How To Change Your Mental Time Zone To Increase Results

Time is the great equalizer, but leaders do not all live in the same mental time zone. Some live in the past, others in the present, and many in the future. Your mental time zone will determine your outlook on life, and your results. Here’s how to change yours to increase results.

Our mental time zone is mostly influenced by our thoughts. If you regularly reflect on or long for the past, that’s where you’re living. If during most of your work each day is planning for the future, you’re living there. (At least at work.)

Your results – in your life and your work – are a by-product of what mental time zone you choose to live in. Let’s look at three common mental time zones.

Living In The Past

One sure thing about time is, it keeps going. Yet, sometimes we don’t move with it. We continue to live in one period of time. We want to live with the pleasant memories of when we were younger, happier, or at the top of our game. We try to keep life from changing, or to recreate it like it was before. Politicians know this and remind us of the good ‘ole days with promises to bring them back if we vote for them.

The past may also capture us through unhealed wounds that continue to hurt. If only that didn’t happen, then everything today would be different. What someone did or didn’t do defines how we live today. You may have brought about that harm or made that fateful decision that ruined things. Lack of forgiveness offered or received, traps us in the mental time zone of the past.

Living in the past can keep us from engaging in the present and creating our lives anew, right now. People need us to be present with them. And results only happen in the present.

Living In The Present

It is always the present, but few live here. We actually don’t like to live in it. In the present, I’m faced with my life as it is, and it often doesn’t measure up to what I want it to be. I’m not as talented, successful, happy, or good looking as I once was or hope to be. In the present I am what I am. Excuses, spin, and dreaming count only in the past or future. The present shows me current reality.

Some people do live in the present but not wisely. Living for today can mean not heeding the consequences of our actions. Images of wild parties come to mind. But isn’t our problems with financial debt a version of the same story: live for today? Or how about the leader whose day is filled with putting out fires and jumping from one urgent task to the next. Urgent but not important. It’s all “right now!” but not the right, now.

Living in the present is critical to successful relationships. One of the most difficult things I teach in coaching training is being present in the coaching conversation. People want us to listen to them and to be with them, in the moment. But we’re often thinking ahead, trying to figure things out, judging them, or we’ve jumped to our own story. We’re not present.

Living In The Future

Leaders with dreams, hopes, ideas, and vision are often living in the future. We don’t want to be bothered by reality – the present – because we are creating something better. What doesn’t exist now can exist in the future, in our heads anyway.

I’ll be honest, this is where I’m at most of the time. You can usually find me living 9 months out.

Living in the future can distract from the present. My family’s most recent vacation was in Grand Cayman. It was great! A week of white sand beaches, perfect weather, scuba diving, fun with the kids, and romantic walks on the beach with my wife. I stayed off my computer and didn’t think about work. I actually lived in the present for most of the week. In fact, I had such a great time I began to plan my next vacation. Which, pulled me from the present to the future! A gentle, “do that next week” from my wife and I was off to the beach again.

Some leaders don’t get results because they refuse to live in, or at least occasionally visit, the present.

In the nonprofit world where I frequently consult, I’ll meet a young leader with a fantastic vision to do something he is convinced will make a great contribution. So he runs around casting the vision, raising money, and recruiting people to join him. Some time later, I bump into him and ask about his work. He tells me he’s off that old plan and has a new one that is even better. Nonprofit, business, and church leaders are living too much in the future when they jump from vision to vision and plan to plan without producing any results in the present.

Where Do Great Leaders Live?

Many leaders live in the future. Seeing what’s ahead and preparing for it is a requirement of leadership. Leaders also have a grasp of the past, the values and vision that got them to this place. It is in the present, however, that the culmination of a leader’s planning and efforts must exist.

Results are in the present. So is a lack of results. Unless something happens in the present, whether that present is today or the present that begins in 30 days or one year, there is no result.

Learn from the past, plan for the future, and be present today, is what it takes to get extraordinary results.

Question: What mental time zone do you live in most of the time? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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