Positively Blogging

Looking Backwards: Ruminating or Reminiscing?

Suzy Green - Monday, June 22, 2015


 Looking back?

There’s been some interesting research conducted on time perspective by Professor Phillip Zimbardo (some of you might remember him from a fabulous TV series years ago on psychology). Zimbardo’s research has found that people have different approaches to time.

Zimbardo found that some of us tend to get stuck in the past, live only for the moment, or are enslaved by our ambitions for the future – and these time perspectives can predict everything from educational and career success to general health and happiness.


What’s your time perspective?

Zimbardo identified five key approaches to time perspective. These are:

  1. The ‘past-negative’ type. You focus on negative personal experiences that still have the power to upset you. This can lead to feelings of bitterness and regret.
  2. The ‘past-positive’ type. You take a nostalgic view of the past, and stay in very close contact with your family. You tend to have happy relationships, but the downside is a cautious, “better safe than sorry” approach which may hold you back.
  3. The ‘present-hedonistic’ type. You are dominated by pleasure-seeking impulses, and are reluctant to postpone feeling good for the sake of greater gain later. You are popular but tend to have a less healthy lifestyle and take more risks.
  4. The ‘present-fatalistic’ type. You aren’t enjoying the present but feel trapped in it, unable to change the inevitability of the future. This sense of powerlessness can lead to anxiety, depression and risk-taking.
  5. The ‘future-focused’ type. You are highly ambitious, focused on goals, and big on making ‘to do’ lists. You tend to feel a nagging sense of urgency that can create stress for yourself and those around you. Your investment in the future can come at the cost of close relationships and recreation time.

To find out your time perspective go to – http://www.thetimeparadox.com/zimbardo-time-perspective-inventory.

Ideally though, we can learn to shift our attention easily between the past, present and future, and consciously adapt our mindset to any given situation. Learning to switch time perspectives allows us to fully take part in everything we do, whether it’s a relaxed evening enjoying a glass of wine or reminiscing about long-ago events with an old friend.


Ruminating or Reminiscing?

Rumination is defined as the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions (Wikipedia).

If you find yourself being more of a “past-negative” type then you’ll be familiar with just how debilitating ruminating can be, particularly at 3am in the morning! In fact, ruminating is symptomatic of depression and at the very least not helpful for your overall well-being.

On the other hand, positive psychology researchers have found that those who engage in positive reminiscing tend to experience higher levels of well-being. This might mean you are more of a past-positive person. Although Zimbardo’s research tells us that it’s important to not only understand our time perspective type but learn how to use it for our well-being. If you want to learn more, you can purchase his book – Time Perspective – http://www.thetimeparadox.com/


Positive Reminiscing, Savouring and Self-Soothing

Positive Reminiscing is a type of “savouring” (Bryant, 2005) and has been defined as a type of mental time-travel whereby people engage in “reminiscing-recalling memories in order to re-experience and thus savour positive emotions” and has been highly correlated with the experience of well-being.

In fact, looking at meaningful photos is a traditional method used in therapies to promote improved mood. For example, Reminiscent Therapy (RT) is a popular method used in promoting positive mood and well being, and reduces the sense of feeling alone for people with dementia. It involves using meaningful prompts, including photos, music and recordings, as an aid to remembering life events (Norris, 1986).

Whilst it has been predominantly used in the treatment of people with dementia, there could be opportunities to apply the theory of RT for depression and general low mood more broadly. The researchers suggest this could potentially induce a “self soothing‟ process which could lend itself well to people who struggle with day to day living as a result of low mood, or indeed who experience the occasional “off-day” (Gold et al, 2013).

A recent study on the impact of positive reminiscing utilised Facebook pictures/posts. The results from the study appear to indicate that in comparison to other Facebook activities, looking back upon uplifting photos and wall posts could have a positive impact upon wellbeing (Gold et al, 2013).


This month’s challenge…

If you’re old enough you’ll still have a box of photographs (like I do) or albums filled with old-style photographs (yes remember the days we had them developed and you couldn’t wait to go and pick them up! If not, do as the previous suggested, go back through your Facebook posts and pick out at least 3 photos/posts that boost your mood – and perhaps you can print them out and keep them somewhere handy so when you need a quick mood-boost you can look back at these and smile! 

This weekend I’m off to the International Positive Psychology Association Conference in Orlando, Florida. Yes, it’s being held at “Disneyworld”! In anticipation of this trip, I recalled my first trip to Disneyland when I was 12 (yes that’s me below with my nephew Scot in 1977 – love the red flares!). This trip changed my life – it broadened my view of the world and inspired me to see more of it. I have so many wonderful memories of the holiday and it elicited the full ten positive emotions that Professor Barbara Fredrickson has found in her research (http://blogs.psychcentral.com/positive-psychology/2011/03/the-top-10-positive-emotions/) – particularly my first ride on “Space Mountain”!

So this trip, I’ll give myself plenty of time to positively reminisce on those wonderful memories but I’ll also be working hard at creating some new ones! Stay posted for next month’s blog and PI-news!


Want to learn more about Flourishing?


Lots of love, PI & I (Suzy)

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