“Do It Now!” “I can’t go out tonight, I have to be well-rested tomorrow and finish XX for YY.”

“Oh my god, you know, it’s exactly two years ago that we _____. Do you remember how beautiful it was? Oh, just imagine if today we could again _______.”

There are five different types of time orientation according to Philip Zimbardo PhD. Zimbardo and colleagues/students have done extensive research by interviewing subjects in qualitative interviews or surveyed them to develop a typology.

They put their findings as well as full details on the typology together in the book “The Time Paradox” with the catchy subtitle “The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.”

While you can find a longer description on their website, here is a compact summary of their typology.

Generally in their typology, there are 5 types of time orientation. The idea is not that everybody falls into one category all the time, but still spends most of their time focused on one of these time “zones” if we may call them like that.

By measuring how much time we spend in what orientation, a certain “time profile” can be created for each individual.

An important note that Zimbardo gives is that he considers time perspectives in how they are present in the moment of making decisions.

“central to my perspective on differences in time perspective is the consideration of the most relevant factors that influence a person’s decisions and action at a given time.”

So here is a compact summary of Zimbardo’s five time perspectives:

Present-Oriented Person

This person focuses strongly on the concrete surroundings and perceptions through their 5 sensory systems. They also show more concrete thinking than abstract ideas of narrow – or future situations.

Their orientation also shows of in their language, in the words they use “now, right now, at the moment, let’s …”.

[stextbox=”info” caption=”Strength & Downsides of Present-orientation”]Strengths

  • in contact with emotions and able to feel and express them
  • strong in partnerships, (intimate) relationships and social settings


  • Problems delaying gratification and staying on course
  • not good at finishing
  • “They tend not to be influenced by educational or persuasive messages, either written or oral, in which the necessary action to take or refrain from taking is in some future context. Having the relevant knowledge does not translate into the appropriate action.” (- TheTimeParadox.com)[/stextbox]


There are two common types that can be seen as a subtype of the present-focused type: present-hedonistic and present-fatalistic person.

Present-Hedonistic Person

Zimbardo himself describes the personality of the present-hedonistic individual as:

“self-indulgent, playful, enjoys all things that bring immediate pleasure and rewards those that involve much effort, work, planning or unpleasantness.”

Important to point out is that they are risk-takers and engage out of an inner (intrinsic) motivation in their environment, they enjoy the process.

[stextbox=”info” caption=”Strength & Downsides of Present-hedonistic”]Strengths

  • “creative tasks with immediate feedback”
  • sports, hobbies, relationships, sexuality


  • can get too caught up in short-term gain activities to sacrifice long-term gains
  • don’t do well in “future-oriented environments” like academics
  • “likely to violate convention and behave in anti-social ways”[/stextbox]


Present-Fatalistic Person

This type is defined by the “fatalistic” dimension, describing how much in charge the respective person feels of her decisions or actions (other times referred to as an external locus of control).

Zimbardo defines it in a nutshell

“these people are present-oriented by default rather than by choice.” Overall these people don’t think largely about managing or planning time, as they don’t feel they can influence that anyhow. Religion and fate dominate their thinking.”

[stextbox=”info” caption=”Strength & Downsides of Present-fatalistic”]Strengths

  • Patience due to the belief that luck and fate might change things for the better.


  • Feel lack of control that leaves the individual vulnerable to “more severe psychological problems”.
  • stay in damaging situations due to non-perceived self-efficacy
  • bad performance in school and academics[/stextbox]


Future-Oriented Person

A person that is all about the future and likes to invest time in the present for an anticipated future reward. As Zimbardo and his colleagues put it:

“reasoning backward from imagined goal states to start points as well as forward tracking from starts to finishes.”

Because of their orientation, the nature of their thinking is more abstract (imagined future) and logical reasoning rather than emotional.


[stextbox=”info” caption=”Strength & Downsides of Future-orientation”]Strengths:

  • Ability to delay (short-term) for long-term gratification
  • Does well in future-oriented settings like academics or career
  • able to concentrate well and largely untouched by present-time distractions


  • “thrive on control and predictability”, bringing stress into intimate relationships
  • detach from own feelings and motivation/present-moment if all time becomes a means to an end
  • workaholics, chance they will always perceive time as lacking as they want to achieve even more to get it done now for future reward[/stextbox]


Past-Oriented Person

This type of person is rather rare in Western countries like the US and Northern Europe, but more common in traditionalist and ancient tribes, especially in Africa.

Past-orientation, often strongly-influenced by culture and tradition, causes a back-in-time-focus that leads to traditions, customs and rituals of the past being projected into the future to determine and influence actions in the present.

[stextbox=”info” caption=”Strength & Downsides of Past-orientation”]Strengths:

  • Stability and predictability due to preservation of customs
  • cooperate socially because of the importance of maintaining good relationships


  • “may be prone to prejudices more so than other types”
  • victim to the nature of their past memories → good or bad?
  • misbelief “The past equals the future.”[/stextbox]


The OPTIMAL Time Personality (“Optimal Temporal Mix”)

So going over these time profiles, you might ask yourself the question:

“Is there a mix of these perspectives that creates an ultimate or ideal time profile? And if so, what is this mix?”

According to Zimbardo there is indeed something like the ideal time profile. He describes it in one of his memorable presentations showing the following slide (Copyright by Zimbardo.):

what image shows

What Is Your Time Profile?

Now if you have become curious about these time perspectives and would like to know what your personal time profile is, there is a simple and quick online test that you can take in order to find out.

A 61-item test that was named after Zimbardo – the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory – let’s you discover what kind of temporal mix you have. If you have 10 minutes to spare (and are ready to make some new distinctions for self-growth), then head over there right now.


Now that you know what your personal temporal mix is, let’s discuss another important question…

Is It Possible To Change One’s Temporal Mix?


Please note: Nobody says you have to change just because you may not be so close to the optimal temporal mix.

However, there are a few good reasons to avoid certain combinations, as Zimbardo describes in a talk available on YouTube.

Close to one of these two profiles? You might want to see if you fare better with an adjusted temporal mix:

High on Present-Fatalistic, Low on Future-Orientation: People with this temporal mix fare especially bad in the academic world, as they don’t believe they can influence their learning success in the present, neither do they see the future benefits of getting an academic education.

Low on Past Orientation, High on Present-Hedonistic, High on Present-Fatalistic, Low on Future Orientation: Zimbardo and his colleagues have found evidence in studies suggesting, that individuals with this temporal mix drink larger amounts of alcohol and are more likely to engage in drunk driving.

Zimbardo describes in his book that indeed temporal orientations can change over time or may be consciously influenced, i.e. if it is realized that current temporal orientations are leading to non-beneficial results.

Future Research

Now frankly going over this big pile of research and Zimbardo’s book, there are a number of interesting future research questions that have come up for me. Especially from a relationship perspective, I would be curious about research questions like:

  • Are there certain correlations between the temporal mixes of long-time (married) couples?
  • Is there a difference in the correlation of temporal mixes of couples that divorced after XY amount of years compared to couples that stay married beyond this duration?
  • Can the correlation of temporal orientation between two partners be a significant predictor of the rated satisfaction with the relationship?

If we think of friendship and best friends…

  • Will best friends tend to be those that have similar temporal orientations? Or can there be benefits in being good friends with people of different temporal orientations?
  • Are time orientations dynamic in relationships, so that the time perspectives on best friends might “sychronize” over time?



If you would like to know even more about temporal orientations, including how to consciously influence your temporal orientations, or how to better understand temporal orientations of your partner and/or loved ones, I highly recommend you to
grab a copy of Zimbardo’s book right now.