land, they open themselves up to significant amounts of worry and anxiety. They can get caught up in all the possibilities of what could be, creating a sense of paralysis in the present.


People who have a default orientation of time toward the present have an uncanny ability to live with a sense of calm and peace. Their gift is the ability to easily let go of the regret of the past and surrender the anxiety of tomorrow, and just be present in this moment. But, people with a present-orientation can also get stuck there, which limits their ability to learn from the past and to think strategically about the future. They can be so caught up in the now that they can't reflect and learn or project and choose wisely.

Hopefully, it's easy to see that each of the orientations to time have their own strengths and challenges. As we become more aware of our own primary default view we can better recognize when we are falling into the pitfalls of that perspective, and move toward drawing on the strengths of all of the views in a more balanced approach.

Which perspective is your default? Do you recognize the ways in which you tend to fall into its traps? How much are you drawing on the strength of your own perspective, and what would it look like if you also embraced the strengths of the other perspectives too?

Here's to being people this week who learn from yesterday, are peaceful today, and are strategic about tomorrow!

Be Well,


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